For years, I thought I didn’t like salad or yellow squash in particular. Frankly, most vegetables left me cold, but since eating them was required, I ate them. Rarely did I ask for seconds of green beans, cauliflower or broccoli, though.
Fast forward to college, when I left my relatively small hometown and ventured to first Georgia and then Missouri—not exactly hotbeds of culinary delights, but each place boasted a unique introduction to new foods, along with vegetables prepared in different ways. The first salad I had that didn’t contain mostly iceberg lettuce smothered in Thousand Island dressing was an eye-opening experience. Hey, this green stuff tasted great!
Nothing against my mother’s cooking (when I reminiscence with anyone who grew up when I did, and our stories of vegetables cooked within an inch of its life are nearly identical), but there was a whole, wide world out there that prepared and ate vegetables much different than I had—and I liked it. A lot.
As parents, it can be a challenge to get kids to eat their vegetables—and sometimes, even like them. We know the importance of establishing healthy eating habits when they’re young because we want them to have good eating habits when they are on their own.
We can—and should—have a hand in helping our kids cultivate a wide palate when it comes to vegetables. Thankfully, we live in a day and age where we can offer a good variety of vegetables and can easily find many recipes incorporating those veggies.
For some concrete ways to help your child overcome her picky-eater tendencies, try these five ideas.
The one-bite rule. At dinner (as this is the most likely time a picky eater balks), give the child literally a tablespoon or less of each dish on the table. Once the child has eaten that, he may have seconds of anything on the table.
- Have the child help prepare at least one meal per week (planning it, shopping, cooking). Stipulations should be that it has to be a well-balanced meal (i.e., not pizza and hotdogs, but pizza and a fresh salad or hot dogs and two veggie dishes), but other than that, let the child guide the menu.
- Offer a “no-thank-you” clause. Once a year, let the child pick a vegetable that the child doesn’t have to eat that entire year. For example, New Year’s Day is the time when my kids choose their “no-thank-you” veggie (selections this year include potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes). When the chosen veggie is served, the child who picked it doesn’t have to eat that one food item. But the catch is that the child must eat at least a bite of any other veggie or food served—or the picked veggie is back on her menu.
- Connect to the source. Community supported agriculture (farm shares), farmer’s market, a vegetable garden out back—all of these ways bring veggies directly to the child from the ground level. Visit the farm, stop by the farmer’s market and rope the kids into planting their own “patch” of ground to get them interested in seeing how things grow. Vegetables grown this way are not as uniform or clean as the ones in the store, which can really spur interest. Also, when a child grows an eggplant from a tiny seed, he’s much more likely to want to taste the fruits of his labor.
- Fix each vegetable a few different ways. Your kid might not like steamed zucchini, but perhaps sautéed with a yogurt sauce might taste better. Remember, kids need more than one exposure to a new item before they start to consider whether they like it or not. They might say they don’t like X veggie, but served in a different way, they might just find they’ve acquired a taste for it after all.
While there’s no magic bullet for getting kids to like veggies, these ideas will help ensure they at least eat them most of the time.
Until next time,