My parents never forced me to eat my vegetables or clean my plate growing up; however, my aunt did. In fact, my sister and I were not allowed to leave the table until we ate an entire plate of liver and onions.
And after a few hours of sitting at the dinner table, I finally did. But to this day, the thought of eating liver makes me sick.
Fast forward 30 years, and I’m now a mom. Just as my parents never forced me to eat my vegetables, so I don’t like to force my children, either. But having two kids, I realize how frustrating it can be to get children to eat vegetables.
To avoid turning mealtime into a power struggle, here are some ways to inspire your kids to eat their vegetables.
The best time to get your children to eat vegetables is when they start to eat solid food — around six to 10 months. Try to introduce a new vegetable every couple of days. If your child doesn’t like it, skip a few days and then go back and reintroduce the vegetable. After 5-10 tries of introducing a new vegetable, they will start to like it.
A recent study by the University of Leeds in the U.K. was published in the journal PloS One last month. It showed that it takes 5-10 exposures of introducing a new vegetable in order for a child to like it. And the younger a child is when a vegetable is introduced, the more likely he or she is to enjoy eating it.
“If you want to encourage your children to eat vegetables, make sure you start early and often. Even if your child is fussy or does not like veggies, our study shows that 5-10 exposures will do the trick,” said the study’s lead researcher, Marion Hetherington.
Lead By Example
Your child is watching you. When you do something — good or bad — your child is likely to follow your lead. After all, most young children try to imitate what their parents do. So if you buy junk food and eat processed food, your children will probably eat unhealthy. I’ve noticed that when I eat salads or steamed vegetables, my 3- and 4-year-old love to eat the vegetables from my plate.
A study published in Jama Pediatrics showed the connection between what foods children liked and what foods their parents bought. The study involved 120 children, ages 2 to 6, who were allowed to choose which foods that they would like to “buy” from the supermarket. Not surprisingly, the researchers discovered that the children who tended to pick junk food had parents who bought the same. The children who chose healthier food had parents who bought more nutrient-dense food.
“The data suggest that children begin to assimilate and mimic their parents’ food choices at a very young age, even before they are able to fully appreciate the implications of these choices,” wrote the researchers, led by Dr. Lisa A. Sutherland.
Make Vegetables Fun
Getting your children to eat vegetables is important, but don’t forget to create fun memories of food. Here are a few ways to get your children involved with eating healthy:
- Have your children plant a vegetable garden.
- Go to a farmer’s market.
- Teach your children how to cook.
- Set raw vegetables out to eat before dinner.
- Praise your child for trying a new vegetable.
- Let your kids pick out the produce when you shop.
- Make a sorbet or ice cream out of sweet potatoes.
- Put bite-size vegetables in a muffin tin for toddlers to snack on.
Have A Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night
Let’s face it: We all love pizza. To make a quick dinner that everyone will enjoy, put the vegetables into bowls and have the kids make their own pizza with their favorite ingredients.
Easy Vegetable Pizza
- 4 whole wheat pitas
- 2 cups pizza sauce (I like Classico)
- ½ cup chopped mushrooms
- ½ cup chopped red or green peppers
- 10 ounces frozen broccoli, thawed and chopped finely
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the pitas on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and spread the pizza sauce over the pitas. Sprinkle with mushrooms, peppers, broccoli and cheese. Bake for 4-6 minutes, or until cheese melts.
How do you get your kids to eat their vegetables? Give us your tips in the comments section below.