If anyone in your household tends to shun veggies, try these tips for encouraging a more nutritious overall diet.
#1 Be the change you want to see: You’ve probably noticed that your kids say certain words just like you, or walk just like you. It’s no different when it comes to how you eat and your attitude towards food. Eat the way you’d like your kids to eat, and try not to talk badly about foods. Instead, talk up the benefits of eating plenty of fruits and veggies. Kids are always listening, whether they react right away or not.
#2 Try different cooking methods: Anyone who’s had crispy olive oil roasted Brussels sprouts or broccoli knows how a cooking method can transform veggies. Compare that to mushy, bitter boiled Brussels and it doesn’t even seem like they came from the same plant. Oftentimes, roasting or baking veggies with a little olive oil and salt enhances their natural sweetness and makes them more appealing.
#3 Add flavor: Hey, how about a plate of steamed broccoli? No? How about if we put some lemon juice, salt, and olive oil over it? Perhaps toss it with a teriyaki sauce? We’re guessing that sounds a bit more appetizing. If kids have tried a fruit or veggie in one form and didn’t care for it, try adding new flavors. Sprinkle fruit with cinnamon or vanilla extract, veggies can get a drizzle of butter or oil and citrus juice. Adding different flavors to fruits and veggies can make them taste completely different and that can be used to get kids and adults to eat more of them!
#4 Partner up: Pairing new foods with old favorites can help kids be more accepting of new foods, or foods they haven’t liked in the past. We like to call these old favorites “gateway foods”. They offer a gateway into including more veggies and fruit into meals. Pizza is a great gateway food. Try dicing roasted red peppers and sprinkling them onto pizza, or making a happy face on a pizza with thinly sliced sautéed mushrooms. Roasted cauliflower pairs nicely with mac ‘n cheese. Chopped mushrooms or diced eggplant works perfectly in marinara sauce. Even hummus can be a gateway food! Kids may be more likely to nibble on cucumber slices or carrot sticks if they can dip them in hummus first.
#5 Use different forms: Heard of a spiralizer? It turns veggies into noodle-like pieces that can then be cooked and tossed with pasta or used instead of pasta. How about a mandolin? It can make veggies look like waffle fries! Also, a plain old knife can cut carrots and parsnips into fry-like shapes that can be baked (carrot fries!). Even cookie cutters can be used to cut out hearts and stars from slices of zucchini, potato, and cucumber. Kids tend to be more sensitive to the way their food looks, so sometimes trying the same food, but in a different shape, makes it more acceptable.
#6 Allow (and define) treats: More processed/refined foods have their place… as treats! Give your kids (and yourself) the chance to have a treat every day. Whether that’s a handful of cheese doodles or an ice cream cone, it’s important for kids to learn that treats are just that. There’s no reason to be afraid of, or “villainize”, treat foods. Instead, teach kids how to fit them into their daily eats in moderation. Make sure that the bulk of the daily food options are nutritious, but include treats each day to teach kids about balance and help encourage them to have a healthier relationship with food as they get older.