We use a number of things to get both kids (3 and 5) eating nutritious food – particularly vegetables. You could call them tricks, but really these tips are not tricks.You could call them tricks, but really these tips are not tricks. What they are is a process of changing perspective – yours and the kid’s.
First off, inspired by a study that showed it can take up to 10 tries to learn to like a food (and this goes for adults as well as kids), we have a standard line in the household – not only is it used by Deme and myself, but also by my sister (who is their weekday caretaker) my mother, and the kids themselves. That line is “Did you learn to like it yet?” and the variant “You have to try it more than once!” (Ana used this line once to hilarious effect!) We also talk about how my sister taught herself to like peppers, eggplant (now her favorite veggie) and, just this past year, beets. So the kids not only hear us tell them to try it, but they also hear how it works, and they see us practice what we preach. Also, at this point they have their own stories to tell – Ana knows how she didn’t used to like kale, but now it is one of her favorites (to the point where she runs over shrieking in the supermarket “Kale! Kale!!” and I have to stop her at four bunches – she would surely keep going!)
As an important part of that, we encourage them to take one bite, even if they didn’t like it before. “You might have learned to like it” and if they still don’t like it, we don’t push. We will just say “Oh, I guess you didn’t learn to like it yet. Maybe you’ll like it next time.”
Another vital thing is, we ask them to eat what we eat. It stands to reason that the kids will do what you do. So if you always feed your carrots to the dog, you are teaching them that vegetables are “icky”, and of course they will feel the same way.
Also incredibly important is: Do your vegetables taste good? It seems silly to ask, but lots of people serve extremely bland, often overcooked veggies and then of course don’t like them. This is easy to fix – but fresh veggies (frozen are so mushy!) and cook them in a delicious way. Need ideas? Ask me!
Young kids are very interested in everything and being curious often like to try things when they see you making them. Rather than tell them not to eat the raw cauliflower you are chopping, let them try a piece. Don’t tell them “Oh no! That’s for dinner.” – there is nothing better for them than raw vegetables. Mind you, over time you may find you have to plan for more veggies when making dinner than you used to! I always have to chop an extra pepper for the kids to share, for example. Other raw vegetables they are fond of include broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, snow peas, and with my younger one, carrots and beets.
Beets you say? Why yes! Nothing could have surprised me more than when Eva walked up and asked “What are those?” as I was peeling beets for dinner. “Raw beets” I said, and she replied “Can I try one?” “Sure – Wait, here try one of the peeled ones.” And of she went, apparently she liked the first bite because she ate the whole thing out of her hand like an apple, and came back asking for more!
I am very careful with things like that NOT to show my surprise. I want my kids to think of eating vegetables as yummy and “normal.” If you react with glee at every bite of kale they eat, they will instead get the message that eating veggies is “weird.” In fact, my daughter was quite surprised when a friend over at dinner announced (before trying them) that she didn’t like something (it was either beets or kale, I don’t recall). Ana looked quite shocked and said “Yoy don’t like kale???” I believe she followed up by saying “You have to try something more than once” LOL!
These things all work best if you use them from the beginning, but even with older kids they can help. The most important thing is to lead by example. You may even end up having a conversation later down the road about how to handle peer pressure at school when the other kids think that what your kid eats is “weird!”