How to Stop Saying “Eat Your Vegetables”

DGLimages/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
DGLimages/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Whether you claim to have a picky eater or not, most kids tend to shy away from vegetables and lean toward starch-heavy foods like pasta, rice, cereals and snacks. Trying to incorporate vegetables into their diet doesn’t have to end in a family feud. Variety and high frequency of vegetable intake leads to a well-balanced diet: higher in the nutrients required for healthy growth and development.

While pureeing vegetables and adding them to sauces, brownies and casseroles has become popular, I don’t think it’s the best way to teach your child the importance of eating vegetables. Sure, it boosts the nutrition of favorite foods, but it doesn’t provide kids an opportunity to develop an appreciation for the taste and texture of vegetables. By allowing kids to see the different foods they’re consuming, it creates a stronger foundation for them to begin choosing more vegetables on their own.

After working with many parents on improving their children’s diets, here are my top tips and favorite meal ideas using vegetables.

  • Make common vegetables more fun! There is a big difference between cucumber slices and cucumber ribbons. Since most kids eat both with their eyes and their taste buds, make the plate colorful and intriguing. Try using cookie cutters to make everyday vegetables more appealing. Yes, it takes a little extra work—but once they start to like the item, you can stop.
  • Remember it takes an average of 10 times for everyone (kids included) to like a new food. Don’t be discouraged if your children turn their noses to squash the first time. Let them explore the new food on their own timeline, but keep offering it.
  • Incorporate simple vegetables into your kid’s favorite meals. If your child enjoys macaroni and cheese, try adding chopped broccoli to the meal. See more ideas in the section below.
  • Get them involved in the preparation and cooking process! Let them pick out any vegetable they like in the produce section. You could even make it a game by picking a different color each week. Let them see you cook the vegetable, and if they are old enough, have them help.

6 Favorite Vegetable Meals

  • Does your child like french fries? Try roasting potatoes along with sweet potatoes, cut red peppers, cauliflower, and butternut squash. They will enjoy the familiar taste of the potatoes and—hopefully—explore the other roasted vegetables in the medley.
  • Shred cooked spaghetti squash and add to regular pasta with marinara sauce. The ribbons of squash look just like noodles and are mild enough to pair with any sauce…or no sauce at all!
  • Add vegetables to taco night! Place chopped olives, lettuce, tomatoes, corn and cooked peppers in small bowls at the table. Let your child decide which types of vegetables and how much to put in each taco. Letting kids take control of the meal increases your odds they will try new things.
  • Try baked tofu sticks. Many parents complain that their children don’t enjoy the dry, hard to chew texture of animal protein. Try tofu instead. Its mild, creamy texture will please most palates. Bread and bake like you would chicken or fish sticks.
  • Most children enjoy dipping their food. Make small falafel patties (with chickpeas, chopped carrots and bell peppers) and have them dip into hummus. Or, try brown rice and vegetable patties and have them dip into their favorite condiment.
  • Serve edamame as a snack. These colorful, fun to eat soybeans are a hit, and full of satisfying protein.
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Alexandra Caspero
Alexandra Caspero, MA, RD, CLT, is a registered dietitian and nutrition expert with a passion for health and wellness. Alex is a nationally recognized nutritionist and appears regularly on TV, print and social media. She was most recently featured in Runner's World, Men's Health, Fitness, Shape Magazine & Vogue. As the campus dietitian, director of wellness and adjunct instructor at University of the Pacific, Alex teaches what she preaches. Through innovative programs and services, Alex inspires students to become their healthiest selves. Her blog, DelishKnowledge, focuses on making whole-food eating deliciously simple. Alex also dishes out delicious tips to her thousands of social media followers.