5 Strategies to Get Kids Eating Veggies

leah-olives.JPGChildren refusing to eat vegetables is a concern for many parents. This plea from a mom on mamapedia.com is typical, “My 3-year-old daughter will not eat vegetables at all…I’m afraid that if I don’t get this under control soon, she will be eating chicken nuggets and French fries every day for the rest of her life.”

This is a growing concern. Experts tell us this generation is the first not expected to live as long as their parents.

Children, today, grow up eating highly process foods loaded with chemicals. Often the first finger food for baby is a fast food French fry cooked in trans fat and flavored with MSG! The average number of vegetables kids eat a day is one…and that’s when French fries and ketchup are counted as vegetables!

Eating black olives from the tips of your fingers is fun!
Leah has no idea that learning to love whole foods involves all the senses.

5 Simple Strategies:

1. Involve Your Picky Eater
The pickier the eater, the more engaged they need to be in the process of preparing food. Involve your child at every stage of food prep. Begin with grocery shopping. Have your toddler hold an item from the produce department, while you’re shopping in the store. Give older children a job to do, such as reading the nutrition facts on labels. Then get your kids involved not only in setting the table, but in meal preparation and serving. Kids love to cook. Appoint your picky eater as your under-chef. Adjust the task to your child’s age. Even toddlers can help wash vegetables, assemble sandwiches, spread nut butters and cream cheese with plastic-ware, place veggies on top of pizza, and help stir ingredients. Older kids can peel and then mash cooked potatoes, prepare salads and simple recipes.

2. Replace Junk Foods
To be successful in transforming a picky eater, fast food and junk food must replace whole food. If stopping for chicken nuggets and French fries is no longer part of your routine, then your picky eater will no longer eat them. Your food budget will benefit by eating at home and your family will be healthier for it.

Read labels and clean out junk foods from your kitchen cupboards! You’ll be fighting an uphill battle if cookies, crackers, chips, and sugar-filled drinks are found in your pantry. Replace processed snack items with nuts, fruit, and veggies slices.

3. Engage the Senses
Kids discover that veggies are yummy when you engage all their senses with multi-sensory learning during mealtimes. Have your vegetable-resistant child explore all the attributes of the refused veggie. A common misconception is that a veggie is rejected because of its taste. But according to current research, dislike of various foods most often results from the texture, smell, or even the color of what is to be eaten. Discuss the attributes of various foods with your child. Pick up and feel its texture. What color is it? What does it smell like? How does it feel in your mouth? Make it fun and your child will soon be a healthy eater.

4. Camouflage Veggies
Okay, this is NOT my favorite strategy, but disguising veggies is helpful in the short-run for the vegetable-challenged child. Getting kids to love whole foods is your long-term goal. Sneaking healthful ingredients into food has been around since moms first made pureed vegetable soup. Stealth health is especially valuable in the initial stages of transforming your picky eater. Making stews and casseroles often changes the texture and melds the flavor of vegetables with other ingredients. Smoothies (both fruit and veggie) are another easy tactic to add more whole foods in a picky eater’s diet. The texture of smoothies easily disguises veggies, so much so they can be impossible to detect. High performance blenders make fresh veggie drinks far superior nutritionally to the high salt content of canned vegetable drinks. V8 Juice® is often recommended as a healthy veggie drink for kids. One serving (5½ ounces) of V8 Juice® contains one-third of a 3 year-old’s and one-fourth of a 4 to 8 year-old’s sodium requirement for an entire day! It’s not the best nutritional choice.

5. Don’t Give Up
Kids are experts at parent manipulation and parents often give up way too soon. Don’t expect your child will love a new food the first time it’s offered. It can take a dozen times or more of offering a new food, before acceptance. Speed up the process by having them taste and experience a veggie at each meal. When you involve your picky eater in food preparation it pays off. Kids have a vested interest in something they helped to cook. And they get the added benefit of experiencing healthy foods with all their senses, before it ever appears on their plate.

Do your best to hide your astonishment the first time your picky eater tastes a previously refused food and likes it. This is what you’ve been working toward, so expect it! After all “Green food is yummy!”

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