Would you say that it is a battle to get your kids to eat their vegetables?
When I had my first baby I made my own variety of organic baby food. With my second baby I started buying the majority of my baby food – they ate it all up without a fuss.
As they became toddlers they began to get a little pickier. There were certain foods they didn’t like the consistency or flavor. They began to gravitate towards sweeter vegetables or only want fruits.
Once they were in preschool we started to have battles over their meals. I would make them eat things that they claimed to hate and there were tears and frustration on both sides.
Over the years I learned this approach was likely only driving them away from vegetables and “healthy” foods, instead of instilling the habit of eating plants.
The appeal to just let kids avoid foods they don’t like and live off chicken nuggets and fruit snacks is definitely real, and many end up doing so.
I am not judging because I know the struggle!
But it is also setting your kids up to avoid those foods and miss out on the nutrients their growing bodies need to thrive. It sets a pattern in their life that some day they have to learn to eat vegetables and so the war with “healthy” food continues!
I began to think of the big picture and not just that moment. I started to test and reevaluate my approach to feeding my family.
None of these methods will work 100% of the time and that’s ok. Staying consistent is the key to long term success in helping your children develop a palate for plants and improve their nutrition.
1. Incorporate plants into your recipes.
I remember buying Deceptively Delicious, a cookbook. I used this when my boys were babies and I was learning to cook for our family.
The book was written with the aim of hiding vegetables in all your meals. I can recall haters complaining about this book because it was deceiving your children… and to that I laughed! I hope those haters are sneaking vegetables into their kids’ chicken nuggets (yes there is a recipe for that) right now and realizing the error of their judgment!
This concept of adding vegetables to your recipes is brilliant! It adds nutritional value obviously, but the other extremely important piece is that it exposes your kiddos to vegetables and helps them develop the taste for them without it being a pile of broccoli to cry over.
I love what I learned from this cookbook and I learned to adopt this method in my cooking and in the recipes I created.
Over the years my kids learned to eat stand alone vegetables as well as mixed into their foods. Of course they still have preferences, don’t we all!
So at the end of the day, if they have some plant source at each meal and a variety of colors then that is success in my book!
2. Understanding the value of eating plants
Over the years I have talked ad nauseam about eating healthy.
In fact I had to have a strong and honest conversation with myself about what is beneficial and what is actually creating negativity around the word healthy. My kids began to associate anything they didn’t like with “healthy” and they wanted nothing to do with it.
I was actually creating a barrier for my kids and myself to be successful with eating well. Instead of lecturing them on why they needed to eat those foods I started to just display some boundaries with those foods and processed or less favorable foods.
I started making meals that included some of those less favorable foods so they had access to them as well. I stopped restricting my kids every bite because that in fact is not a healthy approach for them as they grow up and learn to eat independently.
What we began to practice was the value of eating our plants and protein as a staple and the other choices were in addition to that. So if we were having dinner they knew the steak and green beans were the main dish, and the french bread was second to that.
At meal time they recognized the boundary, they couldn’t eat only bread and skip out on the quality foods. This approach was allowing them to grow into some ownership of their food choices and balance. If they wanted to order chocolate chip pancakes at breakfast, absolutely, a nap will no doubt follow!
But they recognized the habit of also eating some scrambled eggs and berries to include protein and plants.
Only a few weeks ago my 13 year old made himself lunch. He skipped the tortilla opting for a bowl of taco meat and fajita vegetables. He did that on his own because he knew he was wanting to get some popcorn at the movies after lunch. I didn’t nag him or prompt him to do this. He doesn’t always make that decision and that too is ok, but my goodness it made me proud to see him growing into a young man with some healthy habits in practice.
3. Give them options.
I don’t mean to say you should let your 4 year old decide on the dinner plans, but allow them a small measure of control in what they are eating and watch how different their attitude is at mealtime! I use this almost daily with my teen son, my elementary age son and my husband!!
If I make brussel sprouts and roasted carrots, then asking them which they prefer reinforces that they have a choice but also that they are eating a vegetable with their meal.
This has been a game changer for our family!
At this stage in our lives I do ask their opinions on what they would like to have for dinner that week. I will make my meal plan with their preferences in mind and why not?!
If they request chicken nuggets, well I am going to make them up some high quality delicious chicken nuggets with some nutrient dense ingredients! They are learning to enjoy healthy food now and not dread it. My goal is to feed them foods that support their health and their taste buds so they grow up feeling their best and enjoying it!
My biggest take away is to stay positive!
Don’t be defeated, just make small consistent steps towards your goal of feeding your family well.
Don’t allow control and frustration to be the major feelings around eating healthy in your home. Eating well doesn’t need to be nor should it be miserable! Make mealtimes the best times.