Let’s start off by addressing the obvious: Parenting is hard. And getting kids to eat specific things at specific times is sometimes impossible! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. As they say, “It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it.”
There’s a lot working against parents. It doesn’t help that so many processed, high-sugar foods are incredibly convenient, irresistible to kids, and promote snacking over fresh, real meals. Fresh fruits and vegetables just can’t compare with those ultra-sweet flavors and familiar characters marketed to kids. So how do you get even your pickiest of eaters to eat their fruits and vegetables on the daily? First step: Don’t give up! Second: Establish a routine that’s very visible to kids. Third: Don’t give up! It’s a battle worth fighting.
You Can’t Understand What You Can’t See
Some parents have taken to disguising pureed fruits and vegetables in their children’s favorite foods to get them their much-needed vitamins and minerals. While this may be effective short-term, it doesn’t help the end-game. We’re doing children a disservice by being sneaky and not teaching them about the importance of adequate nutrition and how good vegetables can taste. As Rachel Ray said:
“I don’t like the message it [pureed produce] sends. I don’t like teaching kids that vegetables—and therefore healthy foods—are something to be hidden, to be eaten only when deceived. I’d rather my kid reject broccoli on the plate than eat it pureed into a cookie.”
We happen to agree. Educating kids on making healthy food choices is crucial to developing healthy habits long-term. Children can’t learn what a carrot tastes like or if they like carrots if they don’t even know they’re eating one.
Try to open up a discussion with your kids that goes beyond “you need to eat your vegetables because I said so.” It may start by explaining the worth of fruits and vegetables to growth, or appealing to something the child values, like having enough energy to play sports. This isn’t so easy with younger kids, but it’s a conversation worth starting, that you can build upon.
Practice Makes Lifelong Habits
You know what they say: Practice makes perfect. It’s hard to create lifelong habits around eating good fruits and vegetables (especially if they aren’t our favorite) unless we actually practice eating them. A big part of eating is providing fuel for the body, which means every meal can’t be full of our very favorite foods. It just can’t. But we can get used to finding a balance, and help our kids do the same.
Thankfully, the wealth of good fruit and vegetable options is your saving grace for getting children to practice. There’s gotta be something that would delight (or at least not disgust!) your little one. Diversifying their diet may be your answer. Introduce new or unusual varieties of fruits and vegetables, and hopefully you’ll land on something they like. This may not only peak interest, but the added variety boasts more nutritional value. Did you know it takes 8-10 exposures to a food to truly determine liking or disliking? So don’t give in after one go—be persistent!
Parent-Child Trust Makes Everything Easier
No doubt, meal times can be stressful and a source of dread for both parent and child. So consistency is key. If kids think they’re being tricked, or there are no regular meal expectations, chances are they’re going to become more rebellious when it comes to food. Rather than fighting to get them to eat only the things you want, try strategically pairing foods your child likes to eat with fresh or frozen produce. Think ranch dressing meets baby carrots. Or caramel meets apples. This may get you one step closer to your ultimate goal. And if it opens the door to eating fruits and vegetables in the present, who’s to say it won’t lead to better consumption in the future? A thoughtful compromise is often a more sustainable and manageable choice than hiding healthy food behind (or within) a less healthy one. Who wants to keep that up?!
If you’re still experiencing the vegetable battle, another helpful way to motivate your child to be interested in healthy foods is to get them involved in food prep. Assistance with setting the table, picking, washing or chopping vegetables, or reading the recipe are excellent opportunities for child involvement. Everyone likes to feel like they add value, including your child. Give them reason to be invested in a healthy meal by allowing them to contribute!
Frankly, the younger we start emphasizing nutrition, the better. One day the choice of what they consume will be totally theirs. Are we setting them up for success? Let’s face this head-on! Good luck, parents.