So your kids won’t touch a vegetable?
And corn is a grain. Not a vegetable. Potatoes more like pasta than spinach.
Back in May of 2012 when nutritional change slapped me and my family in the face with a “come to Jesus moment,” our vegetable repertoire consisted of corn, potatoes, steamed broccoli, steamed cauliflower, peas, green beans, and rarely a raw baby carrot or salad. Six or seven vegetables–and two don’t count anymore as vegetables. Our diet was a slave to grains and starches.
A SLAVE TO GRAINS AND STARCHES. The beige stuff.
Particularly wheat and potatoes. Cereal for breakfast. Sandwich with chips for lunch. Lasagna for supper.
Eight months of diligence, persistence, stubbornness, yelling, threatening, screaming, spanking, sobbing, one run-away attempt and we are finally reaping vegetable rewards! No, I’m lying. Eight months of diligence, persistence, and sheer determination. Coaxing, encouraging, educating, setting an example, and refusing to budge.
Vegetable-eating -wise, we are cruising where I want to be. Eight months of angst for a lifetime of health.
I stopped accepting, “I don’t like it” and started dishing out “Tough. Eat it anyway. It’s all you get ’til you eat it [or three bites or two bites or however happy of a mood I was or was not in that day].”
What to try? What to do? A large vegetable repertoire is a must for good health. Every darn nutrition/diet book I’ve been reading/researching on the beach the last week has screamed that at me. Everybody agrees. Vegetables. But getting the kids (and even some finicky husbands) to eat them may require the stubborness of a donkey, the creativity of an artist, the persistance of a child, and the dedication of a good mom.
My eight-month, multi-modal approach (please don’t roll your eyes if sometimes what I say is completely opposite of what I just said. Sometimes I had to make a complete 180. I had to go left to go right. But eventually, after eight months, we’re moving in ONE direction):
1. Make vegetables frequently, at least 2-3 times daily.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks. We are the extreme, but we eat carrot soup, squash soup, or roasted vegetables for breakfast. Kids have to see vegetables over and over to even consider starting to eat them. In the beginning of change, put all the “snubbed” vegetables in a vegetable soup with lots of carrots and peas. They’ll usually go for this, although don’t fret if they pull out the Brussel sprout even from the soup initially!
Suggestion for the lunchbox: Cook the child’s most favorite vegetable, and put it on a stick or the cutest-cute toothpick. Pop it in the lunchbox. This would work for cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, carrots, and beets, likely among others. But raw vegetables can get REALLY boring, and may even be hard on your child’s stomach if they complain of tummy aches or have bloating issues. So try sending cooked vegetables on a stick. Add a dip if they’d like, even for cooked veggies!
2. Mom and Dad eat vegetables and rave to each other how good they are.
For example, oven-roasting vegetables was a novel preparation method for us at the beginning of our vegetable change. My husband liked them so much this way, that every time he took a bite initially, he complimented me on them and ate them all up–like, maybe five times each meal the first week or so! How could a kid not want to check that out?
3. Prepare them in ways you know they’ll eat them.
My 8 year-old won’t eat roasted cauliflower, broccoli, and asparagus, but she will eat them steamed. She asks for seconds on roasted brussel sprouts, but won’t eat them boiled or steamed. It’s okay! Certain foods have certain tastes and chemicals that may be affected by the way they’re prepared. Even raw. Kids have a sensitive palate for all of this, which may or may not be something that stays with them for life. Don’t “poo-poo” them. Encourage them. Be a vegetable cheerleader! Work to discover the ways they will eat them as you broaden and encourage them to try the ways they won’t normally eat them!
4. Allow them to have a “yucky” vegetable veto–but make it look like you won’t take no for an answer until they have one taste. And then show how magnanimous you are by cutting off the smallest bit you can and see if they will try it. Or tell them they get “one vegetable veto” a week or a day or a month or every three days (whatever you think will therapeutically help them mentally) and let them choose whether it’s the roasted butternut squash, the sauteed peppers, or the spinach salad.
5. Make vegetables in a variety of ways.
It will take months, but you will figure out which vegetables your family likes prepared in which way. Don’t despair, and don’t give up! Try lots of vegetables in lots of ways! Raw. Marinated. Steamed plain. Boiled plain. Soups. Casseroles. Roasted. Grilled. Mashed. Chopped. And again, any that were not liked, save them and shove them in soup.
