Encouraging kids to eat veggies is an issue that families struggle with. You only need to search the topic to find the various articles on Google and boards on Pinterest to know you aren’t alone. It’s truly a dilemma affecting the whole country. The research on national veggie consumption and plate waste only reinforces the struggle.
In this post, I touch on what adults can do to encourage kids to eat veggies daily while making it fun and minimizing the fussing & fighting.
The Struggle is Real
When studying the habits of children in the United States, the most recent research from the CDC revealed that 9 in 10 kids did not eat enough vegetables in 2007-2010. And that’s with a minimum recommended amount of veggies for 4-8 year olds being 1 to 1.5 cups where 1 cup is equal to 12 baby carrots. Believe it or not about 1/3 of vegetables children did eat were white potatoes, most (63%) of which were eaten as fried potatoes, such as French fries, or as chips. Yikes!
The struggle over mealtime and veggies is real and affecting families all over the country. Parents find themselves resorting to rewards, threats, sneaking veggies into meals or just giving up completely.
So what are parents saying?
There are two main issues that I hear from parents regarding their kids not eating enough veggies.
Reason #1: “My kids are picky eaters. They don’t like veggies and getting them to eat them ends in one big dinnertime power struggle. I’ve tried all sorts of methods and nothing seems to work.”
Reason #2: “My kids aren’t big eaters in general so getting enough veggies into meals is difficult. They get full really easily and I don’t feel like they are getting enough nutrition from the food they do eat.”
This is when hiding veggies comes into play, the “one more bite” game or the reward of dessert (is it weird that this one still works on me?). Most of us have been on the giving or receiving end of these situations and they are exhausting and guilt-ridden experiences.
You’re probably thinking, “So what’s a parent to do?”
How to Encourage Kids to Eat Veggies
Below, I share various ideas to get you and your children looking at veggies and mealtime in a new way.
Make veggies the first or only choice
After analyzing the plate waste of 8,500 students, researches found that kids are more likely to eat their vegetables when veggies aren’t competing with other items of food on the plate.
When kids have the choice between a green vegetable and an appetizing entrée item (like chicken fingers), they choose the entrée item. When kids have a choice between a starchy vegetable (like potatoes) and an unappetizing entrée item, they choose the starchy vegetable.
This seems pretty logical. When given two choices, we choose the item that our taste buds prefer.
So a way to combat the issue is by making veggies the first choice or the only choice.
One way to do this is to serve a snack or mealtime appetizer of vegetables when kids are really hungry. This way they are more likely to dive right in. You can make it fun by serving all sorts of colorful veggies and have a small amount of bean or hummus dip on the side. When you’re meal planning with them, you can give them choices on which days veggies will be the snack or the appetizer and what veggies they can choose from. It’s about setting them up for success so they know what to expect and are also a part of the decision making process.
Another option is to make the whole meal veggie based. You could make a veggie lasagna out of sweet potatoes instead of pasta, try a big dish of tabbouleh with quinoa or whip up some lightly cooked veggie fajitas with lots of fun veggie toppings (avocado, tomatoes, thinly sliced carrots, freshly squeezed lime juice, cilantro). It’s about showing kids that veggies can be used to make delicious and fun meals.
But let’s be honest, wiping out the competition to make veggies the first or only choice isn’t always an option. We need to incorporate other ways to encourage kids to eat veggies.
Make foods with a similar “yum” factor and consider plating
This option is going to seem pretty simple. We can serve food items that have the same “appetizing” or “yum” factor. In the previously mentioned research study, one item of food was always more appetizing than the other. So let’s make foods that have a similar level of appeal.
It’s human instinct to reach for carbohydrates first because they make us feel good (the body actually produces more of the “feel good” hormone, serotonin, when we eat carbs). So we are setting kids and adults up for failure when we serve an oily and carb filled entrée item with a side of broccoli. I mean who is choosing the broccoli in that scenario?
Instead we can make some appetizing sides that eaten together would make a delicious meal. A meal could consist of a side of lentil salad, carrot sticks with lemon juice and mozzarella with tomatoes and basil, for example. Of course you know what will work best in your family and what foods have the “yum” factor.
The idea of serving a few small and healthier side options to make a meal could work great in your family not only for the “yum” factor but also because of the aesthetic.
In a study by Cornell, researchers found that kids are more likely to eat more nutritionally diverse diets when their food is plated in the way that they prefer. What was even more interesting was that they found that children have a different plating preference than adults.
Kids prefer entrée items to be positioned toward the edges of the plate (not in the middle of the plate) and more components and colors on the plate. They found that while adults preferred three components and colors on their plates, kids preferred closer to seven components and six colors on their plate.
So while I am definitely not advising that adults go overboard by giving too many options to kids, making a few smaller mealtime foods and plating in a way that’s more appealing to kids are definitely changes to be considered.
Get kids involved
If you are a regular reader at Keep in the Sunshine then you know how much I believe in getting kids involved in daily living. It’s the one thing I’ve seen work time and time again.
You can get kids excited about veggies by getting them involved at home.
Below are a few ideas to get you started.
You can start a small vegetable garden with your kids. I recommend beginning with easy herbs to grow like rosemary and mint or easy greens like kale and chard. Over time you can work your kids up to more time intensive vegetables. It’s a great way for kids to see how vegetables grow and where they come from. It’s also an awesome experience for them to grow their own veggies and then eat them.
You can continue to cook with kids and introduce new veggies while making fun meals. You can make your own recipe cards together or use ones like these Super food cards* that are awesome for kids and adults.
One of my favorite ways to encourage kids to eat veggies is by making fresh fruit and vegetable juices or smoothies a part of the daily routine and meal plan. Juicing is an awesome way to get your family to “eat” fruits and veggies daily. The best part is that juices are super easy to make and even easier to drink (it’s about to be your new favorite thing).
I would love to hear from you! How do you encourage kids to eat veggies in your home?
In my next post, I share the benefits of juicing as a family and how to get started.
Keep well, S
*This is an affiliate link. I only recommend products that I have used and trust.