Hiding vegetables in food, smothering them with sauces, dips and melted cheese, preparing them so they’re convenient to grab from the fridge … as parents, we try everything to make sure our children are getting the nutrition they need. If you’ve run dry of ideas and the old tricks of the trade are proving to be a failure, here are five creative ways to get your children to eat their vegetables.
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1. Sneak Veggies into Smoothies
Affordable, super healthy, time saver, easy to make, versatile … there are several benefits to drinking smoothies, not to mention they are oh-so-yummy and kids love them! Adding veggies to a fruit smoothie can oftentimes go unnoticed by a child. If your child does notice the difference, try playing a game with them where they need to guess which vegetable has been added.
Here are some great fruit & veggie combos you can try:
Sweet Potato/Carrot with blueberries and/or strawberries
Cucumber with melon (cantaloupe and honeydew are great choices)
Carrot with apricot and mango or peaches or apples and bananas
Beets with blueberries
Kale/Spinach with pears or pineapples
Tips: If you find your fruit & veggie smoothie needs some extra sweetening, adding fruit juice (such as orange or pineapple), yogurt or honey can help. Also, cooking or pureeing vegetables beforehand will help the smoothie be more…well, smooth! Leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner are ideal.
2. Provide Your Child with a Green Thumb
Have you child grow their own vegetable garden. Doing so will not only teach them how to care for the environment; it will also encourage them to eat what they’ve created and give them a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Tips: If you live in an apartment or simply don’t have the yard space to accommodate a vegetable garden, many vegetables can be grown in a pot outdoors, or even inside on the windowsill. For tips on what size of containers specific vegetables need and how much light they require, please click here.
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3. Let Your Child Decide the Meal
Instead of just serving what you want, let your children get involved with the menu planning. The best approach to this technique is to be specific. If you simply say “What kind of vegetables do you want tonight for dinner?” you run the risk of them turning their noses up and providing you with just as vague an answer as your question “None”. However, worded slightly different, your child is “forced” to make a decision and because they had a say in the matter, they’ll be more likely to eat what they picked. For example, “Would you rather have carrots, broccoli or zucchini tonight?”
Tips: If you are completely mindset on cooking a certain vegetable, ask your child how they’d like it cooked “Would you rather I boil, steam or roast the carrots?” or what flavor they’d like added “Do you think I should flavor the green beans with garlic, almonds or a bit of sesame oil?”
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4. Make it Fun & Educational
Teach your child what part of the body each vegetable is good for and then make a “body chart” (draw an outline of a person on a piece of paper or poster board). When your child eats a certain veggie, allow him/her to place a sticker in the corresponding body part. For example, when he/she eats their carrots, they can add a sticker where the eyes go.
Create a simple veggie chart where when your child eats a serving of veggies, they get to add a sticker to the chart.
Tips: For extra encouragement, provide your child with ways to earn “bonuses”. For example, let them place two stickers on the chart when they make a healthy choice to have a vegetable as a snack over a sugary, unhealthy “treat”.
When you create the chart, decide together on a goal and reward for when your child reaches the agreed milestone. For example, when 5 different “body parts” contain stickers on the body chart or one week is filled with stars on the veggie chart, your child gets to go swimming, rent a movie or buy a small toy or pack of stickers.
5. Let Your Children Play with Their Food
Nutrition first, table manners second. Once your child has developed a taste for veggies, you can then focus your attention on the table manners. If that doesn’t work for you, you can also explain to them that this behavior is okay when you’re at home and it’s just family, but any other time, manners are a must. I’m not saying it’s okay for the kids to start throwing food around or that they can start firing peas out of their nostrils, but you can let them create images out of veggies or have the veggies “talk”. For example, when my son was younger we would create faces with the veggies (cucumber eyes, cherry tomato nose, baby carrot eyebrows, yellow bean mouth, cauliflower ears, etc.) and then when he would eat a cucumber, I would be the “voice” of the face and exclaim in a funny voice “Oh, my eye! My eye!”
Tips: Don’t get them laughing too hard or they might choke on their food. If you aren’t comfortable inserting humor into the meal, you can try the “guilt trip” method: “I was planted and grown just for you. My whole mission in life was to grow fresh and yummy just for you to eat me. Please eat me so my efforts weren’t for no reason!”
True story: A friend of mine has an 11 year old son, and though she doesn’t struggle to get him to eat his vegetables, she does have a hard time getting him to drink enough fluids. Just the other evening, he wasn’t drinking his orange juice – he hardly had anything to drink all day – and so my friend pulled the trusty food-talkin’-guilt-trip and left the room. She told me that her husband laughed and whispered to her that that might have worked when he was 4 but it certainly wouldn’t now that he’s 11! When she came back in the room, the orange juice was gone!
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