Vegetables and children don’t always get along in a harmonious way. Sometimes challenges come up with children not wanting to eat beyond their comfort range. There are a lot of ways to encourage children to love vegetables. The key is to develop a taste for vegetables in a positive way. It usually begins at a very early age when children are first introduced to solid foods. If you miss those early windows of opportunity, don’t worry. There are plenty of opportunities to develop that love for vegetables with these tips.
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Start at the beginning when children are first eating solid food. Include snacks such as carrot sticks. Offer young toddlers fresh vegetables to explore with their food. Children will put about anything in their mouths. Encourage them to test out textures and shapes with vegetables such as peas and beans. When you find a vegetable that is a favorite, offer that vegetable more often as well as the new ones. Always include vegetables as part of every meal. Start early with healthy snacks such as sliced vegetables and fruit.
Be the Example
Children learn through observation. Take advantage of this important learning strategy. Part of developing healthy eating habits in children is by example. You and the rest of the family should also be eating vegetables and choosing good eating habits. Building healthy eating and living skills will make your family stronger and healthier. If you are eating doughnuts while encouraging your child to eat a celery stick, there will be trouble on the horizon. While an occasional junk snack is a part of learning control, it needs to be relegated to the rare treat rather than the go-to quick fix when everyone is hungry.
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It takes planning to serve up healthy food. Encourage your children to be a part of the weekly meal planning. If you have a weekly menu, it makes it easy to purchase all of your ingredients at one time. A weekly menu will prevent last minute rushing around. Putting something together at the last minute usually becomes fast food, which often excludes healthy vegetables. When you plan your meals, also plan the snacks. Even very young children can give input on the menu. Always leave some options open for individual tastes.
The Dinner Table
Research shows that we tend to eat healthier and maintain a healthy weight when meals are specific events at the table. Family time at the dinner table is also a way to build stronger families. Mix up ways of serving dinner. On some days, you fill your child’s plate. On other days, let the child choose in buffet fashion including a “one bite” sample of anything new.
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Never force a family member to eat something that they totally hate. When you are serving that food, offer an alternative. If a new food is on the plate, have a one-bite rule so that children get into the habit of trying new things. This will spill over to other activities. Never force kids to clean their plate. It sets the stage for poor eating habits down the road. On the other hand, if the child rejects an entire meal, you need to figure out why. Rejecting a meal in favor of filling up on junk food snacks later needs to be avoided. A simple solution is to have no junk food in the house.
Offer healthy snacks and leftovers between meals. Allow children to choose their favorites. Slice and prepare raw vegetables and fruit when you purchase them. Encourage your children to help with the prep work. When fresh food is ready for instant eating, it becomes the perfect snack food. Carrots sticks, cauliflower, broccoli and other vegetables are easy to grab out of the refrigerator for snacking. The same goes for fruit. Always include family favorites. Healthy snacking should be part of your strategies for developing good eating habits.
Develop New Tastes and Food Habits
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Are you are just starting out with older children to develop the love of eating vegetables? Developing new, healthy eating habits can be fun with activities that encourage child participation. The more your children are involved in food decisions, the better they will buy into trying new foods and learning to love vegetables. Here are some fun activities to try with your children:
- Taste tests: Pick out some new foods and have a taste test contest. Rate the food entries.
- Science Night: Learn about new food. Experiment with different ways to cook it.
- Build your own salad: Create a salad bar where everyone chooses their own ingredients.
- Kid’s choice: When you plan your weekly menu, have one day for each child to select a meal. Older children can be the head chef for that meal.
- Gardening: Encourage your child to plant some vegetables. The garden could be outside. It could also be a desk-top hydroponic unit in their bedroom.
- Produce Aisle Treasure Hunt: Your child gets to find and choose any new item to take home and try.
- Cookbook Fun: Your older child gets to pick any recipe and create something new for the family.
You want your children to love vegetables. The best technique is by giving children the opportunity to participate in food choices and meal preparation. You will be surprised at how easy it is to develop healthy food habits. When children (and adults) are actively participating in the food choices, they take ownership of those decisions. This is a classic teaching strategy that excellent teachers use in the classroom. Take advantage of this technique in the kitchen. Allow your children a chance to choose new vegetables to try. Respect their occasional rejections. We all learn that some new foods are great, and some new foods are simply awful. Most of all, be the leader by example. You must also love those vegetables and be willing to try new foods with your children.