A Half-Plate of Veggies and Fruit
Anticipating mealtime battles now that the new USDA dietary guidelines suggest half our plates be filled with fruits and vegetables? Getting kids to eat more veggies doesn't have to be a fight. It can feel intimidating, but you can do it, says certified nutritionist Julie Negrin, MS, author of Easy Meals to Cook With Kids. Here are creative ways to introduce and serve vegetables.
Get Kids in the Kitchen
Take them to a farmers market or grocery and have them pick out a veggie. Let them wash, peel, and slice it and help choose how to cook and flavor it. "Get them to touch it and smell it," says Negrin. "Having them see how the food is prepared makes them less intimidated. Having a sense of ownership makes them more likely to eat it."
Offer Veggies With Fave Foods
If your child already likes plain pizza, see if she'll try adding a single veggie topping. Some kids don't like to mix foods -- especially messing with a food they think is already perfect. But some kids will be willing to experiment. Try setting up bowls of veggies for pizza night, taco night, or salad night, and let the family go wild. Kids may be tempted by the selection and fun of it being hands-on.
Make Veggies Fun
For a young child, making faces with cut-up veggies may help get them from his plate to his mouth. Calling broccoli "trees" or cauliflower "brains" can make them much less intimidating. Making food mini-sized also can make it more kid-friendly. "Oftentimes, it's the entertainment behind it," says clinical pediatric dietitian Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, LD, of St. Louis Children's Hospital. "It's the exploration -- making it fun."
Don't Battle Over Veggies
When you're frustrated that your child won't try a veggie, it can be tempting to get mad or force her to clean her plate. Experts say forcing a child to eat something can cause them to avoid eating it, even as adults. "You never want to force feed because you don’t want it become an emotional drama," says dietician Tanner-Blasiar. "Don’t react one way or another. There are going to be things that they're not going to eat."
Offer One New Vegetable Plus a Familiar One
Don't overwhelm your child by offering an entire plate filled with foods he doesn't recognize or doesn't like. Ask him to try only one new vegetable at a time. Make sure you serve other familiar foods -- hopefully including at least a veggie he already likes. That way you can encourage him to try the new food, but you'll both know he'll have something to eat if he isn't a fan.
Don't Give Up
If you've offered broccoli or spinach to your child several times and she's made a yucky face, don't give up. Kids' tastes change as they grow. They might have to try a new food a dozen times before they like it. "Don't label your kid a picky eater," says nutritionist Negrin. If you do, they may live up to the label. Instead, just try, try again, she says. "Sooner or later, they're going to be bold."
Make Veggie Popsicles and Smoothies
Missy Chase Lapine, author of The Sneaky Chef cookbooks, purees sweet potatoes and carrots, mixes them with plain yogurt and a little orange juice, then freezes them like Popsicles. Try mixing veggies and fruits into smoothies too. Mix up an avocado with plain yogurt and frozen bananas and strawberries for a creamy, healthy treat.
Take Advantage of Peer Pressure
Does your child have a friend who is an adventurous eater? Invite him over for dinner and serve up some new veggies. Peer pressure may work in a good way and your child may be more likely to try a new food if her buddy is bold enough to try it first.
Sometimes kids don't like vegetables because they're too mushy or taste too strong. Try roasting them to get a flavor and consistency kids will like. Roasting can make them soft on the inside and crispy on the outside -- like French fries. It also brings out a vegetable's natural sweetness, so they don't taste as intense as they might when they're raw. Try drizzling with olive oil and sprinkling with some parmesan cheese before roasting.
Serve Veggies and Dip
A healthy dip like hummus may make raw vegetables more appealing to kids. (Don't serve up sour cream or mayo-based dips.) Offer an array of baby carrots, snap peas, and other veggies with a bowl of tasty dip. Besides hummus, find a healthy recipe for ranch dressing that substitutes plain, low-fat yogurt instead of mayo. Kids like the act of dipping, and they like eating foods with their fingers.
Have Veggies Everywhere
When your child is hungry, if veggies are within reach, she'll be more likely to eat them. Cut up carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers and make sure they're sitting out when you're making dinner. If she asks for a pre-dinner snack, make that her only choice. Always have clean, cut-up veggies sitting up-front in the fridge where they're easy to see when your child is searching for food.
Set a Good Example
It's hard to convince a child to eat Brussels sprouts if you won't go near them. "Parents need to think of themselves as salespeople," says nutritionist Negrin. So eat veggies yourself, and make sure your child is watching. If you're not a big vegetable fan, then have Grandma or the sitter take on the role of veggie booster. Sometimes kids will listen to other people more than they'll listen to mom and dad.
Sneak Veggies Into Baked Goods
"It eliminates the battle," says Missy Chase Lapine, author of The Sneaky Chef cookbooks. "We have precious time with our kids, and I would rather not spend it fighting over broccoli." She makes brownies with pureed spinach, chocolate chip cookies with white beans, and muffins with sweet potatoes and carrots. "Kids are happy. Parents are happy. The body is happy. It's a total win/win."