Vegetables and other good foods are one of the most important things we can do for our kids. Without teaching them to lead a healthy lifestyle, they are at an increased risk of childhood obesity, diabetes, self esteem issues and more. But if we can get kids eating vegetables we can help future generations lead long, fruitful lives.
As a mom, one of my goals is to raise healthy, productive kids. I hope that is your goal too. But handing my kids pop, candy, cookies, white bread, etc, etc day in and day out will not achieve that goal. So I have set out to change my lifestyle through clean eating like the Daniel plan and others have shown. And by changing my own life I hope to change my children’s lives. For the better.
Why It’s Important to Get Kids Eating Vegetables
Do you want your legacy you leave to be here for many years? Is it OK for the next generation to be sick and unhealthy? Do we want better for our kids? I know I want better. I want our future to be led by a healthy generation. I want my kids to be able to teach my grandkids how to be healthy as well.
So why is it important to get kids eating vegetables? Nutrients. Our bodies are basically an elaborately built collection of molecules. These molecules are built of various chemicals our bodies rely on. If you could see the vast intricate chemical reactions going on everyday you would be amazed at the machines our bodies are. But without the proper chemicals, aka nutrients, our bodies can’t run at peak efficiency. The machine breaks down.
Vegetable contain a variety of nutrients ranging from a multitude of vitamins, beta-carotene (good for your eyes), antioxidants, and more. All of these things help our bodies, down to its cellular reactions, run efficiently. And don’t you want your kids’ body to run the best it can?
Risks of Unhealthy Eating Range From Childhood Obesity to Kids Diabetes
The harsh reality of the world we live in is more and more kids are facing lifelong illnesses like diabetes (type 2) and childhood obesity. According to the CDC1, “In the United States, the percentage of children and adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s.” This number is staggering to me. And childhood obesity can have serious consequences.
Childhood obesity can have a range of effects on a kid. Kids who are obese are more likely to suffer from psychological problems such as depression as well as medical issues ranging from type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular problems.2 So the effects of an unhealthy diet can be catastrophic. I sure don’t want my young kids facing issues such as an early death due to heart attack. Do you?
Joys of Healthy Eating
If you get your kids eating vegetables and other good foods it has many benefits. First off, there is something that happens in a person when you know that the meal you ate is life sustaining. I can’t quite explain this one in a scientific fashion but the times I have made a really good wholesome meal containing numerous healthy vegetables and other foods, I feel different. I am more positive and feel better about myself. This is just one benefit of eating healthy. Boosting your self esteem.
Another joy of healthy eating and being able to get kids eating vegetables is all the different flavors and colors you get to experience. Real food is pretty and it comes from the ground, not a factory. I have experienced flavors that I didn’t know existed. And they weren’t man made.
Finally, the biggest joy of healthy eating is just what it sounds like. Getting healthy. Knowing that what I’m putting into my body is life sustaining. We can either choose foods that in essense kill us or those that help us. Vegetables and other healthy foods are just that, helpers. The benefits are numerous.
So if you are like me you may have a desire to get kids eating vegetables. To help the next generation lead a long healthy life. Here are 15 tips to get kids eating vegetables and asking for more.
15 Tips to Get Kids Eating Vegetables (and Other Good Food)
Make what they like
I put this as my number one tip because it really is one of the most important ones. Make what your kids like. Bottom line. Now that isn’t saying you have to do that every single day if you want a little variety. By all means, trying new things is also important, which I will discuss next. But if your kids absolutely love canned green beans, fix them for them. Don’t just put broccoli in front of them everyday hoping they will magically fall in love with it and forget about their beloved beans.
I made this mistake which is why I’m telling you it’s important to keep what they love and just try new variations or other vegetables over time. When we began a clean eating lifestyle about a year ago again I read where canned vegetables weren’t that great and you should just do fresh or frozen. I agree that fresh and frozen may have more health benefits, but my kids weren’t used to them and therefore would leave them on their plate. It would be a battle to get them to eat the thing I knew they always liked. Just because I didn’t think they should eat canned.
