This is a guest post from Taryn Nergaard — she’s a mother of three who clearly knows her stuff. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I have. (Katie)
Screaming… yelling… threatening… crying… All things you may expect to hear outside a bar at 3am. Not exactly what you would expect your dinner table atmosphere to turn into when you tell your 3 year old to eat his broccoli. Unfortunately, it happens.
As parents, we have three options when it comes to getting our children to eat more vegetables: sneaking added vegetables into food they already love, coercing them to eat their vegetables, or encouraging an appreciation for and a love of eating vegetables.
Sneaking vegetables into our children’s food may be the option that avoids conflict, but are we willing to keep up the charade for years to come?
Coercing and threatening our children to eat their vegetables may work, but do we want our kids to eat them disdainfully or with pleasure?
If we look at the long-term benefits, teaching our children to love eating vegetables is the best solution!
6 Ways to Encourage Your Child to Love Vegetables
1. Be Positive
Remember when I said it matters HOW your child eats his vegetables—either with pleasure or disdain? Well, if you or another adult in the house is making negative comments about the vegetables served, then you have already lost the battle.
Kids are smart and can read people quite well. They know when you’re glaring at the Brussels sprouts on your plate and chewing them with disgust. No wonder they don’t even want to try them!
If getting your child to love vegetables is important to the adults in the home, then get on the same team and fake it if you have to! It doesn’t mean you have to take half a plate of Brussels sprouts to prove a point, but you could choose to take one and show your child how even though it’s not your favourite food, you still keep trying.
2. Add Variety, Not Pressure
One of the most successful ways I found to get my kids to try something new was just to give it to them and not make a big deal about it. Often, they would eat it like it was no big deal. If they noticed it was something a little different and asked about it, I would simply tell them what it was. I wouldn’t jump the gun and start negotiating with them. If you start off by saying something like, “That’s asparagus. You need to at least try it.” then you are assuming that they won’t eat it and you are communicating to them that it’s something they should be wary of.
When (if) the conflict does happen and your child tells you that he won’t eat it, then you can negotiate. Every home is different when it comes to this situation; in some homes the rule may be that he must eat everything he is given, while other homes may have the “one bite” rule for new foods. Or, you could just tell him that he doesn’t have to eat it at all.
Personally, I like the “one bite” rule for new foods. I like to give my kids the opportunity to try something new and I accept it if they don’t like it.
For some reason, my daughters did not like bell peppers, regardless of the colour or whether they were cooked or raw. So every day I put a piece of raw pepper on their plates at lunch and told them they only needed to have one bite. Sooner than I expected, the piece of pepper got eaten without a word. I started giving them a bit more; still not a word. I decided to be really gutsy and add cooked peppers into a dish (something my husband does not even enjoy), and they both commented that they didn’t love it, but they still ate it all. Now, raw peppers are one of their favourite vegetables and are a part of the wide variety of vegetables they enjoy.
If I had pressured them to eat a plate of peppers day after day, it would have turned into a battle of the wills until one of us gave up in tears. But because I acted like it was “no big deal” and that eating peppers was a completely normal and enjoyable thing to do, they started seeing it that way too.
3. Roasting and Frying
If you had a choice, would you rather eat steamed or roasted vegetables?
Put aside any beliefs you have about steaming being healthier and fats being the enemy for a moment: in all honesty, wouldn’t you rather eat roasted carrots over steamed carrots?
I definitely would, and my kids would too!
Roasting vegetables allows extra water to evaporate, which adds a richness to the flavour, plus allows the sugars to caramelize and bring out a wonderful sweetness. No wonder they taste better!
If vegetables are vegetables, no matter how they are cooked, why wouldn’t we want to cook them so that our kids LOVE them?! That does not mean that you can never give your child raw vegetables or steamed vegetables, but it does mean that it’s wise to start off by serving your child the most delicious version of a new vegetable. When his taste buds have warmed up to the new taste you can then introduce different ways of serving the vegetable.
Another great cooking method is frying. Its effects are similar to that of roasting vegetables. One added “yum factor” with frying vegetables is that you can use pieces of bacon or straight bacon fat! Now we’re talking, right?
These are a few of my kids’ favourite vegetable dishes:
- Roasted Carrots
- Whole Roasted Cauliflower
- Roasted Cauliflower and Turnips
- Roasted Beets
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- Bacon-Fried Green Beans
- Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
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4. Use Condiments
We all like dips, don’t we? Well, kids LOVE them!
So let’s use their love for dips to encourage them to eat their vegetables! Ask your child what kind of condiment he wants with his vegetables. Even if it may seem “strange” to us, allow him to try out different combinations of vegetables and condiments.
My 3 year old loves my homemade spicy mustard, so if she has a hamburger and carrot sticks, she will dip everything (including the carrots) in the spicy mustard. Seems strange to me, but she loves it!
If you’re going to use condiments more often, I highly suggest making your own. By making your own dips, you can control what ingredients your child is eating and significantly increase the health benefits of your child’s meal. (One of my main reasons for using condiments is to add extra healthy fats to my kids’ food!)
Here are some healthy homemade condiments your child will love:
- Guacamole; I make mine by mashing ripe avocados, adding a bit of lime juice, salt, pepper and cumin to taste—it’s so simple!
- Spicy Whole-Grain Mustard (my daughter might be the only child who loves this, but I will include it anyway!)
- Quick Homemade Ketchup
- Ranch Dressing
If you are having a difficult time getting your child to eat salads, these simple and delicious salad dressings are the ones I use most frequently. Or, try this Hot Bacon Dressing or the Ranch Dressing recipe in the list above!
5. Get Creative
Grown-ups are boring… Well, I am pretty boring most of the time, and I am sure I am not the only one!
But kids are AWESOME! They’re fun, positive, easily excited, and curious little creatures. They are also very creative. So why not give your child the opportunity to get creative at meal time?
I know that some of you might be gasping at me in horror right now thinking “What?! You want my kid to PLAY with his food?!”
Yes, sort of. Not so much in a make-a-mashed-potato-volcano kind of way, but in a build-your-own-dinner kind of way.
Meals that kids love, like pizza and tacos, are a great way to foster creativity and independence at mealtime. You can give your child some control over his choices within the guidelines you have set.
You can put out different toppings for pizza or tacos and have your child choose what he would like. Or, if you’re making a stir fry or even a salad, have him fill a measuring cup with whichever vegetables he wants. You are still showing him that he needs to eat some vegetables, but you are giving him some control over the situation.
6. Get Them Involved
In addition to the previous point of allowing your kids to be involved with food preparation, including your child in the full process is crucial to encouraging him to love vegetables.
If you have a backyard garden, have your child be involved in the whole process from planting to watering to harvesting. Your child will feel a sense of ownership and accomplishment that will give him a positive view of vegetables.
If you buy your vegetables from a store or farmer’s market, have your child come along (at least occasionally… I love grocery shopping alone, too!) Even better, allow him to be involved in the process of making the grocery list and picking out some of the vegetables. You can even make it a family challenge once a week or once a month to buy one vegetable you have never tried before. Buy it, look up how to cook it, and make it together.
Sometimes it can seem like we’ve failed as parents if we can’t get our kids to eat healthy food, like vegetables–but don’t allow yourself to feel defeated. Even having the desire to feed your child well makes you an amazing parent!
Disclosure: There may be affiliate links in this post from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.