So often when I’m talking to parents about how to get their kids to eat vegetables, I go back to the examples of teaching our kids to learn how to read or learn how to ride a bike.
These concepts are so familiar for parents that the analogies of “learning” to do these things is obvious, especially compared to talking about the more abstract idea of “getting our kids to do something,” like eating their vegetables. We know that the learning process is really one of training both our children and ourselves how to do something. However, when we think about the how to get our children to do something, we too often assume it requires pressure or convincing to get our kids to willingly agree.
This does not need to be the case when it comes to training our kids to eat vegetables.
Just as we help our kids learn to ride their bikes by eventually losing their training wheels, if we consistently walk beside our children as they practice eating vegetables, gently use our hands to support them, and provide coaching, we will train our children to learn to like vegetables without as much struggle. It will take some kids longer than others, but the training process is otherwise the same.
Here are five tips to help foster a feeding environment that helps your child to be successful in the training process:
1. Don’t wait until dinner.
You wouldn’t take your kids for a training ride on their bike after dark, so don’t wait until the last meal of the day to offer them vegetables. You can find ways to include vegetables at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time so there are repeated opportunities to learn to like them in different ways at different meals. Click here for more veggie-based recipe ideas to enjoy throughout the day!
2. Begin with favorites but then branch out.
Just as it takes time to acquire a skill, it takes time for most children to acquire tastes for new vegetables. So if you know there are a limited number of vegetables your child will eat, start with those and gradually branch out. Keep their favorites familiar for small, frequent victories, then embrace new ways to offer these preferred vegetables as well. This trains your child to learn to like the taste of veggies in a variety of ways and to gradually accept more vegetables over time.
3. Give them hands-on practice.
Once the vegetables are in your home, get your children involved in their preparation. Touching and interacting with vegetables, before being expected to eat them, can help reduce children’s neophobia (a fear of new foods) once at the table. Try letting children wash, scrub, salad spin, and cut vegetables (with kid-safe knives).
4. Use novelty to your advantage.
Kids love baskets on their bikes, lights they can flash, and handlebar streamers. They also love foods on a stick, fun shapes, and the invitation to play with their food. Something as simple as skewering veggies on a straw or kabob stick (being careful the pointed end isn’t used as a weapon between siblings!) is a fun way to make veggies more friendly. Also try cutting them into shapes with metal cookie cutters, or inviting children to make patterns or pictures on their plates.
5. Give them a sense of independence.
Do you know why toddlerhood is when we often see a peak in picky eating? Because children at this age start to have a need for autonomy and independence. There are few things within their control, with the exception of what they eat (or don’t!). So when training kids to learn to like vegetables, equip them with age-appropriate independence to eat them on their own. A product like Vegy Vida is made for kids’ independent use. Small enough for little hands to hold and yet easy enough to squeeze, this is a practical and yet powerful way to put your child in control of their veggie consumption.
Just as children are motivated to ditch their training wheels and develop a new sense of confidence from riding their bikes independently, let’s apply this same school of thought to motivating our children to become lifelong veggie eaters.
Ashley Smith MPH, RD, LD
Pediatric Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Ashley Smith is a pediatric dietitian and owner of Veggies and Virtue. Ashley is a Mom to 2 apprehensive eaters. Her mission is to bring families less mealtime stress & more feeding success. Follow her Instagram at @veggiesandvirtue or her blog, veggiesandvirtue.com.