“Eat your veggies.” It was always followed by some kind of threat like, “or you won’t get dessert”, or a guilt trip like, “don’t you know there are children starving in the world.” As parents we find ourselves in an all out veggie war, scrambling, jumping through hoops, begging, even punishing to get our children to eat that infamous side of broccoli. It can get bad enough that both parents and children come to dread dinnertime. Here are a few tips that may help eliminate tears around the dinner table, oh yeah, and your kids will stop crying too.
Cook with your kids
My three-year-old son simply hates some textures and odors. The sight of some foods on his plate would immediately send him gagging to the bathroom. So I realized my first hurdle in re-teaching Jon to eat some foods was to help him tolerate their existence. I found one easy way to do this was to pull up a stool and let my son help me chop and stir those foods. As we did this I took the opportunity to talk about the names, colors and textures of each veggie.
As with anything you try to teach your children, the best route is to settle on a game plan and be consistent. For example, if my son decides he doesn’t like dinner he knows that there will be no replacement dinner-sandwich etc.-or snacks later. Many parents fall into the trap of becoming a short order cook because they are trying to please each member of the family. This rule is hard to enforce at the beginning but remember, it was their choice not to eat. Another challenge with this rule is getting everyone including Grandparents and babysitters to comply. Get on the same page with your children’s other caretakers and decide on house rules that work for you.
I find that if I meet Jon halfway he is more likely to try foods he’s not fond of. Every meal I try to provide three foods he enjoys and 1 food he doesn’t. This way, there is always something on his plate he will eat. Start with a 3:1 ratio and as they improve you can adjust as you see fit. Remember, as a parent, your job is to put good food on their plate, it is impossible to force feed kids. Rather than insisting that they clean their plate, I ask for only ‘three more bites’. When they do try something new, celebrate! I do a little ‘happy dance’ for Jon which he loves.
Ok, so here’s the jumping through hoops part. Only it’s not as difficult as you might think. There is a plethora of ideas on the Internet you can put into practice to help make food more appealing. Here are a few suggestions I found:
- Hide vegetables in their favorite foods. Some people add vegetables to cake, muffin or fudge pop recipes. I found here a terrific recipe for pasta sauce for those kiddos who love spaghetti. You can easily use the same principle for your mac and cheese, rice, or whatever staple food your kid loves. Familysponge.com/food/easy-veggie-pasta-sauce-for-kids
- Change the shape. Chefs will tell you presentation is everything. Try making veggie art with cookie cutters, or putting vegetables mixed with fruit or cheese blocks on skewers. It’s kind of hilarious but my son will only eat carrots that are shredded to look like shredded cheese. He also loves squeezable vegetable pouches. As long as he sees an apple or banana on the packaging he will eat it. Little does he realize that he is also eating spinach, kale, and squash.
- Juice it or make it a smoothie. This is another success story with Jon. I often buy readymade juices with vegetables but there are so many healthy and delicious recipes out there and the sky’s the limit. Babble.com/best-recipes/kid-approved-veggie-smoothies
- Make it crunch. Like just about every other American kid out there, my son loves french-fries. I’ve had some success cutting vegetables and roasting them in the oven. For extra crunch you can add bread crumbs. Try baking healthy sweet potato ‘fries’ or zucchini ‘fries’. Budgetbytes.com/2012/07/baked-zucchini-fries/
At the end of the day, teaching your kids to eat right is an on-going process and no method is one hundred percent effective immediately. I sure have a long way to go with my kiddos. So, give yourself a break mom and dad. You’re doing a great job. Hopefully some of these tips will help you end the veggie war in your home. Please share the wealth and comment below with ideas that have worked for you and your family.
Written by Christy Ortiz
Fort Worth native, former educator, mommy of two.