Guiding kids to a lifetime of liking veggies begins earlier than you might think. The good news: We have many opportunities to encourage veggie acceptance as our kids grow up. This research from Kansas State University presents seven logical steps.
Want your kid to like Brussels sprouts? The time to start might be at T minus 250 days.
Or, as one professor might put it: Feed the veggies to your sprout before he even comes out. According to research from Kansas State University, veggie acceptance may begin in the womb and then continue for a long time afterward. In fact, guiding kids to liking veggie for life can be a lifelong process.
That’s the good news, because not all of us gorged on extra-bitter veggies when pregnant. However, we can have a big influence on dietary preferences once baby arrives. Based on the research, kids watch and take their dietary cues from parents before they can even walk, and that influence carries throughout the years.
“(Parents) can raise their children to eat healthfully and start a better cycle,” Richard Rosenkranz, associate professor of food, nutrition, dietetics and health at KSU, told the K-State News. “A food choice is always about more than just this one meal, here and now. It’s part of a bigger picture.”
In addition to eating veggies such as kale and broccoli during pregnancy, moms can encourage veggie acceptance among their kids with the following research-inspired, life-stage tips:
Do not react to facial reactions: It can take babies 10 tries at a new food before they acquire a taste for it. Rather than focus on the child’s facial reaction when eating a certain food, parents should wait to see if the child swallows it. If he does, then he will likely learn to like the taste if he is continually served that food.
Eat what you serve: Remember, a baby’s whole world is what she sees before her, and often that is the parent holding the spoon. She takes her directions from you. Eat the same veggies you feed her, with enthusiasm. If she needs encouragement, cut them into small pieces a baby can handle. This will establish a tactile relationship.
Make it entertaining: When kids begin school their world expands equally, and so do their tastes. To manage their young attention on veggies, parents can cut and arrange the vegetables into animals or face shapes. If time is tight, ask the kids to help and then snap a few photos to share. Kids are more likely to eat what they had a hand in making and can get involved in meal preparation at a very early age.
Hand them the reigns: As kids become more independent, so should their decisions about what they eat. “Studies have shown that when those in authority communicate a standard of behavior to people and then allow those people to decide how they want to work on meeting that standard, they are more successful in achieving the goal,” the K-State News reports. The same can be applied to helping kids reach their vegetable goals. They can, for example, grow their own veggies, pick which vegetables they want for mealtime while at the store and choose how they’d like them prepared.
Put it out there: Veggie consumption tends to drop as kids become teens, possibly because of competing interests and busy schedules. Rosenkranz suggests placing vegetable trays out in high-traffic areas for when the kids return from school. You also can place grab-n-go veggie snacks in conspicuous parts of the refrigerator. This is a Vegy Vida favorite! If kids prefer to use a dip or topper, look for an all-natural option, preferably free of sugar. It won’t compromise the veggie nutrition.
Be positive: Apply a healthy attitude toward healthy eating. When we relate not eating veggies to bad behavior, kids are likely to forever associate the two and vegetables will correlate with disappointment. This is not a recipe for veggie like.
Lastly, we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. The veggie mealtime challenge is fairly universal, after all. And true, nurturing a good relationship with vegetables can take time, but it’s never too late!