By: Amanda Froelich,
It’s the age-old battle of trying to get youngsters to do more with their vegetables than just push them around on their plates. While the crunchy and colorful foods may be abundant in nutrients and minerals essential for every person’s well-being, kids especially seem to lack the motivation to consume them.
But this could be for a variety of reasons, and researchers wanting to understand this dilemma (along with many committed, persevering parents) have worked hard to find proven methods of how parents and health workers may better present the life-promoting foods, and get children excited to consume them.
If you struggle with a picky eater or two, implement these methods at a rate that best fits your family to healthfully influence their present and future.
1. Be an Example
Let’s face it, kids learn by example. So if you’re munching on Doritos in the next room while trying to get your child to eat their broccoli, the transition to healthier living is not going to happen. Children naturally emulate those around them, so being a strong, vibrant example will only inspire them to eat their peas, and grow up strong like their beloved parent.
2. Make Food Fun
Kids love to play Make Believe. They also love games. For any kid facing off a plate of broccoli, there’s nothing more daunting. But if that kid is now a dinosaur that must eat 5 miniature trees to outrun a Tyrannosaurus Rex, now those florets are a lot more interesting.
Relating healthy food to fun things the child can already loves and turning it into a game is a great way to get children interested in the food in front of them.
3. Plan Dinners
If you’re on a quest to introduce healthier dinners, planning ahead is an essential. But don’t become overwhelmed by the prospect of planning an entire week’s menu, instead focus on just two or three days. Stock up on the whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, and lean proteins your may need, and have some go-to recipes on hand so you have a plan of action.
If you’re in a time crunch, pre-prepare a Mexican chili, savory casserole (healthy, mind you), or a vegetable-filled lasagna on the weekend, then freeze for a later date. Serve every meal with a salad and a fresh dressing, and it will be easier than ever to skip the take-away meals and transition the whole family into a healthier mindset.
4. Get Them Involved
If kids have the opportunity to become involved in the planning or preparation of food, they’re much more likely to want to consume what they’ve created. Bring them to the store and allow them to choose produce for the meal. If they’re old enough, allow them to chop alongside you in the kitchen; perhaps even just give them a spoon to stir vegetables into a salad or fold muffins together. Once inspired by the healthy food they’ve helped create, it’s much easier to get them to consume a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.
5. Make a Schedule
Children need to eat every three or four hours: three meals, two snacks, and a lot of fluids. If you plan ahead for these, it will be much easier to keep not only their diet, but yours as well, in check. If you’re heading out, pack a cooler with pretzels, sliced up veggies, almond butter, yogurt, fruit, greens, and water. Then, fast food won’t be a necessity or tempting option.
6. Reward Good Behavior
Change is hard for anyone, so reward the positive efforts made by your child. This will help create positive food experiences, and eventually reduce picky eating tendencies.
Research has shown that rewarding a child with one bite of a rejected food with stickers makes it easier for them to try the food. They are also more likely to rate the food positively in the future.
7. Understand Their Values
Children and adults see the world differently, as a result both have different values. Most kids could care less about health– they already feel invincible – so telling them that a certain food is healthy will not likely get you very far (and can often times backfire).
However, most children feel limited by their size and wish to be stronger and bigger. Explaining that broccoli “helps you grow” is then more effective than, “it’s healthy” or “because I said so.”
8. Offer a Plethora of Colors
The human eye is drawn to vibrancy and color, so the fact that fruits and vegetables abound in so many ranges of the spectrum works in your favor. You can expose them to more foods by offering more colors. Try to keep them separated, as that is how most kids prefer to eat their foods.
9. Don’t Force Them to FinishOne bite is different from finishing your plate. Unfortunately, one of the biggest misconceptions with parents is that forcing a child to finish a food she/he doesn’t like will get them to change their behavior. Not the case.
Instead, fighting and punishments create a negative meal experience, and the child will learn to associate those foods with bad feelings. Negative food experiences have the opposite of the desired effect, and actually increase picky eating tendencies. To fix this, require one bite, but try not to start a fight.
10. Dip It
Nothing makes some thinly sliced cucumber or carrots more appealing than a delicious dip. Kids are just as drawn to a creamy ranch dressing, hummus, tomato-basil spread, or even yogurt to use with their veggies, so have options such as these around for a snack or meal time option.
11. Create Fun PatternsAnother reason to prepare different vegetables separate for your children is that young ones love when their food is designed into patterns on their plate. Unlike adults who love clumped portions near each other in the center of their plate, children prefer food separated into different piles around the perimeter.
If you make shapes from the food into hearts, smiley faces, or exotic scenes, they are much more likely to enjoy their fare – never second guessing the health benefits they’re getting.
12. Don’t Become a Short Order Cook
A big mistake many parents get in the habit of is to prepare two different meals to please their kids and their partner. While the intention is loving, it is an exhausting gesture that is not beneficial for promoting healthier eating habits with children.
Instead, cook one big meal (like a whole-grain pasta with a slow-roasted tomato sauce) with additional options. This could be sautéed vegetables on the side or fresh, green herbs (like chives, basil, or arugula) to add in. That way everyone eats together, no noses are upturned, and the family embraces healthier living together.
13. Be Lovingly Persistent
You love your kids, that’s evident. Every kid is different, however, so getting them to enjoy healthier alternatives may need more persistence and patience. Remember, though, that habits develop at a young age and will remain with them until adulthood, so for your sake and theirs, work to solve the picky eating problems as soon as possible.
Your persistence will eventually pay off, and you can feel good that you’re setting them up for a future with less risk of illness or inhibited food choices.
14. Change Your Attitude
More often than not it is the subtle psychological factors that dissuade optimism of healthy eating. Subconsciously, parents tend to predict their kids won’t tolerate a certain food before it’s even served, so be aware of your own attitude before passing it on to your child. They pick up on such cues and conversation, so this is an integral step in helping them create beneficial habits at an early age.
If you, as the parent or caretaker, adopt these constructive guidelines, getting kids to not only consume – but love – their vegetables will be a much easier task. By adopting such practical rules when it comes to creating and preparing food in the kitchen, the entire family will benefit, and your youngsters will realize that healthy foods can be made both exciting and delicious.