6. If they’re loading up on fruits for snacks, require a vegetable before they eat a fruit.
My kids have free access to fruit and vegetables. They nearly always choose the fruit. Even with fruit, I think a little bit about the sugar involved. So, when I see them reaching for another orange, I’ll ask them, “Have you had your vegetable today? Before you can eat that orange, you have to have either some celery or a carrot.” It works for us. It makes it easier if you don’t mandate the carrot be peeled and sliced. I wash them well and let them eat them whole. Baby carrots are boring. We do nature’s real deal.
7. Work them into casseroles and soups.
I’m not a big fan of hiding. I try never to lie. When I put carrots in my spaghetti sauce to make it sweeter, my kids know it. But I do work vegetables into lots of foods. Hide them in there if you must. Try not to lie. Exaggeration is allowed–“Oh, my! Yes, there are really sweet, fresh carrots in there!” or “Oh. Yep. There are leaves in this casserole!” “Leaves” is a choice word over spinach or chard.
8. Pick out new vegetables to try, and let the kid choose from the supermarket bins.
That’s how we learned we liked artichokes. My 7 year-old wanted to buy one. I said, “No. I don’t know how to cook it, and I don’t really have time to be looking it up today or tomorrow. The last one we bought to try went to waste.” A lady shopper beside me was smirking. “It’s not hard to cook. Just put it in your steamer basket until it opens up. Pull off the leaves and eat the white stuff off of the end with butter.” Well, that sounded easy enough. We tried them and loved them with salt. No butter–we’ve got some intolerances to dairy I’m sorting out.
9. Put the vegetables on beautiful plates.
Pull out great-grandma’s china. Or that wedding china. What could be a better purpose than this noble endeavor of getting your kids to eat more vegetables? Kids LOVE aesthetics. All that glitters is gold to them. It’s all about presentation. Lure them in.
10. Feed them vegetables first.
If they’re nosing around you as you cook, get the vegetable ready STAT. Set the table quickly, and put the vegetables on the plate. “Go ahead and eat. I’m finishing up the hamburgers now.” When you’re really hungry, most anything tastes better. Don’t mis the window! Capitalize on that hungry moment to get the vegetables eaten! This is the time to forget proprieties about not eating until everyone is at the table or getting all your food on the plate before you taste it. Get the vegetables on there early and let them go at it while you finish the rest of dinner!
11. Educate yourself on vitamins and minerals in vegetables and what they’re good for. Kids love random facts.
Have some one liners to coach your kids on, and soon they’ll be asking you, “What’s this one good for?” And remember, words like arthritis, heart disease, cancer, etc mean NOTHING to your kids.
“These carrots have sugar packaged in a good way for your body to get energy, and also doctors say the beta-carotene in them helps your eyes see at night and keeps your skin smooth and not all wrinkled up like an elephant’s skin!”
“These [kale] leaves give you calcium to keep your bones strong so you can run well! And also has some omega-3s to keep your joints from aching! Cool, eh?”
“Well, this broccoli is a power food! It has folate to help babies in mommies’ tummies get a strong, healthy backs and nerves [reduces neural tube defects], and it has lots of vitamin C to help you keep from getting a runny, snotty nose (aka cold). And it has lots of nutrients to help your body heal up all its cells that get hurt fighting to keep your body healthy every day!”
12. Go to the mall and point out the people eating ice cream, French fries, and soda– but no “real” vegetables.
13. Give a reward for vegetables eaten.
My kids informed me they learned to like vegetables when I told them they could have something sweet afterward, like the muffins or cookies I make. I had forgotten I used to have to do that. But, I guess I did.
Yes, I want them to eat more vegetables, but when vegetables are still “strange foods”, small servings are best, one or two bites is probably enough–not a huge helping.
15. Remove the grains and pototoes.
Doubtful kids will consider vegetables if they have access to crackers, Triscuits, potato chips, Goldfish, bagel chips, corn chips, tortillas, cheese puffs, mashed potatoes, French fries, and rice cakes.
Sometimes to do the right thing, you have to do the hard thing. And taking out grains and starches will bring A LOT of fussing. A LOT of hate stares. A LOT of strong language (“I hate this new way we eat.” “When I’m a mom, my kids will get crackers and cookies every day.” “I don’t want to be healthy.”).
16. Take advantage of cartoons.
A great time to try to pull up old episodes of Bugs Bunny and Popeye somewhere so you can show off carrots and spinach.
I think that’s about all we have done, and I’m tickled.
Eat well. Live well! Feel well!