- Family and Parenting
How to Get Kids to Eat Veggies
How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables
It's an age-old battle: Getting kids to eat vegetables is up there with getting them to keep their room tidy, go to bed on time and accept the word "no" in the store. Well, getting a child to eat vegetables doesn't have to be a struggle, battle of wills or stressful - I'm going to share with you, a few tools that take stress out of the picture, and replace resistance with enthusiasm. No more threats, bribing or trying to con them into eating vegetables, the tips here are aimed at getting your kids to eat vegetables voluntarily! :)
.... to getting kids to do anything...
The secret to getting kids to do anything is inspiration and excitement, rather than authority. Naturally, much higher success is achieved when a child is excited about doing something, than when they're threatened, cajoled or bribed. The tricky bit is finding a way of getting them genuinely excited about something they are currently resisting. ;)
Of course, inspiration does take more effort and skill than issuing threats does... but inspiration is So much more effective! ;)
There are three main ideas I'm going to share here, along with tips on each method:
The first (and most important) step is to stop trying to persuade the child to eat vegetables, and instead, enjoy those vegetables yourself. The most powerful influence over children (especially young ones) is what they observe in the significant adults in their lives. No amount of persuasion can equal what they witness. And the best bit about this is, it is subconscious. The influence your actions, reactions, behavior and general being have on your child is completely involuntary - which means your child copies you unconsciously, and automatically. This gives you immense power. All you have to do is make sure you're using this power on purpose and not by default.
More detail on exactly how to achieve this below.
Involve the child in buying and preparing the vegetables. Children have an almost irresistible urge to use, eat or drink anything they have enjoyed making themselves. It's hardwired into them. As long as the process is fun and enjoyable and creative, they'll find it really difficult not to eat the veggies they've prepared ;) See below for tips and ideas to make this process fun and creative without taking up too much time or making too much mess - for busy parents.
3. Little Green Fingers
Let them grow their own vegetables! This is a very powerful thing. There's only one thing better than buying and preparing your own vegetables, for children... and that's growing them, picking them and then preparing them. No child can resist eating something they've grown! :D Again, there are tips, ideas and details below - your child can grow vegetables in pots, so even if you don't have a garden, your child can still produce his own veg.
Photo by: Paul Brunskill
How to get kids to eat vegetables by demonstration.
This is more powerful than you can imagine.... but there are a few pitfalls to avoid. Kids' instincts are very strong, and they can generally tell when you're not being genuine. Here are the main guidelines for making this work:
Don't try to persuade your child to eat the vegetables. Just enjoy them yourself - but in a very natural way. You don't need to make it too obvious, just enjoy the dish naturally - the difference here is that you may not have realized how much you enjoy green beans with melted butter, until you focus on the flavor. You don't need to do anything except become aware of how delicious they taste - you don't need to make noises or faces, just enjoy. The child will be able to pick it up - they're very sharp like that. ;) If it's not natural, the chid will not be fooled, and of course it won't work. ;)
Honesty is vital. For this purpose, only use vegetables you actually do enjoy.
If the child has said he doesn't like a particular vegetable (or group of vegetables), when you serve, don't offer that vegetable to him. Serve it for yourself, and anyone else in the family who likes it, and just enjoy it. Eventually.... if he's not offered it, and he sees you genuinely enjoying it... eventually he's not going to be able to resist asking to taste it again. Children's tastes change, and just because he didn't like it yesterday doesn't mean he won't grow to like it, especially if you're using the ideas on this page. ;)
When your child does ask for the vegetable, act as if it's perfectly normal. Don't mention the fact that he didn't used to like it. That doesn't matter now. Just go with the flow, and give him a small amount - make sure it's just a little bit. Rather let him ask for more than not want to finish it. What a wonderful scene - your child finally asks for green beans, having watched you enjoying them; you give him exactly three beans. He eats those and asks for more! Perfect. You've created a connection between desire and green beans. :)
Photo by: Ry Young
Extra Tip on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables:
A child doesn't need to eat every vegetable, as long as he gets a range of fruit and veg. If he hates broccoli, that's okay - his body won't suffer if he never eats broccoli. Rather than try and force it, let him eat a different veg or fruit which contains similar nutrition.
How to get kids to eat vegetables by involving them in preparation.
With a little preparation of your own, this can be fairly easy. Naturally, what tasks the child performs depend on the age, but try and give him as much responsibility as his age allows. If possible, let him make decisions regarding the preparation of the vegetables - and certainly let him use his creativity in presentation and serving.
