Making a healthy family meal that makes everyone happy can sometimes be a struggle. Especially when the veggies are met with “Eww gross I’m not eating that!” Usually, if it’s green it isn’t touched (or at least not willing). According to CNN kids are not getting enough fruit and vegetables in their diets. Only 22% of kids ages 2 to 5 meet the government recommendations for veggie consumption. And it gets worse as they get older. Only 16% of kids 6 to 11 and 11% of kids and teens 12 to 18 are eating enough vegetables according to the USDA’s MyPlate.
As part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative we here at the Children’s Museum are dedicated to helping kids and their families make healthy choices so that they can live healthy, happy lives. Here are a few ways that can help get your child to eat their vegetables (and enjoy it!).
One sneaky way to get more veggies into your child’s diet: hide it. Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry’s wife) shares how she got her kids to eat their vegetables by hiding veggies in their favorite foods in her cookbook Deceptively Delicious. The idea came to her one night when in a desperate attempt to get her three children to eat something healthy she mixed pureed butternut squash into their mac and cheese and no one noticed the difference. Now she has a whole book of recipes (including brownies made with carrots and spinach!) that she says her family loves. While it may seem like deceiving your child isn’t the way to go that’s not the purpose of these tricky treats. The real purpose is to get them to at least try those “icky” foods and see that they aren’t so bad. Healthy foods should always be promoted to children.
Another idea might be to rename the foods your kids won’t try. Dinosaur trees seem to taste better than broccoli. Kathy Evans, Easton mother of 11 year old twins, could tell you all about the power of names. Her girls, who refuse to eat salad, love the lettuce roll ups she makes consisting of tomatoes, cheese, black beans and grated carrots after one day declaring that what Kathy called burritos were in fact “fairy sandwiches.” Her nephew enjoys sliced red peppers or as he likes to call them “dragon tongues.” Cute names make meal time more fun and the food more appealing.
Kids love to play with their food but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Another suggestion Kathy had was to make a game out of eating vegetables. She gets her girls to eat different colored peppers by challenging them to figure out which color pepper they are eating with a blindfold on. In the article “The Ecology of Pizza” author and mother Sandra Steingraber suggests that hungry children are called to the table while their dinner is still cooling with steamed broccoli and chunks of sweet potatoes waiting on the table. Pretend that the family is “red eyed locusts in search of green trees to eat.” After the broccoli is eaten let the children know that orange foods can make help you see further. As they eat the sweet potatoes and test their eyesight, serve dinner. Let the kids know that eating their veggies doesn’t have to be a chore.
Here are a few more tricks to get the green on your child’s plate:
No Thank You Bite – Everything on their plate has to be tried before they can say they don’t like it. Getting kids familiar with foods can help them to develop a taste for them later.
Cook Together – Let them help out while you make dinner. If they had a hand in making something they’ll probably be proud to eat it.
Grow a Garden – Grow your own vegetables in a backyard garden and let your child help out. Just like when cooking with your child: if they feel like it’s theirs and they helped they’ll be more likely to eat it.
Veggie Night – Have a veggie night and make a variety of different vegetables so they can still make choices but there is no competition with other types foods.
Easy Options – Make up single serving bags of fruit and veggies and put them in places that are easy for your child to access. It’s the same thinking that’s behind single serving chip bags or snack packs. If it’s quick and easy it’s more likely to be grabbed out of the fridge.
Fun Gadgets – Use different kitchen gadgets like the blender or food processor to make something fun to eat like a fruit smoothie.
What are you doing to make sure that your children get those important fruits and vegetables in their diet? Let us know!