Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top Ten Ways to make Veggies FUN and Edible to Your Kids

Baby shares the car seat with the broccoli harvest.  
 We've all read that a simple, more plant based diet is healthier for us all.  But when kids are hard wired for the sweetness that comes in their first food...milk, what is a parent to do?  Here are my top 10 strategies to encourage my kids in their veggie consumption.

1)  Work with the sweet tooth. Sweet doesn't equal unhealthy.  Remember, glucose is a product of photosynthesis:  it's the food plants make for themselves.  Try to find the veggies that rank higher on the sweetness scale, and lower on the bitterness scale.  Think carrots, sugar snap peas, sweet potatoes, winter squash and even beets! All of these are naturally sweeter, so you won't need to add anything.  

2) Eat what you sow.  Children are fascinated by the reality that food can come straight out of the dirt... that same dirt they're always washing off before they come inside to eat.  My kids are always more likely to eat something if they've been the ones to prepare the soil, plant the seed, tend the plant, and finally harvest the food.  There is something beautiful in knowing that a whole plant is wrapped up in a seed, just waiting to grow.  Kids get that.  They want to be a part of it, and eating what they grow is a wonderful sensory way to experience the miracle of life.


Getting ready to eat some veggies, then have a water balloon fight...

3)  Eat fresh.  A sun warmed tomato just picked from the vine, or a cucumber newly picked from the morning garden always tastes so much better than something that has languished in the bottom of my refrigerator.  When we eat things that are just recently picked, or purchased from the produce stand, the plant hasn't had time to begin to break down or to dry out or wilt.  It's happy and perky, just like a child.  My kids love new things, and new veggies are no exception.

4)  Make them the chef.  When a child is allowed to prepare the food they're about to eat, and then to arrange it artfully for the family, they are more likely to eat it.  Children as young as five can learn to cut safely with a knife.  My 5 year old helps me slice things regularly.  If mom's nervous, kids can still arrange carrots on a plate, or make a flower out of cucumber slices and a tomato in the center.  

5) Be the model.  We've heard it everywhere, but to do it is another story.  Kids learn best by our example. Just as we buckle our seat-belts to be a good example to them, and to preserve our own well being, we must also eat as we wish them to eat.  When we obviously enjoy and regularly eat things like spinach, kale, green beans and beets, they are more likely to understand this to be a good and normal behavior.  This then encourages them to emulate it, even if the taste isn't quite up to par with their expectations.  

6)  Serve it up!  It's obvious, but if we don't prepare delicious veggies for our kids and then present them in a pleasing and interesting way to them at the meal table, they will probably not go and find them for themselves.  Instead, they will choose whatever else is readily available.  I have five kids. When we offer a nice big plate of veggies in the center of the family dinner table, it feels to the kids like it's something that might quickly be gone, so they are quick to snatch lots.  A large percentage of the snatchings end up in their bellies! 
Helping to make Pickles from Cucumbers!

7)  Let them show their friends and family:  When my kids have friends over, they love to show off the knowledge they have that their friends may not.  Kohlrabi is a good example.  It seems no one knows what it is, and it is great fun to eat, because it is round like an apple, and crunchy, but then green and tastes a little cabbage-y.  My kids love to get their grandparents and friends to eat slices of the stuff!

8)  Ease up on the pressure.  Just as we are successful in potty training with no pressure involved, but instead gentle suggestions and intuitive encouraging, we can also encourage our kids to eat veggies without a family feud.  Our children aren't going to die if they don't have the exact number of servings of veggies suggested in the national daily value charts.  They know they need to eat, and they are usually hungry. Chances are, if given the option regularly, and if praised for good choices, they will enjoy a good variety of vegetables in their diet.  

9)  Narrow the selection.  In the wild, when animals come across a calorie rich food, they are hard wired to eat it.  The same goes for sweet foods.  Children's bodies function in a similar way.  If presented with cookies, potato chips, and broccoli, they will likely choose the first two.  It's part of the natural survival instinct built into them.  We know that they have enough food to survive, and that they do not need to stock up  majorly on calories, because we will be feeding them again in 4 hours.  They don't understand this.  If we instead present to them foods which we know are healthful, especially a wide range of veggies, and kick  the high calorie non-essentials out of our pantries and homes, they have no choice but to eat what is presented...because they are hungry and need to eat!  They soon develop a taste for what is good, and don't miss what's been left out.    

10)  Make it delicious!  Veggies don't have to be plain!  People all over the world subsist entirely on them, and prepare them in exciting ways.   Check out books from the library, and prepare some new recipes.  Ask your friends for their favorite veggie recipes.  Encourage your kids to find recipes to try.  There are countless kids' cookbooks to be checked out from the library.  Try some of your old standards from when you were a child....Ants on a Log, etc.  Don't be afraid to mix veggies and fruits, or to serve them over rice.   When we're creative in our house, especially if the kids thought up the ideas, we usually find some winners.  



I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Peas and Thank You blogging program for a gift card worth $30. For more information on how you can participate, click here:  http://www.socialmoms.com/forum/topics/peasandthankyou"

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