Many parents tell me that they struggle with getting their kids to eat vegetables. The parents know vegetables are healthy, and often the kids do to. The parents do their best to be creative and make vegetables appealing, but the kids aren’t interested. Sometimes, the parents even force themselves to eat, and pretend to enjoy, vegetables that they’ve disliked since childhood. Even with this effort, the kids won’t eat vegetables.
Vegetables often get a bad rap. They tend to be less sweet and less appealing than fruit, and most kids seem to go through a phase where they dislike some (or all) vegetables.
What are vegetables?
Before we go any further, maybe we should clarify what foods are actually considered vegetables. My sister, the scientist, informs me that there is no such category as “vegetables” in botany. What we actually call “vegetables” are actually from several different the parts of plants. What we call vegetables include just about every part of a plant:
- leaves (like lettuce, kale, and spinach),
- roots (like carrots, radishes, beets and turnips),
- tubers (like potatoes)
- bulbs (like onions and garlic)
- stalks or stems (like celery, asparagus and fennel),
- seeds and pods (green and yellow beans, peas, and okra),
- fruit (like cucumbers, avocado, tomato, peppers and squash), and
- flowers (artichoke, broccoli, cauliflower, and squash blossoms).
We also sometimes categorize mushrooms and sea vegetables in the vegetable category, even though they aren’t technically parts of a plant. For simplicity sake, I define vegetables based on popular quote: “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad” (Miles Kington). For my purposes, I’m including all of these foods in the vegetable category? Even if tomatoes are technically fruit and mushrooms are fungi, if you eat it like a vegetable (i.e. in a salad or beside a main dish), then I’ll consider it a vegetable. You can make your own decisions.
So, you could start a discuss with your child about how there is no such thing as a vegetable, but that might not help with dinnertime disagreements. So, let’s start by talking about why it is important to eat vegetables.
Why do you need to eat vegetables?
However they are defined, vegetables have lots of health benefits for kids (and adults). Here are few to consider:
- vegetables are a great source of vitamins (including vitamins A, C and folate) and minerals (including calcium, magnesium and potassium)
- vegetables are low in fat, calories, sodium and most of the other things you should be avoiding in your diet
- phytonutrients, which give vegetables their colours, have been found to decrease the risk of some cancers, as well as supporting overall health
- vegetables tend to be high in fibre and water, which help with hydration, digestion and reducing constipation
Vegetables nourish our body so well that some people choose to be vegetarians and focus on these plant-based foods for their main source of nourishment. The truth is you can get almost all the vitamins and minerals your body needs from just eating fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, grains and nuts, all of which come from plants.
How do I get my kids to eat vegetables?
But, I’m guessing that sharing the nutritional facts about vegetables won’t necessary change your kids’ opinions. So, here are some suggestions, feel free to adapt them based on the age of your children:
- Find out why they don’t like vegetables. Is it the colour, taste, smell, texture, or look of the food? Is it because the vegetables are mixed with or touching other foods? Is it awkward to cut or put on a fork or chew? Is there a problem digesting their food or a bodily response they associate with the food?
- Once you understand your child’s perspective, look for patterns. Is the vegetable served with something more appealing so your child isn’t hungry? Does your child dislike the texture of vegetables that get slimy when they are cooked like peppers, mushrooms and zucchini? Is your child teething or dealing with loose teeth that make crunchy raw vegetables uncomfortable? Does your child dislike the spicy sauce you serve over stirfry, or does having too many textures and flavours mixed together make a meal less appealing?
- Figure out which vegetables your child likes to eat. Maybe there are only a few to start, but that’s okay. Based on what your child likes, look for ways to offer similar options. If your child likes baked potatoes, try baked sweet potato, which will have a similar texture. If your child likes roasted carrots, try roasted beets or roasted cauliflower as similar options.
- Make the vegetables appealing. A dried out veggie tray probably won’t motivate anyone to eat vegetables, so try a tasty dip or sauce. Serve vegetables with seasoning to make them more flavourful. Offer salad dressing with a bright and colourful salad.
- Get your kids involved in shopping for and preparing vegetables. Flip through cookbooks or scroll through Pinterest together looking for ideas. Kids are often more interested in trying foods they’ve helped to prepare. Here’s a great resource that describes 42 ways to explore a carrot.
- Focus on variety and trying new foods. Kids need to learn to try new foods and that takes time. Focus on small steps and making it fun to try new things to develop these habits over time. Don’t get discouraged, keep finding new ways to serve vegetables, until you find ones that appeal to your kids (and you too!).
- Join my free program to learn the 5 simple changes you need to make veggies the first choice for your family.
Some Tasty Vegetables Recipe Suggestions to Help You Get Started
- Carrot Recipe Roundup: 20 Tasty Ways to Enjoy Carrots
- More vegetables coming soon!
In the comments, share what vegetables you find hardest to eat or feed your children.