Written by Caitlin Schille, MPH
We all know that it’s important to eat our vegetables. Kids are growing and developing, so their bodies need good nutrition– the problem is, it’s really hard to get kids to eat their veggies. So hard, in fact, that results from a recent survey show that on any given day, an American preschooler is more likely to eat French fries than a green vegetable. The data, gathered by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, also showed that many kids go days without eating any vegetables at all.
This matters both here and now and in the future. Kids need these important nutrients for proper growth and development, and a kid’s eating habits have strong implications for future health and eating habits.
So if your child is eating all goldfish and chicken nuggets and no carrots or cucumber, here are some tips and tricks to get your kids to eat more vegetables:
- Get sneaky. Make a smoothie that includes spinach and blueberries or blackberries. The dark-colored berries will make the smoothie a nice purple color and cover up any evidence of the spinach. Plus, spinach has a mild flavor that won’t be detectable.
- Spice up the names of your vegetable dishes. A study from Cornell showed that children ate double the carrots when they presented as “X-ray Vision Carrots” versus having no name. Broccoli? Nope, those are Tiny Tree Tops.
- Go mild. Kids are especially averse to more bitter-tasting vegetables, such as kale or broccoli. Focus on getting your kids to eat more mild-tasting vegetables, such as peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, and bell peppers.
- DO NOT describe vegetables as “healthy” or as being something that will “help you grow strong”. A study found that describing food as “good for you” actually caused kids to eat less of it.
- Make raw veggies more palatable by letting kids dip them in hummus or salad dressing. Although dipping in salad dressing isn’t ideal, if it gets kids to eat their veggies, it’s a win.
- Serve veggies first, as an appetizer. If kids are hungry, they’ll be more likely to try something new or eat something that isn’t necessarily their favorite food.
- Let your kids help with meal preparation. Research shows that when kids help prepare the food, they’re more likely to it.
- Kids are great imitators. Let them see you eat and enjoy your veggies.
- Keep trying. Toddlers and young kids are naturally averse to trying new foods, so you might have to introduce a new food quite a few times before a kid likes it or will even try it.
- Celebrate small victories. Maybe your kid only ate a few bites of peas instead of eating a whole salad–that’s fine! Any veggie is better than no veggie.
- Let your kids try veggies in lots of different forms to see what they like best- frozen peas, roasted sweet potato, raw carrots, sautéed spinach, steamed cauliflower- you never know what form your kid might like best.