Meals shouldn't be battles, but for many parents getting children to eat their vegetables is anything but easy. Frustrated moms and dads have tried just about everything: bribing, begging, sneaking vegetables in other foods and many other creative efforts.
Denon Stacy, a registered dietitian at Children's Health℠, works with parents and children to establish healthy eating habits – including the often-difficult task of helping kids get all the vegetables their growing bodies need.
"Vegetables help support many of our bodies' systems and functions," explains Stacy. "For example, carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A, which promotes healthy eyesight, and vitamin C, which helps support a healthy immune system. Leafy greens pack a powerful punch of iron, which gives a child's body the support and energy it needs during growth spurts."
How do I get my kids to eat veggies?
Children should eat anywhere from 1-3 cups of vegetables every day, depending on their age (see serving sizes by age). Get your kids excited about veggies with a few simple strategies.
1. Be consistent
Offer vegetables with every lunch and dinner. Include fruits and vegetables as snacks, as well. Vegetables can have a starring role in a meal or just be a supporting player as a side dish.
"A parent's responsibility is to offer a variety of healthy foods, including vegetables. It's a child's responsibility to eat the offered food," she says. "At the end of the day, we can only control what we offer. And it's our job to put healthy options in front of our kids and encourage them to try new foods and vegetables."
2. Let kids participate in choosing veggies
Involving kids in meal-time decisions can help give them a sense of control. Stacy encourages parents to meal plan and go shopping together and to let children pick out new vegetables to try.
"Giving kids a choice in how they want their vegetables served can also encourage children to try a veggie," Stacy says. "That can be as simple as asking your child if he wants carrots cooked or raw."
Parents can also get kids excited about vegetables by planting a garden. Head to a local nursery, pick out seeds and map out a backyard garden together.
3. Serve vegetables kids like
Some vegetables taste better to kids than others. Vegetables that often taste best to kids are those that have a slightly sweet or nutty taste, like carrots, jicama or bell peppers.
"Roasting vegetables is a great way to bring out a caramelized flavor, which sometimes tastes better to kids," Stacy suggests.
4. Make veggies fun
Dips and fun shapes are another great way to encourage kids to eat their vegetables. Try offering up a taste test with a variety of vegetables paired with dips. Serve low-fat Greek yogurt, hummus or low-fat ranch dips to encourage your child to try a new vegetable.
"Veggies dipped in hummus is a snack full of fiber, protein and vitamins," adds Stacy. "Hummus comes in a lot of different flavors, so you're likely to find one your child will like."
Creative names can also encourage kids to eat vegetables. Call spinach and hummus dip ‘Hulk' dip, or offer a fresh veggie tray with the colors of the rainbow. Break out a few cookie cutters to cut veggies into fun shapes, like stars or hearts.
5. Try kid-friendly veggie recipes
Encourage your kids to eat more vegetables with a few kid-approved recipes. It doesn't have to be a complicated meal or snack to get kids to try something yummy. Stacy suggests a few of her favorite veggie recipes for kids:
- Smoothies with spinach or carrots
- Tomato-based spaghetti sauce
- Ants on a log (celery stalks with peanut butter and raisins)
- Sugar snap peas and hummus
- Cheese and veggie quesadilla on whole-wheat tortilla (finely dice bell peppers or tomatoes to melt in the cheese)
- Baked tortilla chips with salsa (packed with tomato, onion and peppers)
6. Keep it familiar
Children aren't known for their adventurous palette. If it were up to kids, many would eat one of three things every day and night. Keep vegetables "familiar" by pairing new options with favorite meals or mixing them in entrees, such as:
- Add chopped vegetables to soups and stews
- Puree a vegetable for a healthy sauce or soup
- Pair veggies with favorite toppings, like cheese on broccoli
7. Be a veggie role model
One of the best ways to encourage children to eat vegetables is to model good eating habits.
"Show your child the importance of a healthy diet by eating plenty of vegetables," says Stacy. "That exposure, along with regular conversations about the role vegetables have in building a strong body, lays the foundation of lifelong healthy eating habits for your entire family."
Download a free recipe e-book
Want more veggie-packed recipes? Download 10 Easy and Healthy Weeknight Suppers to receive dietitian-recommended recipes your kids will love.
Setting goals and making one healthy choice at a time can help your family on the journey to wellness. Learn more about our pediatric weight management services.
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