At Lil Helper, we love supporting you in all things parenting. Something a lot of us worry about is feeding. We’ve aimed to make a wide range of products to help with this from breast pads to burp cloths and biggie bibs to smockets. But we know as kids get older, we especially want to make sure they eat their vegetables. This week, Kim from On Your Table is sharing her best tips for raising veggie loving kids. Read on for her helpful and fun ideas!
We all want our kids to love vegetables! As parents, we have to remember that their love for veggies will be learned over many years - not over single meals, days, or even months. However, if we want veggie loving kids it takes time and, we have some tasks that can make a big difference in the process!
As you may have heard, it can take 30 or more single exposures to a particular food for a child to learn to like it. The number of exposures can vary for every person.
The key is the word EXPOSURE.
Exposure means helping children to experience a food in many preparations and many ways over a long period of time. The goal is not for kids to take a bite! The goal is to build comfort by seeing, smelling, feeling, licking, biting, and eventually eating that food. When it comes to helping kids learn to eat - and even to love - their veggies, it’s all about playing the long game!
So how do we help this to happen?! I have 10 tips to get you onto the right track. It’s important to remember that this isn’t a complete list of strategies, but it’s a great way to get started!
Start by having vegetables around!
Kids need frequent and varied exposure to build comfort and interaction. Have your kids help you pick out vegetables to buy, and ask them to unload groceries with you. Try leaving produce visible on the counter (when safe), ask your kids to pass the vegetables to you when preparing a meal, and be sure to add veggie options to all meals – even breakfast!
Get vegetables onto your kids’ plates, every single time they are served!
Serve meals family style! Pass bowls around the table so everyone gets a guaranteed look and smell, and make it a family rule that some of every food is on everyone’s individual plate. A vegetable serving can be as small as one single pea! We just want them getting close to their veggies as a starting point. Think of it like making a new friend!
Don’t push your kids to take a bite!
I know, it sounds crazy. Isn’t that the whole point? Yes, however - the more pressure we put on our kids to eat the foods we desperately want them to eat, the less likely they are to try them. Our job as parents is to make vegetables readily available, make them fun, help our kids to engage with them in other ways (see point #1!), and then let them taste on their own time, when they are ready.
Lead by example!
What we model for our kids’ day in and day out is one of the strongest indicators of their future behavior. Even if you don’t like a vegetable, it’s helpful if they see you put it on your plate anyway, and that you keep trying it. Equally important is that they see the enjoyment on your face when you eat vegetables you love!
Bring your kids into the kitchen!
Having kids help in the kitchen gets them seeing, touching, smelling, and maybe tasting before the main event. This helps them feel ready to taste at the table, and every taste contributes to building a lifelong love. Think of having your child in the kitchen like a warm up before the big game - the meal! Worried that getting them into the kitchen is such a headache and a MESS?! This blog post can help you get started!
Get them into the garden too (even if it’s just a single pot)!
When a child is asked to pick a vegetable from a plant, there’s no pressure to eat it. Low-pressure encounters allow fun exploration without stress, and these instances set the stage for future success. Plus, there’s an added benefit of the pride kids feel when they watch their tiny seed grow into a plant that produces food!
Think twice before you hide vegetables in other foods!
I know, it puts your mind at ease to know that they are getting the nutrients they need now. It’s not worth it! Known exposure is key to kids learning to love vegetables. When we hide vegetables in our kids’ foods, it might go well at first, but with time, they will figure it out. When they do, we have taught them that vegetables taste so bad that they have to be hidden, and that you are not to be trusted! They might even stop eating some of the foods they once loved. Add vegetables to whatever you want, but make kids aware. Better yet, have them help!
Have your kids talk to a farmer!
If you want your kids to meet someone who gets jazzed up about vegetables, head to a farmer’s market – or better yet, straight to the farm. I’ve never met a farmer who isn’t willing to chat with you about their produce, how it is grown, what types of varieties they have, and how to prepare it all. Their passion rubs off on kids, especially if a farm visit involves tractors or animals too!
Don’t give up on your method!
If your kids don’t get excited about cooking, gardening, talking to farmers, or any of the traditional ways to engage with food, find what they love and capitalize on it. Use vegetables for experiments, dissect them, paint with them, read books with vegetables, draw them, or use them as a microphone or telephone. Whatever you do, just involve vegetables in the kind of fun that your child loves!
Never stop serving a wide variety of vegetables!
Even when they turn up their nose, gag, roll their eyes, and make a fuss, KEEP ON SERVING! The moment vegetable exposures stop, you’ve taken away the opportunity for your child to grow to love them.
About the Author
Kim Slack is a Registered Dietitian and founder of On Your Table LLC. She coaches parents on feeding strategies and parenting styles that support children to expand the foods they eat. She also offers a membership with ongoing lessons and support for parents of picky eaters. Kim has helped many families have happier, calmer mealtimes and grow competent eaters at the table. Kim also has 2 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.