Getting Children to Eat Their Veggies
Do you hear “I don’t like vegetables!” during family dinner? According to research from the American Academy for Science and the Centers for Disease Control, children turn up their noses at vegetables because parents have not made them readily available. Let’s face it, few children will take the time to wash a head of broccoli or cauliflower, break the pieces apart, serve them up on a plate, and then eat them.
Parents can increase the chances that their children will eat a particular vegetable if it is in a small container or individual plastic bag in the refrigerator. This makes vegetables an easy snack option for children to choose themselves.
Children form food habits at an early age. Research shows a correlation between picky children and picky adults. It is important for parents to introduce good eating habits in children when they are young. It is, however, never too late to start.
Tips to Get Children to Eat Vegetables
Be a role model. Offer vegetables to children by eating them yourself. Let children approach them on their own.
Set some rules. Children usually will accept vegetables in an environment where parents set appropriate rules. For example, it is okay to tell your child they need to taste a vegetable before they decide they do not like it.
Stay positive. Using strategies such as punishment, threats, force, or even offering the child a reward have been shown to be unsuccessful ways of teaching children to eat vegetables. Vegetables should be offered in a relaxed environment.
Don’t give up. Keep offering the vegetables. It might be helpful to offer the vegetable to the child in different ways or mixing the vegetable with other foods. Many parents throw in the towel after the child refuses a vegetable the first time, but understand that children generally have a fear of new foods. It may take about eight to ten tries with a vegetable before your child is ready to taste it. In addition, it may take a lot more tasting before your child gets to the point where he or she likes the vegetable. Be patient as your child experiences new foods.
Be creative. Offer children vegetables in different forms (cooked, raw, and mixed with other foods) before you decide they do not like them.
Be flexible. Children vary in how much they eat and what they like. Each child is an individual. Do not have predetermined ways in which your child should eat or accept vegetables.
Be reasonable. Keep in mind that vegetable servings for children are smaller than vegetable servings for adults. A general guideline is one tablespoon of vegetable for each year of life. Do not have unrealistic expectations for your child.
Give options. Offer a variety of vegetables at a particular meal. This allows children to be able to choose a vegetable they like.
Take Action: Make it Happen
Vegetables offers protection from many diseases, and thanks to the vitamins and minerals they provide, improves your child’s health. It is important for children to eat the recommended amount of vegetables daily.
Parents, try these tricks to make vegetables more enticing to your children:
- Offer vegetables daily. Children will not eat vegetables if parents do not cook and serve them.
- Let children pick out a vegetable of the week at the grocery store.
- Make vegetables easy for children to grab and eat. Have ready to eat vegetable snacks in small bags in the refrigerator.
- Set out a plate of vegetables with dip before dinner or when children get home from school.
- Prepare vegetables in a way in which they are tender but crisp. Children tend to dislike mushy vegetables and many prefer raw vegetables for this reason.
- Include two vegetables at dinner; try offering both cooked and raw vegetables. This allows children to have a choice of vegetable they want to eat.
- Add lettuce leaves to sandwiches.
- Add blended vegetables such as spinach to spaghetti sauce, soups, and casserole. It is a good idea to blend or cut up the vegetable finely before adding it to spaghetti sauce. Children may not even notice the vegetable is there.
- Make food fun. Let children create funny faces or animals with cut up vegetables.
- Let children help prepare vegetable recipes; they generally enjoy what they have made.
- Allow kids to make their own salad. Put out small bowls of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, shredded leaf lettuce, raisins, fruit, and crunch noodles. They love the feeling of control that comes from doing it themselves.
- Try heirloom vegetables. Kids get excited about interesting vegetables. Take your children to a farmer’s market and have them pick out the heirlooms they would like to try.
Written by Ingrid Adams, Nutrition and Food Science Extension Specialist; Mallory Foster, Family and Consumer Sciences graduate student; and Lauren State, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant.