You may or may not like what I'm about to say, but after 43 years of feeding kids daily, I can share with you what I've learned and unlearned.
I run a child development home for kids 0-8. Since I really do cook for kids and eat with them daily, I have a unique perspective
First of all, no child is the same and eating is an area where individual differences abound. In other words, just when you think you've got it down, a child comes along who won't eat anything except bread or doughnuts and throws that teeny tiny no-thank-you-bite on the floor. Or worse yet, straight back at you!
So what's a thoughtful and loving adult supposed to do? Throw it back? Probably not, so here are my top ideas on getting kids to eat their veggies without tricks or cute ideas that don't work. (Some cute ideas DO work but we're not talking about those here today.)
Over the years, I've learned to no longer call food good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, it's just food. I do however talk about the benefits of food. Apples help your tummy feel good and broccoli helps you stay well because it has a lot of vitamin C. I find that kids are open to many positive ideas as long as they trust you enough to know that while you may strongly suggest eating a particular food, they will never be forced to or made to stay at the table until they do.
So how do I actually help kids eat veggies without crying or throwing food at me?
Easy. I relax about it and II serve a variety of veggies that kids like.
Broccoli florets, cucumbers with salt, cherry tomatoes, overcooked cauliflower, carrots, peas, corn, canned green beans, sauteed zucchini. edamame beans, red peppers, baked beans, sweet potato fries, and organic tomato soup with cream are some of the things I've had good luck with. Be creative! It turns out kids like the darndest things and you never can guess what they'll be.
Personally, I have a great attitude about food. I thoroughly enjoy a wide variety of foods and I'm an adventurous eater. My attitude rubs off on the kids I eat with and their attitude about enjoying meals also rubs off on me.
Kids come to the table ready to really enjoy their meal and enjoy the friends they're eating with. Meals last a long time and the conversation is fascinating. I remind them that we come to the table to eat and to talk when they try to get too silly and I judge well when it's time to call it a meal and be off to the next adventure.
With toddlers, getting them to eat veggies is usually easy. Most will eat almost anything, including healthy food. It's a great opportunity to include veggies in every meal including breakfast.
One thing I will do is encourage kids to eat a balanced meal, which I think is terribly important, although it's fallen out of trend with the low-fat era. I'm positive it will be coming back soon because balanced meals boost strength and immunity.
In order to get kids to try things, I often withhold seconds on sugars and grains until they eat some veggies, protein, fat, and fruit. I feel good about doing this because I didn't take away their favorite food, only set a limit on it.
And I never hold dessert out as a reward for eating whatever I think is enough. Ever. It just doesn't work and sets up a struggle at the table. Struggles are something I avoid because I want meals to be as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
Now you really may hate me for what I'm going to tell you next but I swear it's the truth as seen from the perspective of a 60-year-old.
The number one way to get your kids to eat their veggies is to eat them yourself!
Children learn by example. Yep, that means they learn by watching you so when they get picky and complain about the food, learn to take it with a grain of salt and keep providing healthy meals to eat together. By the time they're grown they'll most likely eat pretty much what you do anyway.
So relax, enjoy, and provide what you know is healthy. That's what works in the long run!
Want more energy to enjoy your family and your life to the fullest? Read my article for 3 Amazing Energy Boosting Tips.
Nanci J Bradley, 60, is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.