Looking back that was a huge error on my part. I have eased up some now and we do have the occasional canned green beans or other canned vegetables (as long as there isn’t added sugar). And when my kids find a can of green beans in the cupboards they jump for joy. Literally. So don’t get rid of vegetables they love completely. So get kids eating vegetables by letting them eat the kinds they like.
Make them try new things…more than once
Once you have established what they like, broaden their horizons by trying new things. This may come with the inevitable battle but it will be worth it in the end. If they never try anything they will always like just the same old things. Make a new dish or a twist on an old one and have them try some. Don’t be afraid to put a small amount on their plate and require them to eat a little. This part do what works for you and your family. You could require them to eat everything on your plate or negotiate how many bites of it they must take.
After taking the number of bites they were told they still may not like what they were required to try and that’s OK. Allow them to say they don’t like it. But if you liked it and if it was a healthy option don’t hesitate to make it again. I do this often. My kids like broccoli made in boiling water with butter on it but they don’t like roasted or grilled that well. That doesn’t stop me from making it that way though. And yes, they still have to eat some of it.
Hide the vegetables
Maybe this seems a little dishonest but if it works and gets the good stuff in them I say go for it! And, yes, I’ve done this. There are a few things I have made that had vegetable or things in it my kids generally don’t like but they ate it, oblivious to the vegetables they contain.
For instance, I have made a spaghetti sauce that had shredded carrots in it. I really enjoyed this homemade sauce and my kids ate it. Another dish I make is a Lebanese dish I grew up on called Mjadra. It’s a dish containing lentils and rice, spices, and onions. My kids hate onions! But very rarely do they pick the onions out of Mjadra. They usually eat them along with everything else and don’t even notice them. It’s a win-win.
So, if you have dish you can slip some chopped vegetables in give it a try. What’s the worst thing that can happen? They find the veggies and pull them out or refuse to eat it. I’m guessing it wouldn’t be the first time that has happened.
Don’t get stuck on one version
Another way to get kids eating vegetables is by not getting stuck on one version or way of cooking them. Said another way, keep variety in your meals. If you always roast broccoli in the oven and your kids hate it, try cooking it another way. Put it in a pot on the stove and steam or boil it, adding a little butter at the end. If you always have canned green beans give fresh a shot sometime.
Also mix it up. One night have green beans, the next some boiled broccoli, and then maybe have some roasted mixed vegetables before returning to the tried and true canned green beans. By not having the same vegetable meal after meal, night after night, you will keep it fresh and hopefully not tire of them. I mean unless it’s ice cream or cookies who wants to eat the same thing day in and day out.
Raise your hand if you think trying to be perfect, eating healthy, clean foods 100% of the time will get kids eating vegetables. My hand is down. Striving for perfection in today’s world will only lead to frustration and more than likely you will give up your endeavors. Instead try to be healthy 80% of the time and let go the other 20%.
If your kids have eaten really well and had their veggies all week long, let them have a cookie on the weekend or better yet, bake cookies with them. It’s better for them than the store bought cookies. But take the extras to work the next day so you and the kids aren’t indulging the entire next week.
Nonetheless, if you want to get kids eating vegetables make sure you allow them to still be kids and don’t expect perfection every meal and snack they have. Do your best and don’t fret the rest.
A vegetable is a vegetable
A vegetable is a vegetable. I have come to accept this. We have been following the Daniel Plan as much as we can and in that they recommend limiting starchy vegetables. I wholeheartedly agree with this. However if you’re wanting to get kids eating vegetables I would look at all vegetables equally. If they want corn and carrots, let them have both. If they want broccoli and beets that’s even better.
As an adult I try and be mindful of trying to have a starch along with non-starchy vegetables. I would always offer and ask my kids to eat both as well. But I also keep in mind that right now they are healthy and I would rather allow them 2 starchy veggies instead of them begging for seconds of meat, cheese, or worse yet sugar laden things.
