Ah, the all-to-familiar battle between kids and their vegetables. Why can’t kids just like vegetables?!! I think all parents can agree that mealtimes would be so much easier if they did!
Way back in my post on acquired tastes, I mentioned that as humans, we have an innate preference for sweet things. That’s just the way we were made. And vegetables? Not so sweet. I also mentioned in that post that it can take up to TEN exposures to a food for a child to like it, which I absolutely believe. As a kid, the rule in my house was that what my mom cooked was for supper whether we liked it or not. At the time I may not have been too happy with her for making me eat things like broccoli, but I credit the repeated exposure to my liking broccoli today.
It is my opinion that getting kids to eat vegetables stems from three main areas: (1) introducing vegetables at a very young age, (2) being firm with kids about vegetables and (3) being a good role model about vegetables.
- We all laugh at the funny faces babies make when they try their first solid foods. You bet some of the foods we give them taste funny to them…because they’re not sweet! If we introduce vegetables more frequently than fruits, eventually the child will learn to like the non-sweet tastes as well. There are also some vegetables with a more subtle flavor that you can use to “ease” your child into vegetables, like sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, peas, avocados and green beans.
- My second point is one of those “Mom was actually right” moments you eventually realize as an adult. As much as I didn’t like the childhood “Eat it or go hungry” mantra at the time, it exposed me to a wide variety of foods and because of it, there are few foods today that I don’t like. Vegetables truly are a crucial part of our diet and I think it is important to be firm in including them in a child’s diet as well. Despite what kids think, they really aren’t poison! Try introducing vegetables as the first “course” of a meal, then offer the remainder of the meal as the “reward.” Be sure to enforce how important vegetables are and how much stronger and faster the kids will be if they eat their vegetables! Make food fun by creating unique characters or designs with their food. My dad always made us “happy faces” for lunch when we were younger. We couldn’t wait to see the funny faces he came up with using food!
- Monkey see, monkey do! Kids are like sponges – they soak up everything they see. By showing kids how much you personally enjoy vegetables, you can hopefully influence their behaviour in a positive way towards vegetables.
I personally don’t think “hiding” vegetables is the answer, because this really isn’t increasing the child’s awareness of vegetables or letting them associate good tastes with vegetables. They might not like it, but try and incorporate vegetables into their diet as much as you can. This will help their taste buds become more accustomed to the taste.
Here are some recipe ideas that include vegetables without making them too noticeable:
- Lasagna (these can be hidden jackpots for vegetables: zucchini, broccoli, spinach, carrots, mushrooms, you name it, you can add it in there)
- Zucchini or Carrot Muffins/Bread (Hey, every little bit helps!)
- Shishkabobs (a fun and colorful way to present food)
- Homemade Pizza (who doesn’t like pizza?! Kids love helping make their own food, especially fun things like pizza!)
- Tacos (e.g. lettuce, tomatoes, peppers)
- Spaghetti sauce (many sauces can be cooked down enough so the vegetables are totally indistinguishable)
- Butternut Squash Casserole (a.k.a “Cheesy Potatoes” to my younger sister who just recently found out this was actually squash, but happily ate it and enjoyed it thinking it was potatoes!)
- Black Bean Brownies
- Avocado Chocolate Pudding
- Ants on a log (celery + PB + raisins on top = a fun snack!)
- Cauliflower/Broccoli Macaroni & Cheese
- Smoothies (these can also be hidden jackpots for vegetables. Add a handful of spinach to your fruit smoothie – you can’t even taste it!)
Do your kids like vegetables? What do/did you do to help encourage them to eat vegetables?