Transitioning from a regular diet of processed foods congested with excess carbs and saturated fats to a well-portioned vegetable meal plan is easier said than done. A short time after initiating a healthy diet, most adults confess that they lose interest in eating healthy as the chicken-nuggets withdrawal kicks in. The majority of those who give in, never adopt a vegetable preference in the long term. Developing a taste for veggies later in adulthood may be futile if such a habit is not ingrained in early childhood.
Kids are also averse to the seemingly alien texture and the bitterness of vegetables. This is because –
One, humans are biologically designed to avoid toxins. Regardless of the beneficial properties of vegetables, the bitter taste is due to the minimal amounts of naturally occurring toxins present in them. Adults digest these with ease, as in most cases, these compounds are not concentrated enough to harm us. However, kids instinctively turn away from vegetables because of their limited cognition, underdeveloped taste buds, and incapacity to detoxify some of these toxins.
Two, kids associate processed foods (ice creams, cakes, and chocolates) with positive memories such as birthday parties, day outs, holidays, and other celebratory events. When kids think of vegetables, they are reminded of their scolding parents compelling them to eat their greens. It is therefore a bitter truth that kids associate junk foods with rewards and regard veggies as a chore.
Making your kids eat their veggies is no simple task. It can be one of the most challenging but one of the most vital pursuits for any parent to successfully help their children develop vegetable-friendly food habits.
But first, why are veggies so indispensable to children's diet?
Vegetables are the prime source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibers, and water. Avocados, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and peas are highly recommended for kids as they are packed with essential nutrients. Whether we are talking about the immune-boosting Vitamin C, the eye-healthy Vitamin A or the numerous antioxidants known for their health-positive properties, the importance of veggies in a child’s everyday diet is indisputable.
As per the Dietary Guidelines report for Americans (2020-25), it is reported that 41 percent of the children and adolescent population is overweight or obese. This can be attributed to the sedentary lifestyle of kids today and also, due to their hesitance to adopt a nutrient-dense and vegetable-rich diet. Parents introducing their kids to a healthy lifestyle early on can set the ball rolling for their child's future dietary habits. It will significantly cut down their risk of cardiovascular and digestive ailments later in life, and strengthen their immune system.
The nutrients that vegetables offer are instrumental for children’s overall physical and cognitive development. Rapid brain growth occurs during the first two years of a child’s life when the brain reaches about four-fifths of the adult weight. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and lettuce rich in folate, carotenoids, and vitamins E and K1 are necessary for early-stage brain development. Research has also found that children who have higher portions of fruits and vegetables in a day scored better in mental wellbeing.
Regardless of the well-known health benefits of vegetables, making kids eat their veggies has never been easy. In an ever-growing churn of broken food habits and preservative-laden snacks calling out from the pantry - enabling proper dietary habits becomes the need of the hour. This is not a "one size fits all" type of guide. We will be offering our tips which if not at once, but with time may help your kids develop a taste for vegetables. The consumption of the same will hopefully become second nature to them.
The learnings absorbed by children in their formative years are primarily dependent on their parents’ habits. This is relevant for developing food habits as well. If you as a parent avoid veggies in your meals, your kids will not grow to be fond of them either. The best way to get your kids interested in trying vegetables is to let them see you eating and enjoying a veggie-filled meal every day. Make your family meals interactive by educating your kids about the food they are eating and always be receptive to their questions. Engage them by explaining the nutritional benefits of the food on their plate.
If you get your child involved in the cooking, planning, and as well as shopping part of the meal prep process, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about eating the vegetables that they have helped prepare. When you go grocery shopping with your kids, help them study the different veggies that they encounter and let them pick one of their favorites too. While some kitchen activities can be risky for kids, you can assign them some easy ones – measuring spices, washing the veggies, setting down chopped vegetables in the saucepan, and putting toppings after the meal is prepared. You can also have them help you grow a vegetable garden in your backyard. Through these tasks, your kids will understand that cooking requires patience and effort. Food does not magically appear on the table – key early learning that improves the likelihood of them recognizing the value of eating healthy.
It is important to realize that it takes time for kids to get accustomed to the taste of vegetables. It is normal for your kids to refuse to eat any particular vegetable, even after trying it a few times. But as a parent, you should not be discouraged. Keep reintroducing them at different times and encourage your kids to keep trying different veggies. Experiment with portion sizes, preparation styles, and presentation. Do everything to make veggies tasteful and pleasant to look at when it’s laid out for them on the table. Another thing that could work is masking it with familiar foods or blitzing it up in forms that will seem much more inviting to a child, which we will discuss in our following tips.
One of the best ways to get your kids to eat their vegetables is to pair them with familiar foods. If your child loves mac and cheese, try adding some steamed broccoli to the mix. If they love chicken nuggets, try dipping them in homemade vegetable sauces. From grated carrots or zucchini to spaghetti meatballs or veggie toppings on your kid’s favorite pizza, there are endless possibilities when it comes to disguising different vegetables in flavorful dishes. Be creative and have fun with it!
Vegetables taste delicious when they are blitzed up in soups and smoothies. This way, you kids won’t even know that they’re eating vegetables! You can sneak in all sorts of vegetables into soups , juices and smoothies, such as carrots, kale, spinach, cauliflower, and beets. Just make sure to blend them up properly so that your kids are not put off by the taste of bitter-tasting veggies.
Let's be real, your child will not enjoy eating boiled veggies every time. Roasting vegetables can be an alternative as they accentuate their natural flavor. You can also air-fry them, which gives them a crispy texture. You can try chopping them into small pieces, serving them as a side portion, or even freezing vegetable smoothies as popsicles. The key is to be patient and keep trying to find a reliable combination to make the taste of vegetables desirable for your child.
Your children may learn to eat vegetables if they are promised to be rewarded with a treat. However, it is not always a fool-proof approach for them to identify veggies for their health benefits. Instead, they may only perceive it as a vehicle to secure their treats. You should always do your bit to make them realize the long-term gains of eating healthy. This will motivate them to start viewing their meals in a different light, as opposed to always yearning for instant gratification.
If your kids are hungry, they will be more likely to try new foods. So, make sure to serve vegetables when your kids are likely to be the hungriest. For example, if you know your child is likely to be hungry after school, pack their lunch boxes with extra portions of veggies which they can snack on the way home. Include veggie eatables for their portion of evening snacks as well.
To ensure that children develop wholesome eating habits from childhood, parents must ensure that there are no unhealthy snacks or fast food in the house. Healthier the snack options in the refrigerator, kids are more likely to get habituated to the nutritious food choices that are readily available at home.
The road to fostering a healthy dietary routine for your kids is a turbulent one. Your child might relish a veggie bowl one day, and throw a fit the other. But as parents, staying composed, understanding your kids’ behavior patterns, and finding creative ways to serve veggies in their daily meals are the only methods to work around their food tantrums. We hope our tips help you but be assured that this is in no way an exhaustive list. Keep experimenting!
Also Read: How Eating Together made us Human