5 Proven Strategies to Encourage your Kids to Eat Vegetables
One of the complaints I hear most often from parents is:
“My kids won’t eat vegetables.”
“They are picky eaters.”
“They won’t try anything new.”
Does this sound familiar? If so, here are 5 proven strategies to help your kids not only eat healthier but develop healthy eating habits.
- It Starts with Looking in the Mirror.
This can be a harsh reality for some. Every parent wants the best for their child but sometimes their own behaviours are preventing that from happening. If your child is not eating healthy, it’s likely because you are not. Let’s stop blaming our kids and take responsibility for our own actions.
We control what comes in the house. I am responsible for buying the groceries for our household, not my 10 year old son. In other words, as parents we set the parameters of what is allowed in our homes and what is not.
2. Time to Own our Food Issues.
Food is a sensitive topic and many people suffer from food issues and disorders. It’s time to deal with our personal food issues so that we don’t repeat the cycle with our kids. This could also mean speaking openly with our kids about our own challenges with food.
For example, my son is well aware that I have a sweet tooth and struggle with “in moderation” with any sweets. If there is a bag of licorice in the house, I will eat it all - I am not a partial bag kind of girl. Knowing this, I have asked him to help me create an environment that supports healthy eating and does not have these triggers for me. Sharing this with my son, also give him the opportunity to see that we all have struggles and we are all learning.
News Flash ⚡️ Parents don’t have it all figured out. The struggle is real. For all of us.
Monkey see, monkey do — Kids see, Kids do.
Kids are watching our every move and will copy what we DO, not what we SAY. They learn by what we do consistently, day in, day out.
We need to lead by example and this can be hard.
The truth is, eating healthy IS hard work. There are many times I don’t feel like cooking or preparing food with my son. I wish for a healthy food fairy to appear with dinner magically in front of us (she has not yet appeared!). It takes tremendous effort and discipline to stay consistent and invest the time and energy needed to create healthy eating habits.
Eating healthy is a conscious effort.
Healthy eating must be lived and breathed into the home. As parents we can’t say one thing and then do another or have something alright one week, but not, the next. Conflicting messages confuse kids and does not create a stable healthy food foundation.
I’ve learned that just because my son doesn’t like a vegetable prepared a certain way does not mean he doesn’t like that vegetable. What he doesn’t like one week, does not mean he won’t try and like the following week.
It’s important to expose our kids to different types of foods. This could mean trying different recipes, different cuisines until you are able to find options that work for your child or children. I’m a strong advocate of exposing kids to different flavours and types of cuisines from an early age. It also provides a great opportunity to educate them on different foods consumed in different cultures.
I grew up during a time when you ate what was on the table and if you didn’t like it, well, then you went hungry. I don’t advocate for this type of parenting and believe that forcing our kids to do anything, will never get the result we are trying to achieve in the long run.
Creating options can be alot of work and require loads of creativity. Sometimes it means trying … and trying again … and again.
For example, one of my son’s favorite foods when he was a toddler was avocado. But shortly after we moved back to Canada, he decided he didn’t like them anymore. Knowing how nutritious they are, I continually tried preparing them different ways. Avocado toast with pumpkin seeds on top, baked avocado with egg in the middle, guacamole or on a salad but, no luck. Finally I stuck it in his smoothie and voila — we had a winner!
It often times means revisiting foods over and over again. A couple years later my son tried some fresh guacamole and I almost fell over when he said it was delicious. Music to my ears!
5. Involve Kids — Keep it Fun!
This is one of the most important things to raise kids that WANT to eat vegetable and be healthy. Kids must be included in the process for healthy eating to be a part of their lifestyle.
I know this can be hard especially when the kids are younger, but it is so important to shop with your kids and teach them about foods. Teach them about vegetables and how to pick out produce. If you are not familiar with some vegetables this is also a great opportunity for you to learn together. Maybe create a challenge to try one new vegetable a month and take the time to find a research a recipe together, go shopping and prepare it together.
There is this falacy that parents need to know everything. I have found in the many moments when I’ve said to my son, “I don’t know” it has opened up opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Opportunities for interesting discussions and opportunities to learn together. He takes pride in teaching me something he’s discovered.
Teach kids how to read ingredient decks. I am a bit obsessed with this one. Over the years my son has now picked up this habit and he will be the first to look at the ingredient list and if he sees artificial colour or flavours, back it goes.
On a recent grocery shopping trip with his grandma he took the opportunity to teach her about ingredients. After she placed marble cheese in the cart he picked it up and read the list of ingredients. After seeing the first ingredient was modified milk ingredients he explained to her why this was not a good option.
Cook with your kids. Let them be part of the process. Depending on their age they can help mix ingredients, find recipes, measure items, chop vegetables and/ or clean up. Over the years, sometimes watching as he “cleans up” has required tremendous patience on my part to not interfere.
One of the biggest learnings for me has been teaching my son WHY I make the choices I do. Explaining why I don’t buy certain foods and why I feel it’s important to eat others.
Recently I read about the benefits of eating mushrooms every day. Knowing my son does not like mushrooms, I went into creative mode. I found if that if I finely chop them up, he doesn’t mind them in certain dishes like omelettes and quinoa. It turns out, it was more the texture and consistency of a rough cut mushroom that he didn’t care for.
Just to clarify I do not advocate lying to kids about what’s in a dish. Kids need to be able to trust their parents and if we are not being truthful it does not build a foundation moving forward.
Over the years there have been times when I didn’t think any of this was getting through to my son. His dad and I have very different eating habits and I feared that my son would grow up not understanding the importance of healthy food and not choosing to eat healthy. I can’t tell you how many times my son has rolled his eyes at me, while I was on one of my rants about nutrition or sharing something I’d recently learned about health with my son and his friends. In fact, there have been years when I didn’t think any of this was even making a difference.
But this last year I have begun to see the shift. He is talking about the benefits of healthy food with his friends and helping his family eat healthier. He wants to take extra carrots and cucumbers to school because some of his friends don’t have any vegetables in their lunch bag.
I am proof that this works, because I am living it now.
Yes this all takes lots of patience, time and effort, but I like to frame it as an investment in our children.
I get it. There are so many things vying for our attention. We are time starved, rushing from one activity to the next, sometimes barely feeling as though we can tread water.
I’m not perfect and like everyone I have my moments, but I am open and honest with my son when these things happen. I laugh at myself and laugh often. I want him to know that I am also learning and trying to do better. It also give him the opportunity to sometimes teach and encourage me and lead our healthy family tribe.
I will end by asking you this:
What better investment can you make in your child than the gift of health?