It’s not Easy Eating Green: Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies
Five ways to get your children to actually eat something healthy.
Any parent will tell you that getting kids to eat salad and other green veggies—or, if I’m talking about my own kids, anything outside of cheese quesadillas and chicken nuggets—is 75 percent of parenting. The other 25 percent is spent dealing with gross things from ailments that may or may not be directly related to eating a steady diet of microwaved flour tortillas and cheddar cheese.
But I know of no pickier eater than my own brother. He grew up eating peanut butter sandwiches and buttered rice or spaghetti noodles. On one infamous occasion, a fleck of spaghetti sauce touched his roll; he very dramatically declared it tainted and refused to eat it. Years later, when he graduated from law school at Georgetown, our mother admitted she’d spent years worrying that he would grow up to be unsuccessful because he was so picky about food. Fortunately, I don’t think that theory held up.
As parents, it’s hard not to worry about our little picky eaters, processed carbohydrates and preservatives, childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and whether or not our lettuce is going to give us E. coli. Deadly bacteria aside, here are five suggestions to try introducing healthy foods to your family that will save them tears and you, grey hairs.
Add it to the grocery list
Healthy food can’t get eaten if you don’t buy it. So put it on your list. And not just “fruit” or “veggies.” Think of a few things you know you’ll use and will get eaten—grapes, oranges, snap peas, etc.—and then expand from there. Make a list of meals in which to use them during the week.
If you’re not used to cooking meals with fruits and veggies, there are lots of ways to incorporate them into a meal: hamburgers with a side of carrot sticks. Pizza with sliced oranges. Sides are simple and infinite in their possibilities.
Make them available
My kids don’t ever seem to be interested in eating an orange until I’ve peeled one for myself—then everyone suddenly wants a section. I don’t mind, though—I’ve taken to pre-emptively peeling more than one orange at a time. It’s a great after-school snack that’s chock full of vitamins.
And speaking of after-school, my kids eat lunch at 11:30 and don’t get home from school until nearly 4 o’clock, so they’re starving when they walk through the door. They immediately head for the freezer for frozen taquitos, pizza bagels, or corn dogs.
On the one hand, I love their independence. They microwave their own food, and sometimes they even remember to load their plates into the dishwasher. But I know that if I had a plate of apple slices or carrot sticks, their little bit of after-school downtime in front of the TV could be spent mindlessly munching on healthy food instead of the typical junk.
A study found that children who helped in the kitchen preferred more fruits and vegetables than kids who didn’t.
Create a reward system
In our society of gold stars and participation trophies, give your kids a visual representation of their progress to eat more healthy food. Just like a chore chart, use stickers to track every time they eat a brussel sprout or a green bean without a fuss. If they’re little enough, the stickers and the act of applying them to their chart can be reward enough. Older kids may need bigger goals and bigger incentives, like eating a whole serving, and at the end of 30 servings, some kind of prize. It’s easy, simple, and an incentive to make sure there are fruits or veggies available.
Let your kids help choose
A study found that children who helped in the kitchen preferred more fruits and vegetables than kids who didn’t. By letting them help plan menus and prepare meals, they are introduced to nutrition and new kinds of food; they grow a sense of ownership of what’s on their plate.
So how do you do it? It can be as easy as letting your kids pick something in the produce section and Google a recipe for it, help peel potatoes, or measure ingredients. Try healthy cookbooks tailored for children, or sign up for a cooking class in your area.
Quit worrying so much about it
Just like my mom didn’t need to worry if my brother would ever amount to anything, don’t worry if every meal doesn’t fit exactly into the USDA Food Pyramid. As parents, sometimes we just have to take it one day at a time.
Some days will be filled with a Rainbow Garden of Delight, and other days will be an Over-Processed Wasteland. On those wasteland days, just remember: just about anything is better than E. coli. Learn to appreciate the small victories, and you’ll have a winning green strategy in no time.
Jessica Eyre is not a nutritionist and spends an embarrassing amount of time in her own version of Over-Processed Wasteland.