As a parent, you want your children to eat a variety of vegetables and for good reason: vegetables provide our bodies with nutrients that are vital for health and disease prevention. While parents often find children more easily enjoy fruits because of their oh-so-sweet flavor, many (myself included) find it more difficult to get our children to choose vegetables.
So what are you to do when your children start developing picky eating behavior when it comes to choosing leafy greens and bright colored veggies? Her are 7 foolproof strategies I’ve found to help my particular-eating toddlers choose veggies:
1. Avoid Sweet Rewards
Try to limit offering a reward or praise for your child to try a new vegetable. We want children to choose foods because they like the taste and they are hungry. Not because they are going to be rewarded with ice cream after dinner if they eat their broccoli.
2. Serve with the Familiar
Children are more likely to try a new vegetable if it’s served with something they already enjoy eating. For instance, if your child loves pizza, make a build your own pizza bar with extra vegetable toppings for them to choose from. I know my son loves corn, so I’ll make sure he has corn on his plate when I serve green beans or asparagus. Weird in my mind, but not in his!
3. Serve it THEIR Way
If your child doesn’t like their food touching, serve new foods on plates that have sections or compartments. If your child likes dips such as ranch or BBQ sauce, serve it alongside the new food, even if you think it’s a weird combination. Or swap out the ranch for hummus or bean spreads. Don’t let this tip make you into a short order chef though. This is only if you have their favorite dips and spreads on hand!
4. Respect Their Appetite
If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack because it’s mealtime for everyone else in the family. While it’s important to stick to a mealtime routine (meals and snacks at the same time every day), sometimes children aren’t THAT hungry every day. However, in my house they still sit down with the family while everyone else eats.
5. Be Patient
This one is tough for me- the impatient Mom! Did you know it often takes up to a dozen times for a child to accept new foods? Even if your child refuses a “bite,” encourage your child to touch and smell the new food. Talk about the color and shape- not whether it tastes “so good!”
6. Get the Family Involved
Take your children to the grocery store (when you aren’t pressed for time) and get them involved in the picking and choosing of different vegetables. When you get home, have them help you prepare a new recipe or food--- better yet, have them help you name or create a whole new recipe from scratch!
7. Eat it Together
The best way to teach your child to enjoy healthy foods is to enjoy them yourself. Practice what you preach--- oh and don’t feel bad if you dislike peas and never serve them for dinner. I grew up in a home where my Mother despised bananas. I don’t think I ate my first one until college. Now they are on my regular grocery list!
In the end, you need to do what works for your family. You have the control over what you are serving your child, but ultimately it’s up to them whether or not they will try OR eat it. But if your child is growing normally and has plenty of energy, he or she is most likely getting the nutrients they need each day.
Katie Serbinski, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Mom of two boys under two. She’s the founder of Mom to Mom Nutrition, a healthy food and lifestyle blog where she shares her “me time” with other health-minded parents. On her blog, you’ll find simple, family-friendly recipes, tips for new parents, and realistic nutrition advice. Connect with Katie through email Katie@MomToMomNutrition.com or Twitter @MomNutrition.