Kids & Veggies : Creating a Lasting Love November 28, 2012 08:08

Getting kids to eat their vegetables seems to be a universal challenge among parents (though I’d venture that it is largely an issue faced by Americans). Everybody takes a different approach to this from bribing or force-feeding to disguising veggies in other food or giving up all together.

There’s no question that kids need to eat their vegetables as part of a healthy diet and moreover to build the foundation for a life of healthy eating. But while the concept itself is simple, the execution becomes seemingly insurmountable for many families.

Long before I became a mom, I proclaimed that I would be excessively strict about food when it came to my children. Healthy nutrition is a passion for me, and I have for many years believed sugar should have a very limited presence in anybody’s daily diet. At the same time, I love chocolate, baked sweets and frozen yogurt, and I come from a long line of sweet lovers, so I’m not always able to practice what I preach.

In the last few years, I’ve learned a few approaches that have helped in creating a love for veggies among my kiddos. Below is a list of my strategies, but as children’s palettes change with the wind, I’m always looking for new ideas. Take a look at this list, and let us know some things that have worked for your family.

·      Super Baby Food: With the exception of using store-bought organic baby rice cereal, all of the food my babies consumed in their first year was organic, homemade and free of anything processed. This included a strict no-sweets rule – their first birthdays were the first time they tasted anything with a sweetener.

·      Say No To the Sweet Tooth: Even after the first birthdays, we remained very strict about sweets. Some people may think this is depriving kids of the normal childhood enjoyment of treats, but I disagree. My kids still enjoy plenty of traditional treats, but they understand that those treats are to be enjoyed in moderation, and only as part of a balanced, healthy diet that is rich with fruits and vegetables. This has led to my children viewing their favorite fruits as treats.

·      Beverages Are The Enemy: For us, the first few years were largely void of juices. An occasional apple juice or orange juice is allowed in moderation. Fruit drinks and soda are off limits (and the adults in the family don’t drink these either). I can probably count on one hand the amount of times my kids have had chocolate milk – it is a very special treat, not the norm. As a result, they love water and plain old milk, and drink plenty of it.

·      Variety: Every meal, even their first meals, included lots of variety. This is a pillar of nutrition plans suggested for children by dieticians. Each meal includes a whole grain, fruit and/or veggie and protein, accompanied by organic milk. There are many times when my kids refuse to eat the veggies they are offered, but there are just as many times when the green stuff is the first thing they eat. The point is that the more you offer a variety of healthy foods, the more they will grow to enjoy and favor many of them.

·      Stick to the Classics: We’ll go through a phase when carrots are the only acceptable veggie, or cauliflower or broccoli, or whatever. Nobody ever overdosed on carrots as far as I know, so I just go with it. If my four year old refuses any veggie but carrots for a week, he simply eats carrots every day. Eventually he moves on and is willing to add tomatoes, beans and broccoli back into the mix. Another point on this is that I keep it really simple. Plain steamed veggies seem to taste better to my kids than roasted herbed carrots or Parmesan sautéed green beans.

·      What’s a Happy Meal?: We don’t eat fast food. We’ve gone more than four years, and the kiddos don’t even know what a Happy Meal is. I’ll be clear that we will pick up a grass fed cheeseburger, deli sandwich or a burrito from a fresh-mex place, and we order pizza. So I guess that qualifies as fast food. But McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC and the like just aren’t part of our repertoire.

·      I’m Not Above Bribes: At the end of the day, if nothing else is working, I remind the kids that if they want to earn their special treats, they need to eat their veggies. Sometimes a little nudge that if they finish their greens they might earn that ice cream they’ve been wanting, is all it takes for them to dig into the kale that remains on their plate. And usually once they do take a bite, they tell me how yummy it is.