Yes, the picture says 5 ways to get your kids to eat more veggies, but I just couldn’t stop there! So here are 7 ways!
To my darling 4-year-old daughter:
You know how every meal time, you remind me all over again and usually very loudly and even sometimes with a dramatic flop to the floor and a bit of an under the table cry fest that you hate all lettuce, and anything at all that is green?
You just sucked down an entire handful of spinach, and loved it.
(Thanks for the happy girl, Blendtec!)
Disclaimer: I am not perfect. Ha! As if any of you who reads this blog with any regularity would ever think that! But my kids? They are perfect, although I can’t say that they are perfect at eating their vegetables (or any food that touches another food, or isn’t the color of the day, and why do I never get the list of what colors are acceptable for the day I ask you?).
When I decided to get healthy and lose all my weight, I knew I wanted to extend that to the way the rest of my family was eating as well. I didn’t want to make separate meals for myself, not only because that’s too much work to make two meals, but also because I know that what is healthy for me is also healthy for them. I wanted my kids to be able to think better in school, be more active, establish good habits, and avoid a lot of the problems that come with poor health.
I have had so many people ask how I get my kids to eat the things they do (if you want to see what I send with my daughter every day for her school lunches, make sure you are following me on Instagram). Today I thought I would share how I get my kids, even the somewhat picky 4-year-old, to eat their veggies and love them!
- Put it in front of them, and keep putting it in front of them over and over. I have heard this analogy a couple of different times and just love it because I think it illustrates this concept so well: When we teach our kids to walk, we don’t watch them fall the first time and then turn to each other and say, “Well, it looks like Johnny just isn’t cut out for this whole walking thing. I guess we’ll just carry him everywhere for the rest of his life.” Or when we are teaching our little ones to use the toilet, we don’t watch them pee on the floor once and say, “That’s that, little Jane apparently doesn’t like this toilet idea, I guess we’ll just leave her in diapers.” And yet, when it comes to food, we give them broccoli, they make a face, and we decide they don’t like broccoli and stop giving it to them? We clean pee off the floor 100 times if necessary to help them learn where it belongs and how this concept works, and yet we give up on vegetables after one shot? How weird is that? What we should do is keep giving them fruits and vegetables every day of their life, of all varieties. They definitely won’t eat it if it’s not given to them, and you never know when one day your child might just pick up a Brussels sprout and decide they are the best, most delicious thing ever.
- Make sure they see you enjoying them. I had a friend tell me once that when her kids decided they didn’t like broccoli, she decided to stop letting them have it (yes, that sounds like the opposite of my first point, but give me a sec). Instead, she treated it as if it were the most divine chocolate, creating her own “stash” that she refused to share, and then ate it in front of them as if it were the world’s most amazing treat. Her kids now all adore broccoli. If that seems overly dramatic for you, you should at least let them see you filling your own plate at mealtimes and enjoying it. It may take them awhile, but eventually doesn’t every kid want to be like mom or dad? If they see you saying onions are gross, they are going to believe it and never touch an onion again, but if you can’t get enough, eventually they will want to find out why you enjoy them so much!
- Make them taste good! I don’t like raw broccoli or cauliflower. Steamed without any seasonings really isn’t much better. But if you then add even just a little butter, salt, and pepper, then yum! Brussels sprouts boiled into oblivion are a slimy, smelly, disgusting mess. But if you start by cooking a little bit of (nitrite/nitrate/MSG free) bacon in a pan, then add the Brussels sprouts and cook until starting to get brown and crispy on the edges, and add just the teeniest bit of real maple syrup as you turn off the heat to finish it off, then wow! Yum, yum, yum!
- Hide them, within reason. A few years back I found a cookbook that talked all about how to hide vegetables in other things, and soon my freezer was full of vegetable purees all ready to hide in all kinds of dishes. And then one day it hit me, how were my kids ever to learn to like vegetables if they didn’t know they were eating them? How was I going to reveal this secret to them someday? And then were they going to go off to college and make vegetable purees in their dorm rooms? Probably not. I am a huge fan of using this technique to pack more nutritional punch to every bite. I really like the taste of butternut puree mixed into my mac’n’cheese, and shredding carrots into meatloaf not only adds more veggies to the plate, but it also spreads the meal further, saving us money. But anytime I do something like that, I make sure the whole family knows it’s in there. That said, at that point it’s easy for the kids to forget it’s in there and then just eat without complaint. For example: My kids watch me stuff the Blendtec full of spinach, or kale, or something else bright and pretty and green every single morning, and yet they still get excited (smoothies, yum!) and suck it down. Emily for the win! (Find out why I think Blendtec is king of the blenders right here.)
- Let them choose. I don’t know about you, but with my kids, especially my little redhead with a sassy, adorable little mind of her own, things are a lot less of a battle if the choice is theirs. I try to involve my kids in every part of the process. As we are sitting down to meal plan, I ask them each what they would like to see on the menu, which is why we eat pizza and mac’n’cheese so much. Hey, you can’t argue with the classics, right? I also ask them what vegetable they would like to have with it. I also like to give them a little free reign when we are in the grocery store, and nothing makes this crazy food mom’s heart prouder than when I ask them to go choose something delicious to go with dinner, and they come back with an armful of artichokes or green beans or kale. Then when we get it home, I have them help me prepare the veggies and make sure they remember that they are the ones who picked them out. They then eat those artichokes proudly instead of putting up their dukes ready for a fight.
- Help them grow it. Everyone can grow some food, even if it’s just a few herbs in a pot in the window! There is something incredibly different between a sterile, flavorless, grainy grocery store tomato in the middle of December, and a tomato that you watched grow to a gigantic plant from a teeny seed, a plant you watered and weeded around and watched as the baby blossoms turned into green orbs that grew and deepened to a deep red, then picked and sliced into thick slices and eaten with just a touch of salt while still warm from the sun. Being part of the process from the beginning is huge, and brings in an ownership that makes the kids much more willing to eat it.
- Dip it, even in chocolate if necessary. Who doesn’t love a good dip? In high school, sometimes my lunch would consist of only vegetables dipped in ranch dressing. I didn’t know then how much MSG I was consuming with each dip, oops! Now my lunch will quite often just be veggies dipped in hummus. The founder of my school, Joshua Rosenthal, has said that if it will help your kids (or you!) to eat your greens, then dump chocolate on it. Whatever it takes to get those veggies in, do it!
As a bonus tip, I would say to watch what you say around your kids, and talk things through with them. Our beautiful 7-year-old, who eats everything and anything with gusto and passion, one day suddenly declared that she didn’t like onions. As we probed deeper she told us the reason for her new-found pickiness: She didn’t want to go blind. Apparently I had talked about how cutting onions make you cry, and she had misconstrued it and blew it way out of proportion! Poor kid was so afraid of going blind! So we had a quick science lesson and life is good again, phew! Funny kid.
What do you do to get more veggies in your own kids? What challenges have you run into when trying to keep your kids healthy?
I have had a powerful transformation in my own life as I changed to eating Real Food, including way more energy, feeling fantastic all the time, and of course dropping a bunch of weight! I want everyone to feel this good, so please email me today at Emily@healthbyemily.com to find out more about health coaching sessions.