Make a gradual change
This might be one left to common sense but it’s still worth mentioning. My husband and I made this mistake so I’m hoping to caution others before they do as well. When we began the Daniel Plan about a year ago he and I were both so excited we jumped right in a cleared out our pantry of all the processed foods we had been eating. We had almost nothing left in the house it seemed. I’m not sure whether to laugh, cry or hide in embarrassment of how unhealthy we had been eating. But we got rid of it all quickly.
What we didn’t think of in our zeal was our kids, especially our youngest. They were used to and liked all that junk food. Now it was gone. And they weren’t happy. They wanted the foods back that they were used too. They hadn’t chosen to make changes but were along for the ride, and we were on the drop of the rollercoaster.
Looking back if I could have a do over I would have eased into it more. Now we are a little more laid back as far as things like “canned goods aren’t the devil”. So if you want to get your kids eating vegetables give it time and transition slow. You may be excited but your kids may not be. Start by introducing new things slowly. Finding what everyone likes and dislikes as you go and adjust accordingly.
Don’t be a stick in the mud. Be flexible. If you really want broccoli roasted on a sheet pan but your kid will eat it boiled in a pan. By all means boil it! Make compromises that you can both agree on. Now there are some things that as the parent you shouldn’t compromise on such as cookies for dessert every night because they don’t want fruit. But if you want them to eat apples everyday but they would rather have a pear, give them the pear. So keep a certain amount of flexibility in what you are making in order to get kids eating vegetables.
Let Grandma be Grandma
Let grandma be grandma is just that. Allow grandma to spoil the kids a little (yes, you can set a few parameters). But don’t make her only feed the kids what you allow at home. If grandma is a healthy eater then great! But if she isn’t, let her give them a cookie or piece of candy. Now I’m not saying that sky’s the limit with this one. You can put your foot down and ask that she doesn’t send them home on a complete sugar high. Or load them up on only artificial dyes. But give her room to enjoy her grandkids and give your kids room to make memories with grandma.
Get them in the kitchen
This is another big one. Don’t be afraid to get your kids in the kitchen cooking good foods with you. If they help in the process they will be more likely to eat the end product. You will also be spending quality time with them which they need. Kids need more than just your guidance and nagging. They need your time. What little you may have of it. So break out the kitchen utensils and apron and teach them how to cook.
Be open minded yourself
Have you ever caught yourself turning your nose up at something. We all do it but it isn’t a good way to get kids eating vegetables or other good things. Lead by example. Show them that it is OK to try new things. In all honesty do you like someone telling you to do something but they aren’t willing to do it themselves. If you don’t like that then why do you think your kids are going to want to eat something new.
These also means you need to try things you normally don’t eat. And try it more than once usually. I have to admit, as a kid and even up to a few years ago I didn’t like broccoli. At least not without the cheese sauce my mom always made. Broccoli has grown on me. Put it that way, but it’s not my first choice of vegetables. But I would always take a helping because I required my kids to take and eat some. Now I like broccoli (well the florets, still don’t like the stems) and it’s one of my kids favorite vegetables.
So don’t rule out giving your kids something that may even be new to you. You might surprise yourself and love it or even if it still isn’t your favorite your kids might love it. Which leads me to my next tip…
Encourage them to try things you may not like
Even if you really don’t like something encourage your kids to still take a taste. Everyone has a little different taste buds so something you might not like may taste really good to them. But you won’t know unless they try it.
This actually happened to us just this past weekend. My husband and I decided to try Kombucha. I knew kimchi and other fermented things were good for your stomach flora. But had never found the courage to try anything like that. But I saw Kombucha on sale at our local store and decided I wanted to try it. My husband was on board so we bought a couple. Needless to say it wasn’t our favorite. I couldn’t get past the sour, fermented taste. But we allowed our kids to try a little bit of it and they loved it.
Since that day they have asked me to buy more. They liked it that much. I did buy a little bit more and tried another brand and flavor different from the first ones. I liked the new a bit better and they liked it even more.
