7 Honest Ways To Get Kids Eating Vegetables

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We’ve all been there, trying to hide a colour spectrum of vegetables inside dishes, hoping that picky children won’t notice. Trying to convincingly lie when they question the ingredients of the dish, assuring them that absolutely nothing green has even considered touching a morsel of their dinner. This can be a taxing exercise, especially when you are a terrible liar, not very comfortable with lying to your children anyway or would like to enter a stage of life when vegetables are loved.

Here are 8 honest ways of getting children on board with vegetable loving. They’re in order from those which easily involve children as young as two up to what to say to older primary school children and teenagers who are capable of listening to detailed explanations and concepts beyond like and dislike.

Eating food is a visceral experience, so the more hands-on and real-life your encouragement is, the more effective it will be.

 

I’m not saying that any of these are the magical fix-all to their vegetable-aversion problem. But individually or in combination, these methods get children involved and interested in vegetables, which allows a mental shift to happen, whether gradually over time or instantly and with great inspiration.

1. Presentation

Think back to moments where you were pleasantly surprised by your child willingly consuming a vegetable. Was it cooked a certain way? Raw? Cut in a particular shape? I’ve seen children that insist they will only eat burgers and fries look entranced at the hand carved carrots and radishes that decorate Chinese banquet dishes and watched as they chewed on them happily, while ignoring the expensive and carefully prepared meats and seafood.

I’m not saying you should go and take a class in vegetable carving, but sometimes a little change in presentation can make a world of difference to a little person whose mental processing is very different from an adult’s (supposedly) logical process.

You may have to go through a testing phase to see what they like. I have a toddler who will only eat carrots if raw and shredded or cubed and cooked. Go figure.

2. Vegetable Eaters

Many parents will be an old hat at this one. Encouraging children to eat certain fruits and vegetables by explaining that their favourite animals adore and thrive off the same food can work for some. Sometimes you can go one better by visiting the zoo and showing them that elephants do indeed like a bit of lettuce and the orang-utans enjoy a range of sweet root vegetables.

Sometimes the source of vegetable eating inspiration can be closer to home; if your child has a particular family member, family friend or other known person who they admire or even idolise, watching them eat vegetables and being encouraged by that person to enjoy them too, can open the minds of picky children.

I hear a lot of parents try to use favourite TV and movie characters to convince children to eat. It doesn’t help that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles favour pizza and Harry Potter loves nothing better than treacle tart. Batman probably would eat his greens, but probably only when accompanied by a large steak and several bottles of expensive wine.

Most often, it will be more encouraging if the child has a more visual, person or real-life experience with the person or animal you are hoping to use to inspire them to eat better. Eating food is a visceral experience, so the more hands-on and real-life your encouragement is, the more effective it will be.

3. Involved in buying

My nearly-6 year old boy has been going market shopping with me since he was a small baby. When he was old enough to take notice, he liked to touch the different fruit and vegetables and experience their texture and smell. By the time he was a toddler, he was keen to sample everything we had purchased with an open and curious mind.

At around three, he was happy to sit on crates or stand beside a familiar and favourite market cashier while she passed him the carrots and cucumbers he asked for and munched as I shopped.

These days when not at school, I can rely on him to grab the vegetables I ask for, selecting good specimens before adding them to our basket.

Sure, there are things he won’t eat and doesn’t like; mushrooms ar detested and red capsicum has no purpose as far as he can tell. It’s never too late to get your children in on the shopping.

If they’re difficult at mealtimes, drag them along for the shopping and let them pick the vegetables they are happy to eat.

Even a sulky teenager, when asked to make their own decisions, can return with surprising selections and even more surprising mealtime behaviour afterwards.

4. Involved in growing

If they are certain they hate anything green, go for a different colour; purple basil is delicious and beautiful.

A shady apartment balcony or small courtyard can be utilised to grow some fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Growing verdant and fragrant green herbs indoors can inspire even the pickiest of eaters, especially if grown from seed so that they can experience the amazing growth of a plant from the very beginning.

If they are certain they hate anything green, go for a different colour; purple basil is delicious and beautiful.

If you have enough space for a vegetable patch or raised garden bed, growing beans and snow peas can be very rewarding in a short space of time. With large seeds, they are also very easy for children to help propagate.

My apartment dwelling eldest child was terrified of the huge garden that came with our new mountain home. Dirt scared him, as did bugs and the soft silence of the forest around him. Years later, with his own vegetable patch and a healthy respect for the outdoors, I can send him out to pick herbs and vegetables for dinner and look out the window to see him picking beans and snow peas, eating them straight off the plant, before remembering that he’s out there with a job to do. But I don’t mind.

5. Involved in preparing

For older children that can be armed with graters, peelers and knives without too much worry, it can be great fun getting them involved in preparing vegetables for meals. Grating carrots, peeling potatoes, and very carefully learning how to cut vegetables like cucumbers and beans can be a great starting point for children to appreciate how one prepares vegetables for certain dishes.

Once they’re comfortable, let them prepare a salad that they would be happy to eat. This is particularly good if they have helped in the purchasing or growing of the ingredients. Let them share this salad with the whole family who should be encouraged to remark on how good the salad tastes and the exemplary preparation of the vegetables.

Try to avoid letting them mess around with cutting onions or pumpkins; the eye-stinging onions could reverse all your efforts and I have never had so many injuries in all my chef life as when peeling and cutting pumpkins.

6. Explanation: How each vegetable benefits the body

When your children are old enough to accept and understand more scientific explanations, then this can be a useful tool.

For children who enjoy science, explaining about various vitamins and nutrients that each vegetable contains and how these directly assist and enhance the functioning of different body parts and general wellbeing can be encouraging.

Some children may delight in the specifics of how exactly eating carrots can improve one’s eyesight. Telling sceptical children these facts without more scientific explanation or proof may lead them to think this is just another made up story that adults use on children to make them do things. Look for a YouTube video or an illustrated diagram on the internet for further visual stimuli.

Sometimes it is useful to accept that children are intelligent little beings whose minds are whirring away at such speeds that we cannot really comprehend all that they are capable of understanding. Athletic children could learn about how certain vegetables assist them in becoming faster and stronger.

As much as it pains me to say, tweens and teenagers – particularly girls – might be encouraged to eat vegetables on the basis of how certain vitamins and nutrients can improve their appearance: clear skin, bright eyes and all that stuff. Consult Wikipedia or some other reasonably cool and savvy free information resource that children are likely to believe.

7. Involved in cooking

Once children are capable of helping with the preparation of vegetable ingredients, once they are ready you can involve them in cooking vegetable dishes. Making broccoli cheese from scratch, cauliflower gratin, simple vegetable stir fries with noodles, baked and stuffed potatoes, or even the good old zucchini slice; the number of delicious, easy to prepare vegetable dishes is endless. Start off by assisting them through the process. Proudly presenting the dish to the family at dinner time, your child would be hard pressed to refuse eating their masterpiece.

Eventually, these vegetable dishes could be your child’s signature and they will be able to prepare them on their own, helping you out in the kitchen and encouraging their own positive lifelong relationship with cooking and consuming vegetables.

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