by Deborah Mock
Ugh! Those dinnertime battles to get kids to eat their veggies. You beg, plead, bribe, and still, most kids – and let’s face it, some adults – literally can’t stomach them. But, what’s the problem? Vegetables are colorful, crispy, versatile and kinda fun (Hey, look at me! I’m eating leaves!) and, yes, they do taste good. So, why the bad rap?
It’s not just about taste, says Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, award-winning author of five books on vegan cooking, and author of the Compassionate Cooks website (www.compassionatecooks.com). As with many other things related to raising children, raising a veggie eater is about presentation.
“I think a lot of how parents position vegetables in their children’s lives has a lot to do with how they respond to (eating vegetables),” says Patrick-Goudreau. “We make it seem like vegetables are less appealing. I think kids pick up on that. We say, ‘You have to finish your brussels sprouts before you get your cake.’ The cake becomes the treat and the brussels sprouts are a chore.”
Patrick-Goudreau disagrees with the idea that kids have a natural aversion to vegetables. “I know so many vegan parents who raise their children vegan and they are really instilling a love of vegetables in their children’s lives from very early on. The earlier we can introduce these foods the better. They just become part of our repertoire.”
Along with presenting vegetables early and in a positive light, good preparation is important. It may seem natural to douse the veggies in sauces and dressing to get kids to try them, but that may actually defeat the purpose.
“Then we’re not really tasting the vegetables,” says Patrick-Goudreau. “We lost the sensitivity in our palate. Vegetables themselves have all the flavor and we don’t have to do very much to bring that flavor out. Roast them in a little bit of olive oil, add a little bit of salt and that’s really all you need.”
Patrick-Goudreau also recommends balance when using the “sneaking” method to get extra veggies into a child’s diet.
“We don’t have to constantly sneak vegetables in so (kids) never know that they’re eating something healthy. They should know that they’re eating something healthy. We want them to understand what the most nutrient-dense choices are so they can (make healthy decisions) themselves when the time comes, and it will come very quickly.”
Patrick-Goudreau has these tips to get kids to eat more vegetables:
- Put a positive spin on vegetables and fruit plant-based foods. These seem to get a bad reputation at the dinner table, so position them as good, not just good-for-you. Try making veggies the star of a meal or fresh fruit the anticipated dessert, “so the kids are getting a positive association,” says Patrick-Goudreau.
- Grow a garden together. There is nothing like picking your own vegetables and fruits. Get kids involved and show them how their food is grown. It can be as simple as starting with one plant.
- Prepare meals together. Kids want to participate and be involved in what you’re doing. It’s true that sometimes dinner just needs to get done, but make time to have the kids come in and participate with meal preparation. It will make them excited about their food.
- Get excited about the food yourself. “If you’re picky, and if you poo-poo vegetables and complain, and you’re not eating healthfully, your kids are going to mirror that,” says Patrick-Goudreau.
- Keep veggies and fruit ready-to-eat. Make time to chop vegetables and fruit into finger-food and keep them in a convenient spot in the refrigerator. “When kids open the refrigerator and they see strawberries or carrots that are already cut up for them, that’s what they reach for,” Patrick-Goudreau says. “That’s the reason it’s so easy to sit and eat a bag of potato chips – these are easy to pop into our mouths. Instead, make cauliflower, carrots, strawberries and raspberries easy-to-grab treats.”
- Try new versions of old favorites. “We are creatures of habit and the familiar really means a lot to us. I think that’s why having a veggie burger in a bun with all of the fixings or healthy French fries or baked fries really goes a long way to helping people feel like what they are eating is really familiar to them.”
- Celebrate nutrition, but also just enjoy. Talk about how the vegetables are nutritious, delicious, beautiful and good for us, but try not to make too big of a deal out of it, says Patrick-Goudreau. No announcements of, “OK, we are eating healthy now” are necessary. Just make dinner about good food and together time and your kids may naturally begin to expand their palates and enjoy their veggies.
Deborah Mock is an editor with Dominion Parenting Media.