Kids. Veggies. They don’t usually go together. We know veggies are good for our kids, but the thing is, our kids don’t really care. I’ve read articles and recipes about sneaking more vegetables and fruit into meals, but it never seemed like a great idea to me.
What happens when the kids grow up and no longer have mom and dad sneaking beet purees into their chocolate cake, or grinding up zucchini into their meatloaf? I think hiding veggies into a child’s diet is better than leaving them out completely, but far better to get kids to actually ENJOY their veggies!
Could it be done? I accepted the challenge and decided to try a few things out on my little one.
Here are five hacks that worked for me:
Hack 1. Mindset
I really wanted to associate eating fruits and vegetables with healthy living. But the thing is, most toddlers couldn’t care less about being healthy. Toddlers want to jump. And dance. And spin around in circles. So I tried to put “healthy” into toddler terms. Whenever I described a fruit or vegetable, I’d tell my little one that broccoli and spinach would keep her strong so she could throw her bouncy balls really far. (I’d keep the fact that green leafy veggies have lots of iron to myself.) I’d tell her that carrots and cauliflower would help her have the energy to run faster and jump longer. After a particularly fun day of running around a park with her friends, I often ask her – “Aren’t you glad you ate your green beans yesterday!? You were able to run so fast and play all day!”
Hack 2. Make it fun
We eat every.single.day. For a kid, that can be pretty boring. So make it fun! Who says you can’t play games with your food!? Not this mama. We often play the color game. It’s pretty easy and even the youngest at the table can join in. Simply put, whoever eats the most colors during the meal, wins! We avoid processed foods in our house, so if something is green, it’s because it’s supposed to be green, and not because it’s dyed green. A typical meal for us is something like Shepherd’s pie. (One pot meals = less clean up, which is a huge win!)
Shepherd’s pie consists of 4 colors. Brown meat, white potatoes, orange carrots, and green peas. If you pick out the peas, you’re down to three colors. If you eat a side salad with purple cabbage and red tomatoes, you’re up to 6 colors! This is great if you have multiple kids, but will also work against mom and dad. Feel free to use whatever prize you deem necessary. I’ve had prizes range from “gloating rights” to “picking dessert.” Switch it up. Keep it fun.
Hack 3. Make it an adventure
Our family has a weekly ritual. Every time we go to the grocery store, we let our little one pick a new fruit or vegetable that she’s never tried. That’s the only rule – it has to be something she’s never tried. Most recently, she’s picked out kumquats, starfruit, Japanese yams, Chinese long beans, and purple and white striped eggplant. When we get home, we learn about the food. We find out where it’s from and point it out on a map. We learn about how to eat it or use it in a recipe. And then – we eat it! Sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s a miss. But it gets her excited about trying fruits and veggies and it’s such a fun activity to do together.
Hack 4. Ask a Lot of Questions
This might seem too silly to actually work, but I’ve found it really helps to nudge kids into eating something they aren’t super excited about. When my daughter doesn’t seem to be willing to try something on her plate, I just keep asking her questions until her curiosity gets the better of her. (Insert evil mom cackle). But seriously, it works. Try it. Questions like – “Does that purple carrot taste any different than the orange carrot?” “Do you want to close your eyes and guess which bell pepper I’m putting in your mouth? Is it the green, red or orange one?” “Do you think the jicama is more crunchy than an apple?”
Hack 5. Have rules
We have two strict rules around meal time.
Rule #1 – Everyone has to sit at the table. No one leaves until everyone leaves.
Rule #2 – While you don’t have to finish or even LIKE the food, you are required to try it. To consider it. Every. Single. Time. Science tells us that our taste buds are continually growing and changing. It’s likely that your child will actually LOVE the green beans on her third try.
What have you got to lose?
What hacks do you have your sleeves? I’d love to hear what’s worked well for you.