Kids and vegetables have an historically love-hate relationship. It is not clear why this came to be, but it is clear that many kids claim to dislike vegetables even when they have not even tried them.
There are many reasons children may not have tasted vegetables. Perhaps they are not provided in the home, either due to a lack of availability, lack of knowledge about preparing them, or because parents do not make the effort to expose their kids to new foods. Or maybe kids are influenced by their peers and by the media they consume, which tell them vegetables are gross.
Whatever the reason, it is important to combat this trend and encourage kids to eat more vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a vital component of healthy eating. Healthy eating, in turn, helps reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other nutrition-related aliments.
Not sure how to start getting kids to eat vegetables? Try a few simple tricks. Cutting vegetables up into bite-sized pieces and storing them in small containers or plastic bags in the refrigerator will help make them more be appealing and accessible to smaller children.
Model healthy eating behavior. Kids are more likely to eat vegetables if they see their parents eating them. If mom and dad are enjoying trying something new, children will feel more confident in trying it as well.
Set a rule that before a child can say they do not like something, they must try it first. However, do not make it punitive. Children need to approach a new vegetable on their own instead of being forced to try it. If they absolutely refuse to try it, that is fine. Offer it to them again another time and keep trying.
Negative reinforcement such as making a child stay at the table until they eat their vegetables can negatively affect a child’s eating habits. On the flip side, rewarding kids with dessert or other treats if they eat their vegetables can also have a negative effect.
Treating vegetables as a trial a child must endure to get to something better is a surefire way to increase a child’s dislike for vegetables in the future. Vegetables should be offered in a relaxed, encouraging environment. It can take 8 to 10 tries before a child is ready to taste something new. Offering vegetables in different forms – mashed potatoes vs. baked, steamed broccoli vs. raw, etc. – is also a good way to help a child try new foods.
Serving too much of something at once can be overwhelming to a child. It is important to provide small, manageable portions of foods to kids, especially when introducing something new. Do not make it mandatory to eat all of something, either. Allow the child to eat what they want and stop when they are finished.
Offering a variety of vegetables at mealtime will provide kids with a choice and increase the chance that they will eat at least one vegetable per meal. However, avoid serving the same vegetables all the time in order to encourage them to try something new.
A final way to encourage kids to eat more vegetables is to let them get involved in the selection, purchase, and preparation. Allow them to pick a vegetable at the store. Provide them with the tools and ingredients to make their own salads. If possible, let them plant a seasonal vegetable in a container and watch it grow. The more involved kids are with their food, the more positive their eating habits will be.
For more information about getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, please contact Samantha Kennedy, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, at (850) 926-3931.