by Sara Barry
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones whose kids happily snack on kale chips, choose a side of spinach instead of fries, or scarf down whatever veggie you put on their plate. For those who hear a lot of “Yuck” or “I’m not eating that,” getting the right number of vegetables in can be a minor victory. If you’re tired of the veggie wars, try these tips, and keep trying. Most kids need multiple tries before they like a new food – and tastes do change.
Stop the battles about veggies by letting your kids choose what they eat. Plant a garden or go to a pick-your-own farm. If you grow food, let kids snack right in the garden. Peas, green beans, cherry tomatoes and berries all lend themselves to snacking. Kids often like plants they can pull out of the ground, like carrots.
Even if kids aren’t picking in the garden or a farm, let them choose. Go to a farmers market or even the produce section of your local store and let them select a new vegetable to try. If they pick one new to you too, ask the farmer how to prepare it or look online for tips and recipes. You might find something new that everyone likes!
For a long time, carrots were my go to vegetable. I’d put carrot sticks on the table and offer another option. Often my kids would turn down the peas or broccoli or green beans, but the carrots were non-negotiable.
If your rule is that kids eat whatever is put in front of them, consider an opt out food, one or two things that kids don’t have to eat even if it is served. Think about it. You have foods you don’t like and don’t eat, right? Let kids know they can opt out of eating a particular food they don’t like (if they ask to try it again, by all means let them!), but they can’t pick a new opt out each day.
Books like Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef help parents pack more veggies and other healthy additions into foods kids love. The drawback to this option is that kids don’t learn to eat a variety of healthy foods. Still squash mac and cheese and veggie packed meatloaf are great ways to get additional vegetables in while working on getting your kids to eat them knowingly.
We like to think in terms of a well-balanced meal, but it doesn’t really matter if vegetables are eaten with meals or between them. Put a plate of sliced veggies out on the table while prepping dinner. They might disappear while you’re cooking.
Dipping makes any food more fun. Try carrots and peppers with hummus, a seasoned yogurt dip, or ranch dressing. Offer broccoli with a little melted cheese. Or what about mini veggie pizzas? These things may not be your child’s first choice, but if other choices are eliminated, they may be willing to try.
Some kids like crunchy. Some like mushy. Some have trouble with tougher foods. Most vegetables can be served raw or cooked a variety of ways. Try different ways of serving foods.
Do your battles escalate at dinner time when kids are often cranky? Try squeezing some extra veggies in earlier in the day. Pop some in an omelet or make Morning Glory muffins with zucchini and carrots. Serve breakfast burritos with salsa and greens.
My kids often want to eat off my plate. It’s a habit I like to discourage, but it comes in handy sometimes. I sometimes make myself a vegetable I like but they don’t and serve it only to myself. I don’t offer it or even comment on it. I just let them see it. Sometimes they ask what it is. And sometimes they ask if they can try it. I always say yes.
Trying a vegetable is the first step. You’ll probably still get a lot of faces and “Yuck.” Acknowledge that they tried it. Encourage them to try again next time. You’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve – and a world of veggies to try.
Do your kids love sweet? Roasting brings out the sweetness in many veggies. Carrots, beets, onions, peppers and broccoli are all good roasted. To roast veggies, toss them in oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and put in the oven at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes (less for broccoli and peppers).
Winter squashes, like butternut or acorn, are sweet. Serve squash on it’s own (maybe drizzled with a little maple syrup), in a soup, or mixed into a cheese sauce for mac and cheese. To cook winter squash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and place cut side down in a baking dish. Add about an inch of water and cook until squash is soft. Scoop out of the skin. Use an immersion blender or food processor for a smoother texture. Winter squash is also readily available frozen.
Green beans or snap peas are great raw or steamed. Try tossing them with a mix of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and a tiny bit of sugar or honey.
Get your greens into sauces and soups. Lightly steam greens like spinach, kale or chard. Whizz in a food processor or chop finely. Freeze the chopped greens in ice cube trays to pop into soups or sauces.