If you’ve ever cared for a child or been around a toddler for any length of time, you will understand the frustration of the “simple” task of feeding them. One week the said two year old will eat nothing but bananas, only to wake up one day and scream at you because bananas are suddenly disgusting.
Before having children I never realized that one had to teach a child how to eat well. I thought this would be instinctive. It’s not. Sometimes busy mamas like me need a dose of inspiration on how to coach our children toward healthful eating.
Here are my top ten suggestions for getting your kiddos to eat fruits and veggies:
1. Grow the Goodness.
I’ll confess the only tomatoes my kids probably will ever eat were the cherry tomatoes we grew one year. There was something tantalizing about having them on the plants in the hot summer sun. At least two of my kiddos were caught “sneaking them.” However, bring the same fruit inside, wash them, and place them in a bowl and they suddenly lose their magic and become “disgusting.” Kid logic is all. (Unless you are my niece and will eat cherry tomatoes like candy anytime and anyplace—there are exceptions!)
2. Quality Counts.
My kids hated baby carrots, I thought they hated all carrots until we started buying whole carrots—you know, the ones that you wash, peel and chop by hand. They are now in love with carrots and now that we’re hooked we’ll never go back to processed baby carrots because you really can taste the difference! Also, fresh, local, and at least in season wins the prize every time. My kiddos adore our own apples, but those “grocery store” apples with the wax coating—not so much. Grapes and apples grown in our own country, even though farther away than our backyard, get eaten faster than those we buy out of season from another continent.
3. Dip. Dip. Dip.
Some kids are just dippers. My sister would dip all her veggies in ketchup. My kids adore ranch dressing. And whipping honey, cream cheese and peanut butter to dip apples in makes them more appealing at times. Find a good quality dip that your kids will love and place it in a location where they can grab it and go.
4. Don’t force the peels.
My daughter hates peels. Period. There is no convincing her to eat an apple peel or cucumber peel. We accept this and move on. (I highly recommend a sharp veggie peeler such as the Rada brand– if you have a peel boycotter in your home—makes peeling a breeze—I even let her peel her own veggies and fruit at times).
5. Bargain: Like with Like.
In our house, you will not be forced to sit at your place and eat your veggies. We bargain. Not feeling like zucchini? “Ok here’s a pile of cukes” (usually twice as many). “We’ll trade.” My Grandfather Levi, who is the most easy-going fellow I know, will never eat bell peppers. My daughter has inherited this gene. So if green peppers are in the food, I make them big enough for her to pull them out and I’ll trade her for carrots/ celery/ cucumbers. No sense beating a dead horse.
6. Cook outside the box.
Literally. Get outside the four walls of your house. Some veggies my children dislike cooked inside they’ll eat outside, roasted over a campfire or grilled. Especially if they are able to be involved in the process. Some of our grilled/campfire favorites are zucchini, eggplant (with cheese of course!), carrots, peaches, and apples.
7. Have them readily available.
I like to make my children feel like they are getting away with something naughty—so I try to leave an open container of washed and cut carrots inside the fridge door. Or a bag of frozen blueberries in easy reach in our freezer. Or a plate of grapes on the table. You see, every child was born to snitch—I just make sure what they’re “snitching” is good for them!
8. Take them on the road.
I have close family that lives an hour away. When we make these frequent excursions, I try to pack each child a Ziploc baggie with “treats”—i.e., granola balls, carrots, celery with peanut butter, cucumbers. When we run to do errands I try to always have bottled water and a snack in the car.
9. Get your Kids in the Kitchen.
There’s nothing more appealing to a small boy than allowing him to use a big knife! Now you must use common sense here—I started out by making the more difficult cuts, then just allowing them to do the straight up and down motions in a calm, highly supervised manner. If they were tired and having difficulty listening at the moment they lost their cutting privileges. Use common sense! And they won’t get hurt. And children who prepare food are ten times more likely to want to taste it! We allow finger licking and taste testing as we go along.
10. Eliminate eating between meals and say “no” to processed boxed snacks!
(Confession: we have cheat days; we’re human and we slip up but this is the ideal I always try to get back to—it helps us re-calibrate). But I generally tend to run a tight ship and allow no eating between meals unless it’s an apple, banana, or raw veggie. If a child does not eat anything between breakfast and lunch I can guarantee and they will not starve, and they will be ten times more likely to finish their lunch and eat the healthy options because their bellies are actually craving nutrition.
On days I allow snacks, I throw a lot of their meals away, which disgusts me. So snacks are banned. We do not allow begging—beggers go sit on their bed until they are done begging. The kids are pretty good about this now that they know what’s available in the fridge, and I’ll often catch them with a handful of blueberries or munching on a carrot stick between meals. This kind of veggie snacking is fine. It’s the chips, crackers, and pretzels that are full of empty carbs and leave you constantly craving more, then feeling as if you have no room for what your body actually needs. And because fruits and veggies don’t give you cravings like empty carbs, I know my kids are legitimately hungry when they snitch.
So now I’ve shared some of our secrets, and I’m curious–how do you get your kiddos to eat fruits and veggies?