8 Secrets to Raising Vegetable Eaters
Use our tried-and-true tips for getting kids not only to eat vegetables, but also enjoy them.
Parents go to great lengths to get their kids to eat vegetables. You bribe, negotiate, and do everything in your power to persuade little mouths to take that first bite. But the secret to raising veggie eaters is surprisingly simple and has nothing to do with coercion. What is the secret? Offering vegetables again and again, keeping mealtime positive, and preparing the healthy foods in ways that are pleasing to young palates.
1. Boil and Steam
Researchers from Wageningen University found that kids (ages 4 to 12) prefer vegetables that are boiled and steamed over mashed, grilled, stir-fried and deep-fried. Why? Kids prefer the crunchier versions over more granular textures. These green beans are a good example: steamed first, and then topped with olive oil and a splash of lemon (crunchy and tasty).
2. Do the Dipping
Kids love dipping; and raw veggies paired with tasty dips make the perfect lunchbox treat, after-school snack, or first course at dinnertime. According to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, young children served vegetables before anything else ate 47% more (of the vegetable that is). Try a healthy dip, such as hummus. Bonus: It's made with garbanzo beans, which happen to be a vegetable!
3. Prepare Crispy Veggies
Crispy finger foods are very pleasing to kids. It is possible to prepare vegetables so they have the texture of fried food without the unhealthy ingredients. On your next sandwich night, bake these Zucchini Oven Chips instead of serving greasy chips. They taste like they’re fried, yet they are baked and amazingly crispy.
4. Taste the Sweetness
Some health experts believe the pickiest eaters may be "super tasters" and more sensitive to the bitterness of certain vegetables. However, most kids love and prefer sweet tastes. Roasting vegetables, such as cauliflower, brings out the natural sweetness, which is especially pleasing to children. And don't be fooled by the vegetable's white color; cauliflower is chock full of nutrients (including vitamin C, vitamin B6, and folic acid).
5. Offer Options
According to a report by Brian Wansink and David R. Just (conductors of research at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs), junior-high-school students are 20% more likely to eat vegetables when they can choose between two items. So instead of plopping down the veggie and insisting your tween finish it, give them healthy choices. But the decision might not be so hard if one of the options is Honey-Roasted Root Vegetables, another great example of maximizing the sweetness in vegetables.
6. Sweeten Up Salads
Get kids hooked on salads by adding naturally sweet ingredients, such as fruits, to the side dish. This salad is super colorful and includes grapes, oranges, and pineapple. The first few times you serve it, your children may just pick at the fruit, but eventually they'll make their ways to the greens. Mission accomplished!
7. Create Cool Names
Ever decide on a dish just because the menu description sounds so good? You can entice kids the same way, but you have to make it fun. According to research by Brian Wansink, adopting cool names for vegetables like "Broccoli Trees" or "Princess Peas" increases the likelihood that kids will try them (by 60%!). And while Steamed Carrots with Garlic Ginger Butter is appealing to adults, "X-Ray Carrots" works better for kids. Then you can explain how the veggie has vitamin A, which helps their eyesight.
8. Expand Their Vision
Kids often think of vegetables as unappealing side dishes. But working them (think pumpkin, butternut squash, and zucchini) into muffins, pancakes, and breads is a whole different taste experience. If they do ask, “What's in it?” don't try to hide the fact that they are eating something healthy. Instead, use it as an opportunity to open their minds to other fun ways they can add vegetables to their meals.
Editor’s Note: Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, mother of two, and creator of the blog Raise Healthy Eaters.