As a registered dietitian, I assumed my kids were going to love vegetables. How could they not? Fast forward seven years and three kids later … if we can agree on one thing, it is that sometimes feeding your kid is just plain hard. Worrying about their nutrition when veggies are left on the plate (and often, pushed away) day after day is exhausting.
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to cure the dinner time “stink face” from your child. However, there are some tips I’ve learned along the way from my own experience, as a parent and a professional, as well as from fellow experts in the field of nutrition, that have made this task a little less daunting.
- Take a kid twist on the benefits. This one can grab a toddler’s attention, and you can elaborate a bit for an older child. Our kids are never satisfied with “because it’s good for you” and are always asking why. So, give them some facts! For example, “Did you know eating carrots will give you night vision? There’s vitamin A in carrots that helps to strengthen our eyesight!” or “This broccoli is like a little brush for our bellies, swish swish, cleaning it up! The fiber in broccoli keeps our digestive system running smoothly and it has lots of calcium to keep our bones and teeth strong.”
- Get creative. The presentation is important. Try using small cookie cutters to cut into different shapes or letters, creating a colorful design on the plate. If you don’t have small cookie cutters, you can stack thin slices of peppers or carrots like logs, cut cucumbers into hearts, or easily arrange tomato slices and celery into flowers. Simply using a colorful plate can make a difference as well!
- Don’t be afraid to dip! This encourages interaction with their food (which makes eating much more fun) and allows them to explore flavor combinations. Some ideas might be hummus, ranch, salsa, guacamole, or nut butter.
- Feed into the copycat. Set a good example and keep offering. Kids are always watching. If you’re eating it, chances are it will pique their interest. But don’t bring constant attention to the vegetables on everyone’s plates. This removes the pressure, and after a few days, weeks, or even months, sneaking a bite doesn’t seem as forced or scary. Continue to introduce, and re-introduce, these options.
- Play with the prep. Let them help! Take a trip to the store and explore the produce section together. Talk about how to choose a ‘good one’ and get them involved (like, choosing a firm cucumber or checking over a container of cherry tomatoes). Most kids can help even before turning two years old, starting with giving veggies a good “bath” with water in the sink. Then have them help season, mix, or even chop, if it is age-appropriate and knife safety has been discussed. The key here is you’re doing it together and they aren’t feeling like the vegetables are a surprise once the meal is served.
- Experiment with cooking methods. Even you can probably admit you don’t like certain vegetables raw. Try exploring other cooking methods – air fryer, roasted, sauteed, steamed, adding to smoothies, or mixed into a pasta dish. If you’re in a time pinch, there is nothing wrong with using frozen or canned vegetables, just look for low sodium/no salt added varieties and drain and rinse canned options before serving.
Consuming a balanced diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables will help your child boost their immune system, ensure healthy growth and development, and promote good health overall, both now and in their future. You can check the USDA website for recommended servings based on age, but don’t fret if your child is currently nowhere near the recommendations.
Start with just one serving and then work on expanding from there. If you’re feeling particularly challenged with this, seeking support from a registered dietitian is always an option for personalized guidance.
Kim Meeuwsen, RDN, CSOWM is a registered dietitian and Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management from West Michigan. Kim has over 10 years of experience providing nutrition care to both inpatients and outpatients in acute care and rehabilitation settings. Her experience is diverse, counseling families and patients with various disease states across the lifespan. Kim’s passion is promoting and teaching health optimization with food first.
If you have more questions about your diet, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Click here to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!