Q&A: How to get Kids to Eat Vegetables

by Jennifer Fugo on April 9, 2012

Q: Hi Jennifer! Two summers ago I decided to put my family on the path to eating better. We stocked up on fruit, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds. We ate a little bit of meat and dairy and avoided wheat.

I have 5 young children and a husband who wants his food easy and fast. I am competent in the kitchen, but far from a good cook. I really struggle seasoning food and cooking it to taste good. Needless to say, our good eating did not last, though we did stick with it longer than I expected….about 8 weeks.

I became overwhelmed with food choices, was reading blogs ALL the time and became obsessed, stressed out and depressed. But I certainly looked better and felt better! I don’t live near you but I really want to get back to eating better without the stress. And I want my kids to like the food. They love fruit so that part was easy. It’s the veggies we struggle eating. Any advice or direction you can point me to get kick started?

~ Rachelle

A: First off, congrats for making it 8 weeks on a cleaner diet, Rachelle!  It sounds like you really have the passion and fire to make this a reality even though the first stint didn’t go as well as you would have hoped.  However, please keep the faith!  There’s plenty of lessons to be learned from this ‘family food experiment’, as I like to call them, and we need to look at those and understand how you can incorporate the changes that need to happen so that the next time you have even greater success.

#1 – You’ve got to have a team effort.

I couldn’t tell from your question whether your husband was actually on board with this change in diet. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to want change and the other to either not want to change or simply not care.  Both stances, from my experience working with clients, is a problem.  The reason is that your children constantly look to the parenting UNIT for a cohesive action plan that includes similar values and structure to help them know which way to go.  If you’re the only one moving this ‘healthy train’ forward, chances are that your kids may be really confused by the mixed messages and resisting change.

So, if you’re husband isn’t on board, you’ve got to seek out what would actually motivate him to get on board and speak to him from those perspectives.  (ie. living healthy to see his grandkids, looking sexier, whatever!)

#2 – Stoke the natural curiosity and excitement in your kids.

Kids love new stuff.  It’s just how they work.  They’re explorers that love to find something uncharted that, in their mind, is totally cool.  This means you’ve got to get them involved in the entire process of cooking from start to finish.  Bring your kids to the grocery store or farmers’ market.  Or even to a local farm and do something fun with them that they can totally learn from.  Maybe start a garden this spring (now’s a perfect time) by asking them what they would love to grow.

Often kids will eat things that they had some involvement in.  Perhaps find creative ways to get the kids to help you cook different parts of the meal depending on their age.  And turn everything into a fun exploration of food asking your kids to be like ‘Sherlock Holmes” and really examine and consider everything on their plate.

You can also get a copy of the Nutrition Detectives from Dr. David Katz (a regular on the Oprah Winfrey show).  It’s a great program that helps light the spark of food curiosity in kids.  All you pay for is a few dollars for shipping and perhaps even share the resource with the kids’ teachers and principals.  You’re action may impact the lives of other kids too!

#3 – Up your Kitchen Ante!

Take some cooking classes!  I offer very affordable cooking class series through the local public high school.  Sometimes churches or community centers will also offer classes as well.  Look for classes that focus on healthy, clean eating especially vegetables.

Check out recipes from chefs that are more focused on health than pizzazz!  Andrea Beaman is a wonderful chef with great videos on her website along with easy recipes.  Alice Waters offers some wonderful recipes in her books and you could check out her awesome website to get kids more involved in eating healthy food.

I also suggest finding some websites that offer great recipes to which you can subscribe via email (like Simply Recipes and 101 Cookbooks) that will deliver recipes that you might like to your inbox.  If you like them, file away the email in a special folder you can create called “Recipes” or “Cooking” (or even a sub-catagory like Veggies).  Pick recipes that use ingredients your family already likes and use them as a way to understand how to spice things by looking at combinations and amounts.

Overall, this 3-pronged attack should help you get over your next hump by bringing everyone on board and using the combined energies to really make a sustainable change.

Good luck!

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