Encouraging your preschooler to eat their fruits and veggies can seem like a daunting task… especially the veggies! For busy families, it may seem like an uphill battle. We all want our children to develop a healthy relationship with nutritious foods, so here are some ways to get your little ones to eat more of nature’s goodies.
If I don’t like it, my kid won’t like it…NOT!
Don’t pass your own biases to children. Children emulate what they see and hear, and that also goes for food choices. Growing up I was a pretty picker eater, and after having my own children, I found myself passing on some of my dislikes to my children. Turnips? Nope, I didn’t like them, so I never thought to cook them. Thankfully my husband has a much more expanded palette and would prepare them and have the kids try them. Guess what? Unfortunately the kids still don’t like turnips, but they had the chance to try them in multiple forms before coming to that conclusion. Left to my own biases, the only turnips they would have known about are the ones that fell off the truck!
Red, Orange, Green and Blue – Nature’s Colors Are Magnificent!
Rainbows of peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, carrots, and many others are a visual sensory experience. Remember we eat with our eyes first, so spend a few extra minutes to arrange veggies in small bite size patterns. Pair fruits and veggies for a sweet and savory mixture or add some naturally sweet veggies like peas and corn.
Avoid Overcooking Veggies
Textures are an important part of the eating experience, and once we know how to chew, we really don’t like our foods to be in a mush form. If you are worried about your children choking, cut vegetables up into small pieces that are easy to swallow. Remember, we have teeth for a reason!
Vegetable Wizardry 101
Zucchini in your chili? How about squash in your spaghetti sauce or layers of spinach in your meat and cheese lasagna or zucchini as the lasagna noodle? My family has become experts at guessing which unusual ingredient will be used in our dinner. This is an easy way of disguising veggies, and there are tons of cookbooks that can give you tips on how to become Harry Potter in the kitchen. Caution: don’t get too caught up in this; we want children to appreciate and enjoy their veggies and not just be mindless consumers.
Lose the Battle in Order to Win the War.
Don’t get caught up in power struggles: encourage, cajole, and present vegetables several times, even if children say they don’t like them at first. Let’s say your child refuses to eat raw broccoli. Try roasting it with some olive oil, sea salt and parmesan, or steam it slightly and serve with a yogurt ranch dip. If all else fails, chop it finely and add to your mac and cheese. The idea is to get your child to experiment with vegetables and find what they like. Forcing them to eat certain things or punishing them if they won’t sets up an unhealthy and punitive relationship with food that could last a lifetime.
Try some of these techniques and take the stress out of the battle of the veggies. Here are a few resources to get you started, and of course the internet has thousands of more resources and recipes: All Recipes, Choose My Plate, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine, and How to Get Your Kids to Beg For Veggies: Quick & Easy Hidden Veggie Recipes the Whole Family Will Love by Leann Forst.