Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies

A few simple tricks can set your kids on the path to healthy eating.

If you’re like most parents, you’ve spent many exasperated evenings at the dinner table imploring your kids to eat their veggies. If it feels like you’re wasting your breath, it’s because you are. Begging will get you nowhere, except closer to a headache.

Ideally, half of your child’s plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables, but most kids aren’t getting nearly the proper amount. If you’ve relented to pasta and chicken nuggets because you think it’s impossible to get kids to eat vegetables, think again. It is possible to get kids to eat their vegetables; you just have to know how.

Here are some tried-and-true methods for veggie success:

Catch them when they’re hungry: If kids are hungry, they’ll eat. The problem is that most kids are fed a constant stream of fun, snack foods throughout the day—so they have no incentive to embrace the veggies. Ditch the constant snacking and implement a schedule. In the hour before dinner—when most kids are unbearably hungry and grouchy—set out a plate of colorful vegetables. If that’s their only option, they’ll soon be noshing on cucumbers and bell peppers as they anxiously await dinner.

Presentation counts: Face it—kids like foods that come in fun shapes and sizes. Get creative and serve the veggies “fun style.” Build a smiley face with peas, place veggies on a skewer, or make animal shapes. Appealing to your kids’ sense of fun will make them more likely to dive in to the veggies.

Involve them: Get your kids in the kitchen to help you cook. Kids are far more likely to eat something that they helped prepare. Pick a simple veggie recipe and let your child do most of the work. Watch what happens when you sit down to dinner—it’s very likely your child will reach for the dish he helped prepare.

Dips and dressings: Kids love to dip. Chop up some veggies and serve them with hummus or dressing and watch them dip away. If veggies are the only vehicle for the dip, they’ll dig in.

Hidden veggies: Some parents shy away from this sort of sneaky behavior—but pureed veggies hidden in another dish are a surefire way to ensure that your child gets her daily allowance of nutrients. Pureed cauliflower or zucchini can be mixed into mac and cheese undetected. Spinach can hide in a delicious fruit smoothie. And in truth, you don’t even have to hide it from your kids—involve them in the pureeing process and let them discover that their favorite flavors go unchanged.

Bribe them: Psychologists have long warned against the use of bribes and extrinsic rewards; however, new research shows that when it comes to vegetables, bribery works. Researchers from London found that when rewarded, kids not only ate their vegetables, but they actually learned to like them.[1] The study involved nearly 500 kids ages 4-6 who ranked six vegetables from best to worst. The kids were then divided into four groups, a control group and three other groups in which the kids were offered their fourth-ranked vegetable with either a tangible reward (a sticker), praise, or no reward. The results were astounding—the kids who received the sticker ate the most, but the kids who received praise or no reward still ate more than the control group. What’s more—three months later, the sticker group and the praise group were eating nearly twice as much of the vegetable (of their own free will, with no reward) than the control group. The researchers concluded that external rewards were actually useful for promoting healthy eating.

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[1] Cooke LJ, Chambers LC, Anez EV, et al. Eating for pleasure or profit: The effect of incentives on children’s enjoyment of vegetables. Psychological Science. 2010; 22(2) 190-196.