I don’t just want my kids to eat vegetables; I want them to love eating vegetables. It’s a high bar, I know, but food is a permanent, daily part of their lives, so it seems like a battle worth fighting.
Like many (many, many) people, I had a lot of issues with food growing up. Even after trying to change my perspective, and being mostly successful, it is almost impossible to completely wipe away those years of emotions tied to eating. I want more for my kids, a better relationship with food, so I have made it a priority to implement gentle, empowering habits—for all of us.
Of course, and I cannot stress this enough, all of these tips won’t work for everyone. Every kid is different, every parent is different, and that is totally okay. This is simply our journey to building a better relationship with food, and I wanted to share it with other parents who might find even a dollop of helpful information.
First, Find Some Inspiration
My Instagram feed is changing a lot recently: fewer celebrity animals and more useful posts, like the always joyful Jennifer from Kids Eat In Color. Her mentality of firm yet thoughtful introduction to veggies mixed with a huge dose of reality is a refreshing way to look at how my kids eat vegetables (and what kind of changes I can expect). Find who speaks to you and feels like a good fit for your family.
This might be controversial, but I do not trick my kids by withholding ingredients or sneaking vegetables into food. Part of having a positive relationship with food is seeing it as that: just food. Not good healthy food, not bad sugary food, but food that fulfills different purposes. Ditching the labels means they take on less emotional meaning, so nothing is put on a pedestal or seen as punishment. I add vegetables to almost everything I make (mac and cheese with roasted carrots, peas, and broccoli is better than without, just saying) but I don’t hide anything.
Establish An Adventurous Eaters Club
Our chapter of the Adventurous Eaters Club is going on three years, and this slightly secretive organization conveniently meets at dinnertime right at our house. Its mission is to help everyone have more fun and try new things, with our unofficial motto being, “You can’t know you love it unless you try it,” and we follow up with the one-bite rule (usually a Golden Bite, a delicious combination of multiple foods on your fork). Sometimes we send out scouts in the grocery store to find new fruits and vegetables for us to to try. We even have a secret handshake so, yeah, we’re pretty cool.
Pull Back On The Snacks
I’ll admit, I’m a snacker. When my daughter became obsessed with having elevenses like an adorable Winnie the Pooh character, I was secretly so happy to have a kid to blame for snacking before lunch. But then you snack a little too much on some less-nutritious things and there isn’t any room for something with value. So, I pulled way back on the snacks and started only offering fruit, vegetables, or nuts between meals. No it didn’t happen magically with zero whining, but gradually they accepted it and we are all better for it. Of course we sometimes do have elevenses with adorable English muffins and honey, but now we get to appreciate it for the treat it is.
Take Away The Competition
This tip piggybacks on the last one, but it has been such a great change for our family that it deserves its own headline. When kids see veggies on their dinner plates next to potatoes, the potato wins almost every time. Food researchers have noticed the trend in kids’ eating habits for years, and it makes sense. So, take away the competition and serve an appetizer of vegetables before dinner.
For my kids to eat vegetables, the best method was to simply prepare a big heap of veggies on a colorful platter and add a dip. Without any announcement, I put it on the table while I was cooking. My daughter asked about it, I told her she was free to have some, and she did. She ate tons of vegetables before I even had dinner ready. Success. On another night she did ask if she could have chips and salsa instead as a pre-dinner snack, and I let her know that it wasn’t on the menu. She moaned and groaned, and then she took a handful of carrots.
I will admit that I don’t have all the answers, but these strategies have helped me and my family fill up on a little more color every day while giving our kids a sense of control over what they eat. We also use all of those tried-and-true methods, like modeling good eating habits and letting them help in the kitchen, so that they will hopefully grow up with wonderful memories of the food we ate together as a family.