For a younger child, let him wash the vegetables, you of course do the chopping, and then let him use his hands to arrange the vegetables in the dish, or on the plate. Show him how to make funny faces using the vegetables. He could also add a little pinch of salt, or a smear of butter - whatever it is you're adding to the vegetables.
For older children let them pick out the vegetables, peel and chop them, lower them into the cooking pot or dish, drain them, and arrange them for serving.
Very, Very Important:
When doing this with vegetables the child has already said he doesn't like, do not serve any for him. Do not offer him any. Let him serve the dish he's prepared - for you and anyone else in the family who likes that vegetable... and if he serves some for himself, great, if not, don't mention it. Let it go. Just enjoy the vegetable yourself, and tell him what a great job he did and how delicious it is. Whatever you do, do not mention anything about him eating it. Let him prepare the dish again next time.... he will eventually not be able to resist tasting his handy-work. And then it will be his choice, and he will be more likely to develop a taste for the vegetable.
Taking it a step further:
If you can involve the child in buying the vegetables as well, so much the better. Let him help you choose the nicest carrots, show him how to look for ripe tomatoes, let him weigh the potatoes. The more involved he is, without the expectation of having to eat the vegetables (he's just helping you obtain and prepare them for the rest of the family to enjoy), the more carried away he'll get and the more likely he is to want to eat the result of his efforts. ;)
If the child is resistant to being involved in the preparation, you might like to get him a chef's hat, or an apron, or a special spoon that only he uses for cooking - something that is used only when he prepares food, and that he looks forward to using. This will help to add enjoyment, excitement and fun to the process.
Extra Tip on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables:
A great trick: While your child is watching TV, reading, playing a game, or otherwise engaged, place next to him, a plate of cut up fruit and/or veg. Thin slices of apple or cucumber, segments of orange etc. The trick is to not ask him if he wants it. Just place it there. And see what happens ;)
3. Little Green Fingers
How to get kids to eat vegetables by letting them grow their own
I can't imagine any child who would be able to resist eating a vegetable they've grown themselves! :) And the great bonus of this is that once they get into eating their own home-grown veg, they'll be much more open to eating other vegetables as well.
If you're a gardener yourself, you'll of course be able to guide and help your child to grow his own veg. If you're not a gardener (like me ;) ) there are plenty of options for easy veggie growing for kids. Below are a few ideas - books.... and even kits.
For this method to work effectively, it's important to use the first two as well. And certainly of course, while you're waiting for the vegetables to grow so that your child can eat them, implement the above two steps as well.
Again, as with the previous two methods, don't try to persuade your child to eat the vegetables - let it be his idea. :)
Encourage him by showing an interest in the plants, and asking him how they're doing. Give plenty of attention and enthusiasm to the process. When it comes time to eat them, let him harvest them, and prepare them.
An Alternative to growing vegetables from scratch (or in addition to growing them from scratch), is to buy a pot of "living salad" from the store. You can get herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, and various other veg in little pots, already growing. Give one to your child to look after, and let him watch it grow - but without expecting him to eat it.
Let him pick the leaves or tomatoes for your meals, and let him prepare and present "his" produce - for you and the rest of the family. If he chooses to eat it as well (and I'm pretty sure he will - if not immediately then soon!), great, if not, give him time and let him enjoy the growing, harvesting and preparation. He'll get to the eating eventually. ;)
Photo by: Brach Anam
Miracle Gro Kid's Vegetable Garden
Perfect for the beginner, this ready-made vegetable garden makes it easy (and fast) for kids to grow their own vegetables. It contains everything needed, including a special mix in the soil which helps seedlings sprout in as little as two weeks. It comes with clear, easy-to-follow instructions, and a brilliant color-changing soil which indicates when it's time to water! Non-toxic and organic, this is a brilliant motivator for kids to enjoy the process from planting to eating vegetables. :)
"Eat Your Veg or No Desert" Debate
What Do You Think of "Eat Your Veg or No Desert"
Kid's Start Up Vegetable Garden
Extra Tip on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables:
Try not to serve your child any food he really hates. It only reinforces the negative association. And when you do give him veg, give him very small portions. Literally four peas, two slices of carrot etc. ... until he gets used to it. It's a psychological thing - and it's powerful.
