Nutrition Q&A: The Kids and Veggies ConundrumThe frustration of getting children to eat what we consider to be healthy, balanced meals is very real. Rather than getting hung up on things that they won’t eat, make a list together of all of the foods they like and try to keep adding to the list. The more involved you get the kids in all aspects of household nutrition, the easier it will be to make transitions into enjoying healthy foods.
Nutrition Q&A 4/2/21
Question from James
Hi Gillian, I’m currently participating in the nutrition challenge. My wife and two sons (ages 7 and 10) have been doing it along with me. How do I get my children to eat vegetables, and at what age do I start to be concerned if they don’t show any interest in healthy foods?
Great question, James! This is a topic that has been coming up frequently, so let’s explore some strategies that work for children (or anyone else in the house that is not a fan of vegetables).
- Be a veggie role model. Your children will likely model your behavior. Kids often want to eat and drink what their parents or older siblings are consuming. I remember wanting to drink coffee because I saw how important it was to my father. Set an example by consuming your veggies in front of the kids.
- Play with your food. Yup, that’s what I said. Let the kids join you in the kitchen to cut the veggies into fun shapes and create veggie designs on their plates. Play a simple game like making a face out of carrot sticks, tomatoes, cucumber slices, and sweet bell peppers, and then make that face disappear by eating the veggies as a family.
- Take a trip to a local farm or farmers market with the kids and let them select their own fruits and vegetables. Let them pick what they want, but tell them they must eat what they pick. Best to start with smaller quantities on this one!
- Start a small garden, and plant your own fruits and veggies. There’s something very exciting about the experience of planting seeds and then having the fruits (or vegetables in this case) of your labor sitting on the dinner table. Get the kids involved in every step of the process.
- Try a veggie dip or use the veggies to dip. Think of using Greek yogurt as a base, and now you’ve got some protein too. Hummus is also a great choice. Think of all of the different things that you can fill a celery stalk with. Peanut butter and spreadable cheese are also great choices.
- Be sneaky! Hide the veggies in smoothies, soups, sauces, and ground meat mixes. Beef up your mashed potatoes by adding diced cauliflower. Try half spaghetti noodles and half zoodles (spiralized zucchini).
- Don’t give up. Kids’ tastes change frequently and unexpectedly. Who knows? Maybe your child saw their favorite YouTuber eating veggies or was influenced in some way to give something new a try. Keep trying to put veggies on their plates or make them easily available by having cut veggies at the ready for snacks.
Kids are kids and are going to like kid foods—mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, French fries, fruit snacks, and all of the other “delicacies” that are marketed to them (or should I say to us, as parents). Sometimes, they will go through phases where they don’t want to eat meat or only like three foods. This is totally normal. They will likely move on as long as you continue to model good nutritional behaviors and set the example. Again, from strategy number 7 above—keep trying.
The frustration of getting children to eat what we consider to be healthy, balanced meals is very real. Rather than getting hung up on things that they won’t eat, make a list together of all of the foods they like and try to keep adding to the list. The more involved you get the kids in all aspects of household nutrition, the easier it will be to make transitions into enjoying healthy foods. This includes everything from making a grocery list to a shopping trip and putting groceries away where they belong to cooking together one night per week to start. Remember that this is a process, and every step counts towards setting healthy long-term behaviors.