Ask The Fitness Doc: How Do You Get Children to Eat Their Veggies?
Children are back in school. . .YAYYY!! If your summer was anything like ours, back to school also means back to planning, scheduling, and routines. Given all that we have on our plates and the constant juggling act that is our life, the LAST thing I want to do is play a make-to-order chef at meal time. That being said, our children eat whatever is placed in front of them! LOL! Seriously, they don't have a lot of options once it's on the table. But, as they grow I include them in the process BEFORE the food gets to the table.
The most frequent question I get from parents regarding their children's eating habits is how do you get children to eat their vegetables? Here are my top five tips for getting children to eat their vegetables. . . and a variety of foods for that matter.
1. Cultivate their palate early. Too often I hear, "oh I tried to give my child *insert vegetable here* and he/she spit it out so she doesn't like it". Well, if at first you don't succeed try, try again! Children should be exposed to a wide variety of taste modalities (salty, sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent) and textures. They may not like it the first, second, or even third time they try it, but continue to offer it to them periodically when they are young before you completely take the food off of the table. . get it 😉. It's much easier to get a two year old to try new foods than an already established picky eater at 10 years old.
2. Keep your food biases/dislikes to yourself. Maybe you don't like broccoli, green beans, or carrots. That's ok, but that isn't a reason for your child not to like them. Children should "taste the rainbow" of vegetables, and eat a variety of foods. That's hard to do when you are making the *ew* face, or make disparaging comments when attempting to get them to eat foods that you don't eat. Even if you don't eat it, learn how to cook foods that you don't like, and encourage them to eat it if it's good for them. True story: I only realized this summer that my mom doesn't eat oatmeal! Growing up it was a breakfast staple she prepared. To this day, it is STILL one of my FAVORITE breakfast foods (See my ode to Steel Cut Oats here 😋).
3. Take them grocery shopping with you and try new foods! Ideally our food would be farm to table. However, these days we can at least aim for farmer's market, or just plain *market*, to table, as opposed to AT a restaurant or carry out table. We like to peruse the produce section of the local Asian market, health food stores, and farmer's markets. In doing so, our children point out various vegetables asking what it is, how does it taste? Have I had it before? In addition, them seeing the vegetables in the store may spark them to want to add it to the menu in a unique or creative way. . .go with it!
4. Have them help you in the kitchen. Given that we understand that home cooked food is best, ask your little ones to help plan a menu. Encourage them to choose a dish or two per month or week that they decide what to eat, and then have them make it, or help them make it. Don't limit it to obvious *child-friendly* foods such as tacos, homemade pizza, or burgers. Encourage them to create complex meals that require cutting, chopping, and mixing ingredients. Also, explore and experiment with different cooking techniques. Teach them how to prepare vegetables in different ways: bake, boil, steam, roast, sauté, grill, blanche, stir-fry, or stew.
5. Don't hide vegetables in their food! How is a child ever going to enjoy peas in their real state if the only way they eat them is masked in a pea paste brownie (I hope that isn't a thing!)? By all means, continue to incorporate vegetables in as many dishes as you can! At the same time, be sure that they can identify how a vegetable looks in its original state. Eating is a full body experience, children should see, smell, feel, hear, AND taste their vegetables to get a full appreciation for them.
*BONUS* Watch T.V. That's right, watch T.V. These days, shows like Master Chef Junior and Chopped Junior showcase pints sized people working culinary miracles in the kitchen. Often they create masterpieces using everyday ingredients. At the same time, watching children who are close to their age may inspire them to want to cook and taste a variety of vegetables and foods. Perhaps a colored knife set, or this age appropriate knife set will make them feel more like a chef!
There you have it, happy AND diverse eating my friends!