FAQ's on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables
My 2 year old won't eat vegetables
This is extremely common - it's part of being Two! :) Being two comes with changing taste buds, pushing boundries and a whole lot of exploration. The fact that your two year old won't eat vegetables now doesn't mean she never will... The only thing that will put her off vegetables permanently is stress and negativity associated with them.
Of course, different kids respond to different methods, and apart from following the three suggestions on this page, try the following as well:
* Allow her to choose from two veg. - no more, just two. For example, offer peas or broccoli. If she refuses both, let it go. She won't suffer from malnutrition overnight. The next day give her a choice of peas and green beans.
The trick though is to offer her litterally two peas and one small florette of broccoli, or two beans. This is just to start with. In fact, depending on the child, you could start with just one pea. You can build it later, but one pea is a lot more appealing to get started, psychologically. ;)
* Prepare the veg in a different way. There's no rule that says you have to eat your veg a specific way. Adding butter and salt and mixing it up can make all the difference. In fact, try a little bowl of melted butter and a little patch of salt so she can dip her veg. If you're concerned about her salt intake (although, unless she's eating an awful lot of it, at 2 it shouldn't be a problem), cut down on other salty snacks and foods - food she likes, like spaghetti, pizza, fries etc. cut down on the salt in those, and put a little more salt on veg.
Add a little sugar or honey to her vegetables. In fact, even a teaspoon of sugar in the water when cooking veg can also make it tastier to 2 year old tastebuds. Again, if you're concerned about her sugar intake, cut down on sugar in other foods and treats and let her have it in veg.
* Introduce new vegetables when she's really hungry. For example, when she's hungry and waiting for supper or lunch, tell her it's not ready yet, but she can have a little something in the meantime if she's reeeeally hungry. Be reluctant - let her think you're resisting giving her something. Tell her you don't want her to spoil her supper, and take a little while to consider whether to give it to her. Let her tell you just how hungry she is and how she absolutely can't wait till meal time. Then give her, for example, a few thin sticks of carrot, with a tastey dip - a dip you already know she likes. Or, a few green beens and a little saucer with melted butter and a patch of salt on it, for dipping. Of course, don't ask her if she wants vegetables - don't say what you're giving her, serve it on a plate or in a bowl, then hesitate to give it to her - let her want to almost grab it from you. It's soooo much more tempting - and tasty - when you nearly can't have it! ;)
* When you cook vegetables, try to make sure they're firm, not mushy - this ensures more of the nutrients survive the cooking process and make it into her body, and it also means it's more appealing - nicer to hold with her hands and dip.
* Most importantly, don't worry too much. As long as she's getting a varied diet, with fruit as well, and as long as she's not eating a lot of junk food instead of veg.... and as long as meal times are not stressful and negative, she will grow out of the no veg thing - especially if you follow the other advice on this page as well. :)
Photo by: Liensal
My 7 year old won't eat spinach. Even though I've told him about Popeye!
Ah, yes, spinach. Well, I did manage to get my son from hating spinach to it being his favorite vegetable! :) Of course, that won't necessarily be the case with your son, but here are my tips in case they help:
The first thing to realize is that spinach is not like water - we don't HAVE to have it. ;) If he doesn't like spinach after the suggestions below, don't worry about it, let him have something else that has similar nutrients. I didn't like spinach when I was a child (let's face it, very few kids do), but it's now one of my favorite vegetables.
Here's how I got my son to eat spinach when he was 7 years old and hated it:
Instead of boiling or steaming it, I cooked it with a little butter, salt and pepper, and I gave him literally just a half a teaspoon on his plate, while the rest of us had a normal portion and genuinely enjoyed it. My son asked what it was, I said it was spinach, but cooked differently, and that he might not like it because it was very salty - maybe too salty - and that's why I'd given him just a little bit, in case he didn't like it (he loves salt - as do most kids ;) ) - of course it wasn't very salty, it just had some salt in it, but I knew he wouldn't be able to resist trying it to see just how salty it was. Naturally, he announced that it wasn't too salty, and that in fact he could barely taste any salt at all.... and could he have some more spinach please! ;) Butter, salt and pepper make spinach (and in fact most vegetables) much tastier for young tastebuds (and older ones! ;) )
Spinach became his favorite vegetable - and he even eats it raw now - yes, without the salt and butter! ;) He's now 15 years old, and often takes a bag of baby spinach leaves to school as part of his packed lunch! - which his friends find hillarious, but he really enjoys snacking on them. :)
Photo by: Andreas Andersson
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