Updated: Jan 18
Making eating vegetables easy and fun
Are you having trouble getting your child to eat vegetables? Here are some ways to get your child to expand their palate to include these nutritious morsels, regardless of age.
Encourage them to keep trying foods.
You shouldn't expect your child to eat every vegetable or to love all the foods that you love. But you do want to encourage them to keep trying new foods. Once a child reaches toddler age and has learned the art of refusal, you may notice that they don't seem to love all the vegetables they used to eat. At this stage (or any stage), research shows that it can take a person 10 times to taste the same food before they develop a taste for it.
Here's where I like to create a rule or bargain between child and parent. The child's rule or part of the bargain is that they have to taste the vegetable or food any time it is available or offered (a healthy spoonful or bite, not just a teensy nibble). Then the parent's part of the bargain is that, if the child decides they don't like the taste of the vegetable or food, they should not be forced to continue eating it during that particular meal.
Forcing your child to eat foods that they have expressed they don't like may create for them a negative association with vegetables and healthier foods. However, the next time that particular vegetable or food is available for your child, the rule starts over, so the child can decide if they truly do not like a particular vegetable or food.
My rule growing up was that you couldn't leave the table until your plate was clean. So whenever my most-hated vegetable, overly cooked squash, was served, I would come up with everything from feeding it to the cat, to hiding it in the crevices of the table, to faking vomiting, to strategically going to the bathroom with squash in napkin to be flushed. It took me years to realize that I actually like squash, when it's not soggy and overcooked.
Keep their favorites available. If your child has a few vegetables that they will always eat, keep these well-stocked while you work on broadening their palate. This way, even if they refuse the asparagus they tried today, you can still get some great nutrition in with their usual broccoli, peas, or green beans (common favorites).
Add some flavor. Try to make sure the vegetables you are offering your child actually TASTE good. Don't be afraid to add some butter (or margarine), salt, or other herbs and flavorings. You generally want to stay away from spicy seasonings, like a lot of black or red pepper or curry seasoning, unless your child is a lover of spicy foods, but most young children are not. But kids can handle and may enjoy lemon, basil, garlic, cumin, and other mild seasonings.
You might also add a sauce or dip to make their vegetables more tasty. You can add a flavorful sauce, such as a tomato sauce, ketchup, a cheese sauce, barbecue sauce, or salad dressing. Or you can let your little one dip their vegetables into these sauces. Dipping always makes things more fun!
Make sure the vegetables are cooked well and taste good to you too (flashbacks again of soggy squash). Don't expect your child to eat vegetables that you wouldn't enjoy either.
Sneak them in. If all else fails, you can sneak your child's vegetables into their food by blending or mixing them in. Incorporate the vegetables in a way that it tastes good and can't be picked out or eaten around. For example, you can blend up spinach, kale, or broccoli and mix into any soups, sauces, stews, or ground meat dishes that you are already making. This works great with spaghetti sauce (another common favorite), hamburgers, or meatballs.
Here are a couple more creative ideas. Blend spinach, broccoli, or kale and mix it into eggs and serve it as "green eggs and ham" (or other preferred breakfast meat) to make it fun. Or cook butternut squash until soft, blend it, and use as a healthy "cheese" sauce for macaroni and cheese or any other cheesy dishes. You can even add some cheese if you want but it tastes pretty good, and surprisingly "cheesy" even without.
Make fruit (and veggie) smoothies. Make smoothies by blending tasty, sweet fruits with or without yogurt and with or without ice to make a delicious smoothie. Just don't forget to add the veggies! Lots of vegetables mix well into smoothies, such as broccoli, leafy greens, celery, sweet peppers, and carrots. This way the veggies taste great and can't be picked out.
Let them help you cook. Let your child get involved with cooking. Your child will be more likely to try foods that they helped prepare and this makes eating healthy more fun for your child. Be sure to keep your young child away from sharp knives and the hot stove or oven. But young children love cooking activities such as peeling garlic or onions, snapping peas, dropping fruits and veggies into the blender cup, and mixing things with a spoon. Think of other creative and safe ways to allow your child to help you with cooking.
Getting your child to eat more vegetables make take some creativity but it can be done! Try one or more of these tips and in time, your child can become a veggie lover.
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