I am a vegetable lover. I have liked every kind of veggie I have ever tried. You would think that I would have children who devoured vegetables without complaint, right? Not exactly. Although I was providing a good example, I wasn’t requiring them to eat veggies. I had this crazy idea that there was “adult” food and then there was “kid” food. Kid food included things like: hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese. Adult food was where vegetables fit in. Boy did children product marketers work on me. I suddenly realized that if I want my children to eat veggies as adults, they need to be eating them as children…or at least it would be easier for them if they already had the habit.
But now what? When we entered Veggieland, my children were 5, 3, and 1. The one year old, no problem, she ate anything I gave her. But the others? When I put broccoli in front of my 5 year old with the ludicrous expectation that she, I don’t know, eat it, we were told that there was no way she would eat that “yucky” stuff.
It has been more than 2 years since then and we have made significant progress. The following are tips and tricks that I have learned on this journey that have worked well for us. Take what fits your family and run with it.
How Many and What Kinds?
No matter what the USDA recommends, ultimately, you are the one in charge of your child’s nutrition. Use the guidelines and make the best choice you can. If you are feeling guilty about not giving your children enough vegetables, don’t worry. Just do the best you can and little by little you will make gains towards a healthier diet. I think learning to eat a healthy diet is a lifelong process. Start where you are and don’t worry about what other people are doing.
What Veggies to Start With
It doesn’t really matter what vegetables you start with or how many. Starting is more important than the perfect amount. However, there are some guidelines that might help when you are just starting out.
- Choose cooked over raw. Maybe you want your children to eat raw vegetables, but starting out with cooked vegetables will be easier. Most kids prefer cooked vegetables, especially the younger set. Their softer texture and more familiar flavor makes them easier to eat. Once you feel like it, introduce raw vegetables. Or don’t. We eat raw veggies about 4 times a week—I hate prepping veggies!
- Choose familiar over new. Start with veggies they already like or things similar in taste/texture.
- A short list to get you started:
- Peas (my kids like them frozen, weird)
- Sweet potatoes
- Snap peas (one of the few raw veggies my kids liked right away)
- Master list of veggies
The Easiest Way to Start Eating Vegetables
This is not necessarily the best way, just the most painless.
Make a rule in the house that no one gets candy (or anything sugary) until they have eaten a serving of vegetables. I also require that they eat something with fat to avoid the crash.
When I started this with my children, I bought a bag of taffy. At every meal, they had a chance to eat a veggie and then get a piece of candy. Maximum, they would have been able to get 4 pieces of taffy. Most days (in the beginning) they would get one, sometimes two.
I received an unforeseen benefit from this rule, after eating fat and veggies, I didn’t crave so much sugar. My need for sweets has greatly declined. And when I do want chocolate, I eat veggies (with butter!) first and then there is no guilty feeling about eating chocolate!
When I first made the rule, I had to constantly remind them to eat their veggies first. Was there whining? Yes! But it didn’t take long before they got used to the idea. It helped that Mommy and Daddy were doing it too.
A few months after starting the rule, I got pregnant. I do not do pregnancy well. At meals times, I would drag myself from the couch, get out the peanut butter and bread and lay pathetically back down, calling, “Kids go make lunch”. From my pathetic spot on the couch, I would listen to them eat. Surprisingly, I would hear them say things like, “Once we are done with our sandwich, let’s eat a veggie so that we can have a piece of candy!” My kids were regulating themselves. Yes!
Eventually, we moved away from needing candy as an incentive to eat veggies. It is still a requirement if they want candy, but my kids don’t need candy to get them to eat veggies anymore.
A Less “Bribery-like” Approach
After about 6 months or so of training children to only eat candy after eating a vegetable, it became easy for my kids to eat their veggies…most of the time. There are days where a child might refuse to eat theirs. When this time happens, I have two tools to help them choose to eat their vegetables, an “either-or” and a “when-then”.
An either-or involves giving a child the choice between two things that you are okay with. For example: “You can either eat your vegetables now, or I can save them for the next meal.” You can use any “or” that you are comfortable with. This one is particularly nice because it leads straight to:
Similar to an either-or, the when-then statement gives a child the chance to make a choice. A when-then statement might go like this, “When you are done eating your vegetables, then you can eat the rest of dinner.”
When a child decides not to eat their veggies, I don’t make them (I don’t have the energy) I save the plate for the next meal. At the next meal, everyone in the family has their lasagna and the refusing child has their vegetables from the last meal (and this meal if there are any). When they are done with those veggies, they can have the lasagna. I have had children refuse to eat veggies at one meal. I don’t think I have ever had a child refuse for two. I serve veggies at breakfast just for this reason. Then they have all day to eat those veggies and they probably will.
Sneaky Ways to Serve Vegetables
While the ideal is to have children enjoy eating vegetables and choose to do so, it might help to start off with a few sneaky ideas. In fact, I use these with myself when there is a veggie (kale for example) that I don’t want to, you know, taste.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Do you make dishes with sauce? Like Fettuccine Alfredo or Lasagna? You can puree any vegetable and add it to your sauce. Not only are you eating vegetables, but you make your meal go further too. Even an inexpensive blender can puree thawed vegetables, and a nice blender (like a Vitamix) can handle a bag of frozen ones.
I always add pureed broccoli to my spaghetti sauce. It adds nutrition without changing the flavor. I should warn you, if you add something green (like broccoli) it will change the color of the sauce. Spaghetti sauce changes from a nice red color to an unappetizing brown.
When I first served spaghetti this way, my children wrinkled there nose at it. “What is this?” asks Grace while carefully poking it with her fork. Did she think it was going to come alive?
“It’s just spaghetti, try it. You will like it. Mommy wouldn’t give you something that would hurt you.”
If that doesn’t work, you could try making a game out of it. For example:
“I added something green, taste it and see if you can figure it out…Mmm, Yummy! I think it must be a frog. What do you think?”
”I thought today we could be ogres. So, I made Ogre Stew. Who’s going to be an ogre with me?”
Blend It Like Beckham
Surely you have heard of green smoothies. Everywhere I turn there seems to be a new recipe for one. But maybe you haven’t gotten brave enough to try one. Or, maybe you did and hated it. If you aren’t making green smoothies, you are missing out. There are so many recipes, you are sure to find one you and your kids like.
When I want to get protein too, I blend:
- 2 cups of spinach (I freeze the bag of fresh spinach to make it easier to get in the blender)
- 16 oz of crushed pineapple
- 16 oz plain Greek yogurt
- 3 bananas
- 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
This normally makes enough that I can share, or save some for later. Don’t skimp on the fruit! That’s what makes it taste good and fruit is good for you. Once you feel comfortable eating vegetables, you can back off on the fruit and add more vegetables.
No Meat Athlete has a recipe to make the perfect smoothie blend with any kind of fruit/veggie you want.
What Do We Plan Next?
Right now, we are eating 3 servings of vegetables a day…most of the time. I am hoping to increase it to 4 servings a day. We are randomly drinking green smoothies, I want to make that part of the menu planning and have that happen more often. I also want to increase the number of raw vegetables we are eating. I recently read about the benefits of eating fermented food and I want to look into how complicated fermenting food is.
What about you? Where are you at? Where do you want to be?
This is a part of abc blogging. Visit Ben and Me to read the other V posts.
P.S. About the picture of Grace in the beginning–she is posing. Do you think I might have an actress on my hands?