Another example goes back to Mjadra (the Lebanese dish I mentioned earlier). My kids love and will devour it. But, my husband hates it. (Yes, insert sad face). But that doesn’t stop me from making it for them and myself when he happens to be gone for a meal.
Butter…Everything’s better with butter
Right! Butter is the magic ingredient. Now really, I would watch that you don’t completely overdo on this but don’t be afraid to use a little butter in your cooking. That being said, use the real thing. Don’t fall for the margarine trap. I mean, have you ever looked at the ingredients in margarine? If not you should, then go look at what’s in butter. Nuff said. Case closed.
We do use butter to help season and flavor our foods. I use it when we boil broccoli, make foil pack veggies on the grill and for other things. Do I go overboard? Probably sometimes. But I do try and do it in moderation as much as I can. But, again, don’t be afraid to use a little.
As I was putting together this list of how to get kids eating vegetables I asked my own daughter what make vegetable good to her. Hence this tip was born. The first and only word out of her mouth was “butter!” So there you go. It’s even a kid approved tip!
Don’t make a big deal out of it
If you want to get kids eating vegetables keep it small potatoes. Just as you shouldn’t make a huge deal about weight in front of your kids, don’t make a big deal about all the food changes you are making. The more attention you draw to a new dish the more likely they are to start thinking about it and possibly making their mind up about it before it even hits their plate. Keep things normal. Now, if they ask questions, be honest with them. I’m not saying to start lying to your kids for the sake of trying to hide something. But if they don’t ask what it is let them try it before saying what’s in it. Give them a chance to decide by how it tastes rather than just by looks or because they don’t like such and such ingredient that is in it.
Ask them what they want
Straight out ask your kids what they want. Don’t feel like you are the dictator and they are the minions. They are just little humans that don’t have as much experience in life and you have to teach them. So ask them what are their favorite vegetables. Find out what they might want for supper tonight or this week and plan meals with their input. Make sure they have a chance to tell you what they want for fruit and other healthy snacks. Then buy them!
Every week I ask my family what sounds good for meals. And if it’s doable I will make what they ask for. For instance, a few times when I’ve asked what they want my son has piped up “Pizza!” I bet the first thought you had is “that’s not healthy.” And ya, there are healthier meals, but I still make it from time to time. The difference is I try to do homemade, not the processed frozen pizzas or fast food. I make 100% whole wheat crust and top it with toppings that we like. So I still can give him what he wants, but a little healthier.
So give your kids some say in what your family eats but encourage them to pick from healthier options like carrots rather than crackers or fruit rather than cookies.
Building Good Habits Early
So you can see, there are things you can do and try to get kids eating vegetables. It’s not futile, but also not always easy so don’t give up. And the younger you start the better. Introduce your infants to veggies when you start feeding them solid foods. I even made homemade veggies so I wasn’t having to give them the stuff from a jar. I felt it was better for them.
If they learn to like beans and carrots as an infant then those flavors may stay with them as they get older. Now by all means, make sure you don’t feed a baby raw carrots. Use common sense and give them the cooked pureed ones. But start early.
And if your kids are older already it’s just fine. Start now. Start today trying to introduce your kids new healthy options. Even if it’s switching to wheat pasta instead of white pasta. They may not even notice the difference. And if they do, go half and half the next time. But don’t give up.
Give your kids the gift of a long, healthy life. Get kids eating vegetables and other good foods. It’ll be worth it.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This is not meant for medical advice. If you have any health concerns please visit your doctor.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Childhood Obesity Facts”. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/obesity/facts.htm. Accessed January 24, 2019.
- Krushnapriya Sahoo,1 Bishnupriya Sahoo,2 Ashok Kumar Choudhury,3 Nighat Yasin Sofi,4 Raman Kumar,5 andAjeet Singh Bhadoria6. “Childhood Obesity: Causes and Consequences”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4408699/. 2015 Apr-Jun