You have enough to worry about already when it comes to your children. Choosing the right family doctor, treating scrapes and bruises, and ensuring that your kid sees just as much sunshine as he does television (or more) can feel like a full-time job all on its own. As eating right is the foundation of any child’s health, if yours won’t eat their vegetables, everything else is just, well, details.
While improving your child’s physical health via healthy eating is the main goal, remember that there is more than one kind of health at stake here: mental health. Adopting a more healthy lifestyle should not put undue emotional stress on either of you. After all, if your kid comes to associate broccoli and carrots with kicking and screaming, what was the point?
If you’re struggling to get your offspring to eat more vegetables, the best option is to get creative – and maybe even a little tricky. Kids can’t complain about veggies if they don’t know they’re eating them, right? To help get you started, here are are 10 ways that you can sneak healthy foods into even the pickiest eater’s diet:
1. Start with foods your child already knows. Macaroni and cheese — a comfort food classic and established kid-favorite — is the perfect dish to introduce a new vegetable. Your child will be more accepting of a new food if it is tucked inside melted cheesy goodness (aren’t we all?). A good recipe to try is Spoonful’s peas and bow ties in cheese sauce, which provides the perfect combination of the familiar and the new.
2. Give the food fun names. The masters of (food) disguise at Parenting offer up well-named “white and green pizza”, topping a classic crust with mozzarella cheese and baby spinach. Kids are less likely to balk at new foods if you give them non-threatening names – “spinach” may not go over so well, but “green” is a fun and harmless word. Instead of asking what toppings your child would like on their pizza, ask which colors. This gives you both control over what’s being eaten, and is a fun compromise.
3. Make eating a game. A lone sprig of asparagus will likely go uneaten, but if your child sees that it can actually be a paintbrush to dip in his hollandaise sauce, he is far more likely to eat it. MyRecipes’ take on roasted broccoli will have you both gabbing about “baby trees” sooner than you can say “220% of your daily value of vitamin C” – and that’s something worth celebrating.
4. Take your child grocery shopping with you. Kids are more likely to try new foods if they can make choices. While out shopping for groceries, ask him whether he would prefer honey-glazed carrots or baked zucchini sticks for dinner, and watch his interest pique. Delish offers up two quick, easy recipes to satisfy either answer. By giving your child options (that you control!) you both win.
5. Let kids cook with you. It’s a fact – kids like to help. They like to mimic the grown-ups. It builds their sense of independence and confidence that they are capable of doing things on their own. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste! Asking your child to assist you in preparing vegetables is one of the best ways to convince them to eat better. Try something fun like VegWeb’s crinkle-cut carrot fries. In addition to the extra bonding time, you’ll also be giving your child a hands-on lesson in life skills – knowing how to cook will certainly come in handy later on in life.
6. Make finger food. Let’s face it: eating with your fingers is just more fun. In the battle to get your child to eat vegetables, don’t let flatware stand in your way. Super Healthy Kids provides a clever recipe for green beans-turned-fries, which are ready in just 10 minutes and are finger-lickin’ good.
7. Sneak the veggies into other foods. When all else fails, hide the veggies in other foods and pretend they’re not included in the recipe. Parenting’s green zucchini muffins are a perfect example of how a food can taste, smell, and look just like its original veggie-less counterpart, but actually be chock-full of nutrition. This trick is especially useful at the end of a long, tired, or stressful day, when persuasion takes a backseat to fight-free nutrition. The kids will feel like they’re getting a treat, and you’ll know they’re getting the vitamins and nutrients needed to stay healthy.
8. Establish dessert as a treat. As adults, we understand that work comes before play and achievement before reward. What better time to begin teaching your child this valuable life lesson than around the dinner table? Present dessert as a reward for his effort in eating something that might not be your child’s favorite. Use this moment as a teaching opportunity to illustrate that sometimes, in order to get what you want, you have to put in hard work. Then for dessert, incorporate the high-vitamin goodness of Spoonful’s sweet potato surprise.
9. Make things that you really like. Don’t make this process harder on yourself than it needs to be – it’s important to make foods that you’ll enjoy, too! Not only will you be a happier parent if you are eating the foods you love, but your child will develop good habits just by watching you. Kids are notoriously observant, so if yours sees that mom enjoys her veggies, he is more likely to follow suit.
10. Use the one-bite rule. In particularly tough cases, it can seem almost impossible to get your child to even try a new dish, much less to ask for seconds. Insist that he have at least one bite of the food-in-question before calling it quits. This way, you increase your chances that he’ll be surprised to like a new food that appeared formidable in the beginning.
Worst case scenario? You try all ten steps above, and little Johnny still won’t eat his veggies. It’s okay—take a deep breath. You have not failed. In fact, you are closer now than ever to solving the problem. As reported by Charity Mathews, founder of Foodlets.com, kids (and adults) need to try a new food between 7 and 14 times to develop a taste for it. It’s just a numbers game! Continue serving up veggies with confidence, and if you stick to the one-bite rule, Johnny will become acclimated to the foods that are good for him with time.
Between your future vegetable victory and now, remind yourself that the effort you’re making — this labor of love — is evidence that you are truly a good parent. Your child is lucky to have a parent who cares enough about him to pore over an online checklist to get him to eat what’s good for him. And if your child refuses to eat his vegetables tonight at dinner, know that this is not a failure. You are not a failure. If there is a star-sticker for parent-of-the-day, it goes to you just for trying. Veggie on!
How do you get your kids to eat their veggies? If you have any super-sneaky tricks that aren’t mentioned here, let us know what they are in the comments section!