Kids are more complex than we think when it comes to vegetable acceptance. Here are a few simple guidelines to help kids to learn to like their veggies.
In the movie “Inside Out,” the story’s protagonist is confronted with what most kids would consider a horrifying offer – a slice of what should be delicious pizza, except it’s covered in (gasp!) broccoli.
Among the many ways of getting kids to eat their veggies, we’d call this a “don’t.” Seriously, just don’t.
Hiding veggies is a common trick for parents to get kids to eat veggies, but let’s agree to use some guidelines. Several simple rules can help parents to get kids to love vegetables for life, without treating veggies like outcasts.
Following is a list of do’s and don’ts for veggie preparation that we hope will limit the “yucks” at mealtime. If we’re lucky, you might even hear “Hey! This is good!”
Don’t tell kids what they like. She might have hated green beans last week, but kids’ palates change fast. Treat every approach to a vegetable as if it is the first, without reminding her that she liked or disliked it last time.
Don’t rely on “it’s good for you”: Sure, potatoes are a great source of vitamin C, but that’s a little abstract for a kid. Instead, give tonight’s veggies some playground cred by sharing relatable stories about them. Tell him that the astronauts on space shuttle grew potatoes in orbit, and you’re more likely to have his interest.
Don’t peel everything. If your kid likes carrots, then just give a carrot a good wash and hand it off. Most of the nutrients in veggies like carrots and cucumbers are in the skin. If your kid will eat them, you might as well get as much nutrition as you can out of each serving.
Don’t believe everything you hear about frying: Research has shown that veggies cooked in extra virgin olive oil contain more antioxidants, which can fight against cancer and other illnesses. When vegetables are boiled they leak their nutrients into the water. Boiled broccoli will leach out 90 percent of its nutrients, so opt for roasting it instead.
Don’t smother veggies into oblivion. We get it. Covering veggies with dips or dressings helps to get a little nutrition into the kids’ bellies. However, it doesn’t teach kids to like the vegetable. It just conditions them to like the dressing, and two tablespoons of traditional ranch dressing contain 22 grams of fat. If you do use a dip or dressing, opt for an all-natural kind and provide it in small quantities.
Do keep trying new veggies: Keep folding new veggies into your recipe repertoire. We know it’s so tempting (and easy) to stick with that one vegetable your kid likes. But veggies have varying nutritional profiles, indicated by their color. Red and orange veggies are rich with vitamin C. Green ones pack a lot of iron. Go for the rainbow.
Do keep veggies on the rocks. Have frozen veggies on hand as an easy way to boost the nourishment of soups, eggs or casseroles. Veggies that are quick-frozen retain their vitamins and minerals, so they are just as good for you as fresh vegetables. There’s no need to feel like you’re compromising.
Do make them evident: Place a plate of colorful veggies in a high-traffic area of the house and it’s likely kids will end up eating at least some of them. Same goes for the refrigerator – liberate the veggies from the crisper. Rotate in new veggies on occasion. If you have time, cut the vegetables into fun shapes.
Do think beyond the plate: In a pinch, a vegetable smoothie is a fine way to get kids to accept veggies. Bonus: You can start kids out on them at a very young age. Make a double batch and freeze the remainder in an ice cube tray for colorful midday snacks.
Do rely on the help of influencers: As painful as it is, your child might not trust you when you suggest she will like something. But she might be more adventurous with her friends or role models. Compare notes with other parents and the teacher to learn what your kid is opening up to, food wise.
Lastly, know that certain foods have their place. If your kid hates broccoli, don’t expect pizza to make it better. Make peace with that and move on to a mountain you can conquer.