At some point in our lives, we’ve probably all heard the words “Eat your vegetables.” We all know that vegetables are good for us. They provide important nutrients and fiber that nourish our bodies, promote a healthy digestive system and strengthen our immune system.
We also know that most of us don’t eat enough of them each day. Everyone should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. If making fruits and vegetables a part of each meal is new to you, it can take time to develop new habits. It’s never too late – or too early – to start.
Developing a taste for vegetables at an early age helps establish good health habits that will last a lifetime. But how do you do that? Even parents who make fruits and vegetables a regular part of their own diet are sometimes surprised to learn that their child is a “picky eater.”
How do I encourage my child to eat more veggies?
Here are some of my best tips to get kids to eat more vegetables:
▪ First and foremost, be a role model. The more your kids see you eating vegetables and trying new ones, the more likely they will be to follow your lead.
▪ Have veggies ready to go as easy-to-grab snacks. That way, you can have vegetables readily available when kids are hungry and want something right away.
▪ Hide the veggies. Have you heard of cauliflower pizza crust, the latest veggie trend? Even if that raises an eyebrow, there are lots of ways to incorporate vegetables into pasta sauces, soups or smoothies. Think about what your child likes to eat. Can you add a vegetable to it?
▪ Try the “one bite” or “no thank you bite” approach. Convince your child to try just one bite before saying “no.” It’s OK to say “no.” It may take 15 to 20 exposures to a new food before a child accepts it. Keep trying!
▪ Make vegetables flavorful. Add spices, cheese or sauces to make them tasty and appealing to a child’s taste buds.
▪ Prepare vegetables in multiple ways. Eat them raw, roasted, stir-fried, grilled, sautéed or steamed. Try multiple preparations to find the one that works best for your child.
▪ Start early. When your baby starts eating solid food, make sure that fruits and vegetables are provided at each meal to get your child used to new tastes and textures.
▪ Involve your child. Let your child choose vegetables at the grocery store. Include your child in meal planning and preparing vegetables. Create a kids’ garden at your home where your child can grow and harvest fresh veggies to share with the family. These strategies can increase the chances that your child will try something new.
▪ Make vegetables fun and interactive. Build a forest of broccoli crowns. Make a smiley face with veggies on the plate. Think of fun names like Captain Carrot, Big Hero Broccoli or Penelope Pea.
▪ No pressure. It’s important that kids not be pressured to eat vegetables. Meal time should be a stress-free, positive time where kids can build positive relationships with food and family. It may take repeated exposures to new veggies before a child accepts it.
How much fruits and vegetables does my child need?
You can think about portion size in two ways: measurements or an image of a plate. In terms of measurements, toddlers should eat two to three servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
A serving size for toddlers is about a quarter to half of an adult portion, or one cup of fruit and one cup of vegetables a day. Four- to 8-year-olds need about 1 ½ cups of each per day. You can also think about a plate. About half of the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables.
Kali Tupper is a nutritionist at Unity Care NW.