I’m sure you remember your parents pushing you to eat your greens. And now that you’re a parent, it’s not always easy to get your kids to enjoy vegetables.
My 19-month-old daughter, Maggie, is embracing vegetables now but I’m not sure how long it will last. We try to sneak in spinach when preparing eggs or pasta and she’ll usually eat green beans, peas and carrots with rice and chicken nuggets.
I’m always looking for creative ways to keep Maggie interested in veggies so I reached out to Natalie Digate Muth, a pediatrician, registered dietitian and author of “Eat Your Vegetables! and Other Mistakes Parents Make: Redefining How to Raise Healthy Eaters” (Healthy Learning; $19.95). Here are her top five tips on how to get kids to eat — and enjoy — greens.
1. Make eating veggies fun. “When my son turned 4, we made the kids’ favorite ‘Sesame Street’ characters out of fruits and vegetables for his school birthday party,” said Muth. For example, Big Bird was pineapple, Cookie Monster was blueberries and black berries, Elmo was cherry tomatoes and black olives while Oscar the Grouch was made out of broccoli and edamame. “My son and his friends loved it,” she said. “The key is to dress up the healthy foods to make it fun to eat.”
Other ideas to make it fun, rooted in research to support them, include dressing up a baggie of veggie sticks with a child’s favorite character stickers or giving veggies fun names like “power peas” and “X-ray vision carrots.”
2. Support a strong-minded child’s “power trip” (to an extent). Instead of battling it out at the dinner table begging, pleading and bribing your children to eat their vegetables, make them think that it was their decision in the first place, she said. “Let a picky eater choose what vegetable will be for dinner — and everyone should eat it. The parent wins because — hey, the kid is actually choosing veggies. The kid wins because he feels like he is in control.”
3. Invite over the “I’ll eat anything” friend. “Kids are heavily persuaded by peer influence,” Muth said. Parents are off the hook in trying to get the kids to eat veggies simply by inviting over the friend who will try anything. Offer a veggie tray with hummus as a snack and most likely your child will go for it, if not simply because his friend is eating it.
4. Invite your little “chef” into the kitchen and let him come up with recipes featuring veggies. So your child doesn’t like broccoli. Ask him what he can do to make it taste better. “Maybe he will want to dress it up with all kinds of weird concoctions like chocolate or sugar,” she said. “Let him try. Maybe he still doesn’t think it’s all that great. But by simply getting him involved, he’ll be more likely to try it.” Research consistently supports that it takes 15 to 20 tries to get a child to accept a previously rejected food.
5. Refuse to fight about it and stop pressuring. When parents relax a little but still include the veggies as part of a balanced family meal the kids eventually will come around to trying it (usually when they think the parent isn’t looking), she said. “Just setting a good example and consistently providing healthy balanced meals — but not forcing a child to clean his plate or eat the veggies — can be all it takes.”
— Jennifer Berger, Newsday