After surveying some readers of the CYCLE Kids Family Hub, we learned a frequently asked question among parent readers is: “How can I get my kid to eat more vegetables?”
If you’ve read some of our previous posts, you know that we’re veggie-pushers. But, the surprising truth is that children actually will eat their vegetables with little intervention or interference if you use this one simple tool: variety.
As kids are growing, their taste preferences are constantly growing and changing. They might never swoon over steamed broccoli, but by offering variety, they have the opportunity to discover their favorite colors, flavors, textures and cooking methods, so they can enjoy those nutrient-dense veggies well into adulthood.
Variety of Colors
While it might seem like eating only involves one sense (taste), it actually involves all five senses, including sight. We see the food with our eyes first, and if the food looks appealing and smells appealing, we give it a try. Offering a wide variety of colors when it comes to vegetables can help make them look more appealing and make it more likely your child will give them a try. Not to mention, offering a variety of colors also ensures that you’re getting a variety of nutrients.
Variety of Cooking Methods
You might discover that your children tend to spit out raw carrots, but they might really enjoy them steamed or roasted. Similarly, you might find that they hate raw tomatoes, but love tomato sauce. Experimenting with raw, steamed, sautéed, fried, and baked vegetables can help your child expand their palate.
Variety of Textures
Experimenting with cooking methods is an easy way to experiment with texture. Again, we eat with our five senses, and if we don’t like the way a food feels physically in our mouth, it's hard to move past that and focus on taste. You might discover that your kids hate the taste of chopped cauliflower, but really enjoy it mashed. Or similarly, don’t like steamed spinach because it’s too “mushy”, but really enjoy it raw. And, although this might sound odd, simply chopping vegetables in a variety of ways can influence texture too. You might find that your child doesn’t really like baby carrots, but they really like cubed carrots, or shredded carrots. Bottom line is, don’t give up on the first try. Simple changes can make a big difference!
Variety of Flavors
Veggies don’t have to be boring! Yes, they’re an important component of your diet, but they don’t have to be served as a bland side dish or salad. Add flavor to your veggies by using enhancers like garlic, herbs, spices, cheese, butter, olive oil, and salt. Sautéing zucchini in a mixture of olive oil, butter, and salt, can make it much more appealing than simply steaming it! Similarly, baking carrots with butter and cinnamon can add sweetness, which makes them much more appealing to children (and adults)!
Variety of Combinations
You might discover that your child doesn’t love bell peppers, but they might enjoy them combined with ranch dressing or on top of a pizza. Combining vegetables with foods that your children already enjoy, can make them more appealing. It’s kind of like the ranch dressing or the pizza is endorsing the bell pepper!
All of this will take some trial and error, so don’t get discouraged on the first try! Children need multiple exposures to vegetables (even if that exposure doesn’t involve tasting the vegetable), before they can really decide if they like it or not, so keep experimenting! It’s also important to remember that nutrient needs are typically balanced over an extended period of time, so if you find your child goes a few days without eating vegetables, it’s nothing to worry about. You might find that when this happens, they eventually start to crave something “fresh” and actually begin craving vegetables.
As the parent or caregiver, it’s your job to provide vegetables in variety, and it is the child’s job to decide how much they want to eat. It’s much more likely they’ll grow into vegetables lovers if they don’t feel like they are being forced to eat Brussel sprouts every night!
What’s one vegetable you can switch up for your kids? Let us know in the comments below!