My boys eat pretty voraciously—eggs, hummus, even sushi—but every time I clean up after dinner, I notice the vegetables left on their plates. No peas, no broccoli, no zucchini, no thanks. So! In an effort to prevent them from getting scurvy, I tracked down 8 ways to encourage kids to eat the good stuff…
1. Serve veggies first. My friend Abby gives her sons their vegetables before bringing out the rest of the food. That way, they scarf them up before filling up on pasta and bread. “They actually like vegetables now,” she reports.
2. Don’t say anything. A new study reveals that serving food “without giving any message about the goal” (health! strong bones!) maximizes consumption of healthy food. So, when you bring out the vegetables, “just put them on the plate—’Just a regular part of dinner, nothing to see here’—and wait, and watch.”
3. Make it a game. Radio producer Hillary Frank shared a brilliant tip: She got her kids to eat bell peppers by asking them to close their eyes, taking a bite and seeing if they could guess the right color—red, green or yellow. They would end up eating a bunch. You could do this with other foods, such as tomatoes or cauliflower.
4. Make sure they’re hungry. After all, say the French, “hunger is the best seasoning.” Also, if you serve a smaller main dish (say, just a bit of mac n’ cheese), they’ll eat more of their side dish (say, garlic broccoli) because they’ll still be hungry. This is both common sense and scientifically proven.
5. Employ marketing tactics. Andy and Jenny of Dinner: A Love Story half-jokingly rebrand veggies to make them sound yummier (and cuter). Brussels sprouts are “baby lettuces.” Dried cranberries are “red raisins.” Cauliflower is “white broccoli.” Says Andy: “It’s the oldest trick in advertising and that’s not by accident.”
6. Stay at the table longer. When they’re done eating, I try to get the boys to hang for a while, because I want them to know the joys of sitting around the dinner table and chatting (one of life’s great pleasures!). I’ll start conversations I know they’ll be interested in (what color they think our rental car will be, how funny that sandwich Halloween costume was). But I’ve noticed that a great side effect is that they often end up absentmindedly munching the food they had originally refused.
7. Try seaweed. Have you seen those Trader Joe’s packets? My boys WOLF them up (the crackly paper-like texture is really appealing), and seaweed has tons of Vitamin A, as well as other vitamins and minerals.
8. If all else fails…sneak it. Obviously, the dream is to help kids learn to love vegetables, revel in them and seek them out. But there’s nothing wrong with dropping a few frozen broccoli florets or a handful of peas into smoothies, or stirring sweet potato into mac n’ cheese. (And Seinfeld‘s family does it, so you’re in good company.)
Thoughts? Do your little ones like vegetables? Any tips? Or recipes? I would love to hear what has worked!