Prescribing a healthy diet: 12 ways to turn your kids into vegetable lovers

Ideally, half of every plate you put in front of your children should be filled with vegetables and fruits.

I realize that’s not always easy. While your kids probably like fruit, it may be hard to imagine them digging happily into a plateful of vegetables.

Nevertheless, the evidence is clear: Kids need their veggies. Vegetables supply critical nutrients to help them build healthy bodies and brains and to provide protection from cancer and other serious diseases. When eaten in place of higher-calorie foods and snacks, vegetables also help ward off weight problems in childhood and throughout life.

But how can we get kids to eat something they just don’t like? My advice: Keep trying. The vegetable world consists of more than carrots and green beans. There are hundreds of vegetables out there, and thousands of ways to prepare and serve them. The more you expose your kids to different vegetables and preparations, the more likely they will be to come across a few that they like. With ongoing exposure, they may begin to accept — and yes, even love — vegetables as a normal part of their diet.

Here are 12 tips to help lead your kids to vegetable love.

n Be a good role model. Kids learn from their parents’ examples, so eat the way you want them to eat. Show them how it’s done by loading up your plate with vegetables at every meal.

n Eat at the table. Your kids can’t see the example you’re setting if you’re all eating in front of the television or in different rooms. Eat together, at the table, as a family.

n Make vegetables part of the routine, from day one. Getting infants to eat puréed vegetables isn’t too hard. It’s when they move on to solid food that things get more challenging. Don’t let their pickiness wear down your resolve — offer toddlers vegetables to munch on at every meal. If they don’t like the vegetable you’re serving for lunch, don’t force the issue or turn the meal into a battle. Just stick with the routine: Offer a different vegetable at dinner, and another one at the next meal, and the next. When you make vegetables a part of their everyday routine, starting at a young age, kids get the message: We eat vegetables.

n Use ChooseMyPlate.gov as your guide. This government-sponsored website, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit at every meal. That goes for your kids’ plates, too. Check out ChooseMyPlate for all kinds of ideas on how to incorporate fresh produce into your family’s daily meals.

n Make kids part of the planning. As kids start to get older and more determined in their resistance — usually around second or third grade — give them more control by letting them be part of the meal-planning process. Take them with you when you go grocery shopping or to the local farmers market, and let them pick out one new vegetable to try each week. They’re more likely to go along with something that is partly their idea.

n Share the joy of cooking. Once you get home with those new vegetables, spend some time with your kids exploring websites for different ways to prepare them. Let the kids read the recipes and vote for what sounds best. Then let them help with the preparation — depending on their age, they can toss vegetables with olive oil, measure spices or help with stirring. If the first recipe turns out to be a flop, consider that a challenge: Pick up the same vegetable a few weeks later and find a tastier way to prepare it. Didn't like it sautéed? Try roasting it, grilling it or adding it to something the kids already like, such as soup, pizza or salad (see next item).

n Start supper with a salad bar. According to Cooking Light (November 2012), having access to a salad bar raises kids’ fruit and vegetable consumption by nearly 40 percent. Make salad a regular part of supper. Instead of tossing one big salad for everyone, set the ingredients out separately and let the kids build their own. Change up the choices and try new ingredients regularly, but go easy on high-calorie add-ons like nuts, bacon, cheese and croutons.

n Help them grow their own. Growing a garden — or even one cucumber in a pot — is a sure-fire way to help kids fall in love with vegetables. The process of choosing their own seeds, planting and watering them, and watching them sprout, grow and produce food is irresistible. If you don’t have space for a garden, plant a few things in pots or scout out a location to share a community garden.

n Dip ‘em. Many kids who normally turn up their noses at vegetables will give them another try if they’re served with dip. A small serving of hummus, salsa or low-fat ranch dip can give broccoli, celery and snap peas a whole new appeal. Veggies and dip make a great after-school snack or pre-dinner appetizer.

n Always be veggie-ready. Kids on the go will grab whatever snack is the easiest. Make sure the most accessible snack in your house is vegetables. Keep your fridge stocked with a variety of veggies — cleaned, peeled, cut up, bagged and ready to go. And while you’re at it, keep a full fruit bowl on the counter.

n Encourage kids to take at least one “no thank you” bite. Assure them that you won’t force them to eat a plateful of something they dislike — you don’t want to turn mealtime into an unpleasant experience. One “no thank you” bite, however, is a reasonable rule. Kids should try one bite before saying “no thank you” to the rest, even if they’ve had it before and didn’t like it. Tastes change. Your kids may surprise you — and themselves — by discovering one day that they’ve grown to like Brussels sprouts after all.

n Explain yourself. “Because I said so” isn’t the strongest argument for eating vegetables. “Because they will help you grow up strong, develop a smart brain, do well in school and have the energy to do all the things you want to do” is much more persuasive. Your kids still may groan and roll their eyes at you, but over time, the message will sink in. They may not love vegetables right away, but they’ll grow up understanding why vegetables are important, and they’ll learn to tolerate, accept and even like some of them. And that’s a great step in the right direction.

By Janet Sjoblom, M.D., Providence Medical Group, Hood River Family Medicine

Latest stories

Latest video:

Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge



Log in to comment

Columbia Gorge news and businesses