Put them in charge of meal planning, and a lot of kids would feed the family a steady diet of macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets. Sound like your kids? You’re not alone! Lots of parents have a tough time getting their kids to eat any fruits and vegetables, let alone the recommended daily intake. But because fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients, it’s important to keep trying. Here are a few ways to encourage your children to eat more of these foods on a regular basis.
It’s true: Kids are experts at detecting vegetables no matter what form they’re in, but if you purée or grate vegetables and blend them into other dishes, you might be able to get away with a secret serving of greens. The blender will be your best friend in this effort.
Get creative! Pulse carrots or cauliflower in the blender until they’re smooth, and add them to macaroni and cheese — it will give a vitamin and fiber boost to an otherwise carb-heavy dish. Squash, sweet potatoes, or beans blended into soups give them a thicker, heartier texture, and help you make sure your kids get their recommended serving.
You can also slip some veggies into desserts — they’re the last place your kids will expect to find them! Grated zucchini baked into a chocolate cake is virtually unnoticeable, and avocado pie is a tasty treat that packs a nutritious punch. You can add some berries or a banana along with an avocado into a morning smoothie along with some yogurt, or try more exotic flavors like a pineapple beet smoothie.
While the “sneak” method ensures that your kids get a few extra servings of vegetables, it’s not helpful in terms of teaching them about good eating habits, so as kids get older, be sure to talk to them about the importance of eating a variety of foods, including plenty of fruit and vegetables.
Sauces and dips are your secret weapon, turning unpopular vegetables into dishes your kids will ask for again and again. Cheesy cauliflower or broccoli are far more appealing to kids than these vegetables served on their own. Crunchy raw vegetables served with a dip like hummus or guacamole make eating those foods fun.
Even kids who say they hate vegetables will usually have a few they’ll tolerate, so ask them which fruits and veggies they like best and be sure to include a familiar favorite when you’re introducing a new or less liked food. When presenting kids with a fruit or vegetable they’ve never tried before, encourage them to take a bite, but don’t force them to clean their plate. After several tastings, they may decide they like it after all.
Do you always cook vegetables the same way? Maybe it’s time to test a new technique! If you’re steaming or boiling veggies, try roasting them instead. Roasted vegetables are often more flavorful and may be more appealing than the same foods that are cooked in a different way.
Keep fruits and vegetables easily accessible and make less nutritious snacks more difficult to access. A bowl of fruit on the table and raw carrots, celery sticks, snow peas, and cucumbers pre-washed and cut, ready in the fridge, will make it easy for kids to make good choices at snack time. Cubed avocados and guacamole and chips are other quick and easy snacks that kids can grab and eat without prep (or pressure!) from you.
Involve your child in menu planning, shopping, and food preparation. Kids who have a say and who help out in the kitchen will feel more invested and will be more likely to be cooperative when it’s time to eat. You can also make family meals fun with projects like make your own pizza. You can also make a “build your own” taco or tostada bar, presenting a variety of vegetables in small bowls as toppings that they can choose from.
The most important thing you can do is set a good example by eating a varied diet yourself. Make sure your kids see you eating plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, and expressing delight in those foods. Although it can be frustrating when children refuse to eat the foods you serve, it’s important to stay positive and not turn the family table into a battleground. Keep offering a variety of tasty and healthful choices and even if your children resist now, they will most likely end up following your lead in the long run.