Wednesday, July 27, 2011

10 tips and tricks to get your kids to eat more vegetables

I know that there are many parents out there who struggle to get their children to eat more vegetables.  As I child, I hated vegetables and remember telling my mom that I was going to be a "meatatarian", someone who never ate veggies.  Once I was out on my own, I realized that I did not like a lot of vegetables growing up because I did not like how they were prepared and I was only introduced to a handful of them.  Here are some ideas to get your little ones to eat more veggies:

1- Encourage them to pick some vegetable seeds or starter plants to grow their own veggies in your garden.  This tip may be a bit late for this year, but you can always plan ahead for next year.  Growing and tending to a plant gives your child a feeling of ownership.  When harvest time comes, they will be excited to share their "creation" with the rest of the family, and likely to eat it themselves.

2- Let them choose a new vegetable each week at the grocery store or farm market.  We discovered a few years ago that my entire family loves beets, but only after my then 4 year old asked if we could buy the red bulbs when we passed them in the produce department.  If they choose something you are unfamiliar with, ask the farmer or a worker in the department if they have any suggestions.  If they don't, or even you just want some more ideas, get online when you get home and do a search for how to best serve this new vegetable.

3- Try new recipes.  If they do not care for certain veggies plain or if you tried them one way and they disliked them, do not write them off completely.  Try to find another recipe that has the same veggie in it, maybe in a less prominent role, or even just with different complementing ingredients.  My husband and I grew up hating Brussels sprouts, but when I found a fabulous recipe for them one day in the newspaper, my entire family now ASKS for them.

4- Try different cooking methods.  This goes along with #3.  If your child does not like the slimy feel of cooked spinach, try mixing some raw, baby spinach in with a salad or substituting it for lettuce on a burger.  For me, I hated broccoli growing up because it was boiled, but I absolutely love it now that I steam it. 

5- Let them have dip.  I always suggest kids not learn that the only way to eat veggies is smothered in dips, but sometimes this is a great way to begin introducing them to children.  Set out a tray full of dipping veggies (raw broccoli, baby carrots, celery, etc) and several cups of dips, such as ranch dressing, hummus, or French onion and let them dip away.

6- Sauces and cheese are okay, too.  For hot veggies, sprinkle a little cheese on top and let it melt or spoon on a little hollandaise sauce.  Again, the goal is to enhance the flavor of the veggies though, not overpower it.

7- Use a little secret seasoning.  I am also not a fan of hiding veggies on children, but I know that some kids simply refuse them no matter what.  In this case, finely chop up raw broccoli so that it looks like seasoning and use it liberally in sauces, macaroni and cheese, etc.  You can also use shredded carrots in meatloaf and in sauces typically undetected.  Mashed potatoes are another great way to add some veggies in virtually undetected.  Add some cooked cauliflower to the potatoes before mashing and they instantly blend right in or serve orange carrots by adding a few mashed carrots in to the potatoes.

8- Make it fun.  Get creative and use veggies to create a face on a plate that they can snack on or let them be creative and use veggies to decorate a pizza crust before you bake it. 

9- Involve them in the preparation.  Even the youngest child can wash veggies, but older ones can help peel and mix recipes together.  The more involved they are in the preparation, the more likely they are to partake of the finished results.

10- Take advantage of serving what they do like.  If you still find you have a child that will not eat more than 1 or 2 veggies, be sure to always have those veggies available to them.  As time goes on, try adding other veggies to their favorites a bit at a time.  If they like steamed broccoli, add a few red pepper slices next time or if they love corn chowder, add a few sliced carrots.  If they reject the new addition, they can pick them out.

The struggle to get kids to eat their vegetables is one that seems as old as time, but it can get better.  We all know they are good for us, but even many adults choose to avoid them.  Be sure you, and your spouse, and setting good examples and try some of the above tips and just see if it doesn't get a t least a little better.

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Peas and Thank You blogging program for a gift card worth $30. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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