20 Ways to Raise a Veggie Lover
You beg. You bribe. You turn forks into airplanes. If you feel like you've done everything but stand on your head to get your kids to eat something green, try these sanity-saving tips.
By Sally Kuzemchak, RD
1. Make it fun. A pile of cooked spinach won't excite a preschooler -- but a forest of broccoli "trees" might. Serve older kids stir-fry vegetables, then teach them how to use chopsticks.
2. Keep the crunch. Kids hate mushy food, so avoid overcooking. Instead of boiling veggies, steam lightly, microwave, or serve them raw -- you'll preserve more vitamins this way too.
3. Take them shopping. Cruise the produce aisle with your child and look at the different fruits and veggies. On each trip, let her pick out something new for the family to try that week. "Children love to see their choices become part of the meal," says Keecha Harris, DrPH, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA.
4. Set a good example. Be sure to fill your own plate with produce too. Research shows that the amount of vegetables on kids' plates is directly related to the amount on Mom's. "Even if you don't like beets, for example, you should still serve them to your kids -- without making any negative comments about them," adds Jeannie Moloo, PhD, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA.
5. Be patient -- and don't nag. It can take 10 exposures to a new food before kids will try it (and hopefully like it). If your child turns her nose up at a veggie, don't make a big deal about it -- but do introduce it again in a week or two. "My 8-year-old son just started eating sliced tomato on his sandwich," says Dr. Moloo. "He finally came around."
6. Plant a garden. Whether you have a plot in your yard or a window box on your fire escape, your child will love planting seeds, watering plants, and munching on what she's grown. Or tour a local farm to teach her where veggies come from.
7. Get 'em in the kitchen. Even young children can tear lettuce, husk corn, shell peas, and wash produce. Older kids can operate the salad spinner. They may even nibble while they work.
8. Give choices. Put a small amount of two or more vegetables on your child's plate. "Variety is the key to getting lots of different nutrients," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA. "Eating one spoonful of three different vegetables is better than three spoonfuls of one."
9. Let them dunk. Offer them baby carrots, cucumber circles, and pepper strips to dip into salsa, hummus, low-fat ranch dressing, homemade yogurt dip, or guacamole. Try serving the veggies on a party platter.
10. Get creative. "Invent a story with your preschooler that involves vegetables, like taking a trip through an asparagus forest," says Lalita Kaul, PhD, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA. Make up a silly song about carrots, or dress up in green shirts and pretend you're string beans.
11. Top it. Give your child a plain lettuce salad and let her "decorate" it from containers of different chopped-up veggies. Do the same with individual pizzas (use pitas or frozen bread dough).
12. Serve a first course. You may get more produce into your hungry kids if you serve them a vegetable "appetizer" (such as a tossed salad or raw veggies) to munch on while you finish fixing the main meal. The exception: A new, unfamiliar vegetable may frustrate an overly hungry young child.
13. Eat together. Make family mealtime a priority in your home. Research from Harvard Medical School has found that children actually consume more vegetables (in addition to more fruit, calcium, and fiber) when they eat along with their parents.
14. Downsize demands. Even a spoonful can seem like a mountain to a child who's wary of tasting vegetables. When you're serving a new one, ask your child to try just a bite. If she doesn't like it, don't tell her to eat more.
15. Make it easy. Keep washed, cut-up veggies in clear plastic containers in the refrigerator for your kids to see and grab. Pack raw veggies in a small cooler for car trips.
16. Serve solo. Many children don't like foods that are combined together, so place two or three veggies on your child's plate separately instead of serving mixed vegetables.
17. Give 'em props. Praise your child for trying a new veggie. But don't promise toys or TV time, because these types of rewards can promote an unhealthy relationship with food, says Dr. Gerbstadt. And don't use desserts as leverage either; food should never be a prize or a punishment.
18. Mix it up. "Introduce the same vegetable in different ways," suggests Dr. Kaul. It sounds silly, but shape can make a big difference to little kids. Your child may not like carrot sticks, but she'd love carrot coins. Maybe she'd prefer straight-cut green beans to French-cut ones -- or she hates cooked peas but she'd go gaga for frozen ones (wait until your child is 4 years old before serving uncooked frozen veggies).
19. Throw a BBQ. Grilled vegetable kabobs can be as fun to make as they are to eat. Try serving tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, green peppers, and onions on a stick.
20. Jazz them up. As a last resort, add a drizzle of melted cheese or olive oil, says Dr. Moloo. The little bit of extra fat won't hurt -- and it's worth it if your child gobbles up his veggies.
• How to Raise a Healthy Eater (in a Junk-Food World )
Copyright © 2006. Reprinted with permission from the May 2006 issue of Parents magazine.