By contributing author Kris Louis
If you’re a parent, you’re probably aware that sometimes you have to get creative to get your kid to do certain things. Ask anyone who’s ever tried to tell a child that cough syrup was actually a new cherry-flavored soft drink, or that math can be fun. Those are tough sells, to be sure, but they still don’t rise to the challenge of getting children to eat and appreciate vegetables. Maybe you’ve tried to shape a potato like a meatball and cover it in spaghetti sauce, or tried to hide baby carrots under a heap of meatloaf slathered in gravy or ketchup. You do it with the best of intentions, but it’s folly because children have a sixth sense when it comes to being tricked into eating their veggies. If you’re contemplating giving up, take a look at some of these tactics that worked for parents who have been in your shoes.
Model the behavior
A good rule of thumb for parenting in general is to model the behavior you want your kids to adopt. That’s a major factor where eating vegetables are concerned: If the kids see you downing soft drinks and binge eating Oreos, they probably won’t take you seriously about the benefits of eating their vegetables. Your influence is very important, so even if you don’t care for vegetables make sure the kids see you enjoying a few carrots and some broccoli with dinner. If you like them (or appear to), they’ll be more likely to give veggies a try.
Kids love to get involved in “grown up” activities like cooking dinner. Press them into service as assistant chefs, and have them help wash and prepare the vegetables. Explain how eating bright-colored vegetables is one of the best things you can do for your body, and how the vitamins and minerals they contain will make them grow big and strong. Consider taking them to a farmers market and explain how the vegetables and other food your family eats gets to you from farmers all over the United States. Remember, the more educated kids are, the more apt they are to develop an interest. And they’ll gain a sense of pride in contributing to the meal everyone eats at dinner time.
Just one bite
Research shows that the more children try new foods, the more likely they are to learn to like them. A clever use of the “one-bite rule” can help your cause. Insist that they must try one mouthful of something they reject at the table before they can leave the table. Keep serving a different vegetable every night and dinner and after a week or so your kids will have sampled a healthy dose of veggies. Many parents have succeeded in finding at least one vegetable their kids like using this method.
Dress it up
Vegetables are at their most healthful when they’ve been steamed or roasted and served as is, but that doesn’t mean you have to present them that way when trying to encourage kids to appreciate them. Let the youngsters know they can have butter, lemon or brown sugar with lots of vegetables. And if someone wants to put ketchup on a potato, go for it if it means they’ll eat potatoes.
Avoid negative reinforcement
The one trap that parents often fall into is threatening a kid who refuses vegetables with early bedtime or no dessert or, worse, making them stay at the table until they give in. It’s a strategy that’s destined to fail in the long-term because kids who associate vegetables with unpleasant dinnertime experiences are more likely to grow up rejecting them as adults.
Grow a garden
Consider planting a vegetable garden with the kids so they can experience firsthand the growing cycle and learn where they come from. It’s a lot of fun and a great family activity. Not only will they get to experience the growth process of their chosen vegetables, but they can revel in their accomplishments and contributions when it’s time to enjoy the bounty of the garden.
Try to maintain a positive approach when encouraging the kids to appreciate vegetables. You want them to associate veggies with good memories and learn an appreciation of how they’re grown and what they do for our bodies.
About Kris Louis
Kris Louis is mom to two rambunctious boys. Her oldest is 10 and her youngest is 7. A former advertising copywriter, she recently created parentingwithkris.com, where she puts her skills to work writing about the trials and tribulations of parenting. Kris, her husband, and two boys live in Durham, NC.
The Monroe Farmers' Market is open June–October and offers fresh, locally-grown produce, baked goods, prepared foods and hand-crafted specialty foods to Connecticut locals.