By Emily with Michael
Photography by Lori Lovoy-Goran
We are usually talking about how to make sure our kids aren’t having too much sugar. For a change, let’s talk about something that we can all go crazy with: vegetables. You really can’t overdo it in the veggie department.
But it can be easy to get into a rut of only offering your kids a few vegetables that you know they like. One issue with this is that if they only have a few options they will accept, it is harder to get them to eat a good quantity of vegetables overall.
Also, there is the issue that your child can suddenly reject a vegetable on his or her “safe” list, leaving you with even less options to offer. This happened to me yesterday. My (almost) 2-year-old usually likes broccoli so much that he points to it excitedly in market and gets upset that he can’t eat some then and there. But yesterday when I cooked him broccoli, he took one bite, said “no,” and spit it onto his plate. This leaves me to wonder if he is now over broccoli, having had it too much over the last few months? Or was it just that he didn’t want it yesterday? I’ll try it again next week and see what happens.
As parents, we all need some tricks up our sleeves, besides just sheer persistence, to get our kids hooked on vegetables and keep them going strong with them. Maybe you have already tried giving your child some new vegetables multiple times and haven’t had much luck. Even knowing that it can take up to 10-15 exposures to a new food to get kids to like it, it can be frustrating to keep offering your child something that he or she refuses. This is when it is time to get more creative. Here are a few of our favorite tricks that have worked well for us as parents and also as educators:
- Catch them when they are starving. When I pick my kids up from nursery, they are so hungry that they run up and hug me, but don’t actually say hi. My 4 year old cuts to the chase with “what did you bring for a snack?” and my toddler simply exclaims “EAT!!!” This is a moment that I can work to my total advantage. Whenever I can, I bring them cut raw vegetables. They are so hungry (or rather desperate) that they won’t refuse them. The same goes when I am cooking dinner. If I put out a plate of vegetables to tide them over ‘til meal time, they magically disappear.
- Experiment with new shapes. Kids can get much more excited about eating vegetables if they are cut into fun shapes like rings, stars, sticks or strips, or even spirals.
- Offer dips. Michael’s 11-year-old daughter likes raw veggies much better when they can be dipped into something. This works well in a packed lunch with small containers of dips to accompany the veggies. You can experiment with things like hummus, vinaigrette, tzatziki style yogurt sauce, mashed avocado, cream cheese, and nut butter.
- Involve your kids in the shopping and cooking. If you invite your kids to pick out a vegetable for themselves at the market, they are going to be more likely to want to it eat. The same goes with cooking. Tasks like stripping kale off of the center ribs, washing vegetables like cherry tomatoes, and cutting softer vegetables like cucumbers with safe knives are all great for young kids. (See this list for other task ideas.) Before my kids were old enough to actually help cook, I let them take vegetables out of bags when we got home from the market and play with them to start becoming familiar with them.
- Try different preparations. Plain, steamed vegetables can be a hard sell. Roasting is one of my best tricks for getting my kids to try new vegetables. I first got them to like red cabbage by introducing them to it roasted in thin strips with olive oil and salt. Now they are enthusiastic about both red and green cabbage prepared in many ways, including in soup, which surprised me. All credit goes to the “gateway veggie,” the crispy cabbage chips. This also works well with kale (see recipe below for Kale Chips), and other veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, snap peas, parsnips, cauliflower, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and fennel. Once I get the oven going, I roast anything and everything I can find in the refrigerator. Sometimes I add spices and sometimes just a pinch of salt. All of these taste good at room temperature, so I use any leftovers for lunchbox side dishes, and often offer them at breakfast as well.
- Offer multiple options in one sitting. This goes for side dishes at meals as well as snacks. This morning was a perfect example of how this trick works for me. Before leaving the house to do errands with my boys, I packed a big container of vegetables: cucumber, red and yellow peppers, carrots, and steamed baby corn. For some reason, my kids completely refused the cucumber today when usually it’s a favorite. My youngest was most interested in the carrot, which I had actually packed for me because neither of my kids are crazy about it. My oldest only wanted the baby corn since he had picked it himself at the store and had never tried it before. Yes, it was extra work to prep multiple vegetables, but in times like this I am reminded how it was worth the effort. Kids like to have a choice to suit their moods. Don’t we all, really? And this way, instead of saying to your kids that they have to try a particular vegetable, you can say that you would really like for them to taste at least 1 of the vegetables offered. If they have a choice, they become more cooperative.
Even as professionals in the field, we still find it a challenge to get our kids to like certain vegetables. I haven’t had any luck with beets or avocado with my boys, which surprises me because they are two of my favorite foods. While of course I need to respect that my kids may never like these particular options, there is always a chance they will change their minds. If your kids like these veggies, please leave a comment with any ideas for how you serve them.
- 1 bunch organic kale
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Wash the kale and cut out the middle stem, leaving just the leafy green sections.
- Dry the leaves with paper towels or in a salad spinner (if you leave any wetness they won’t get crispy).
- Tear the kale into bite-sized pieces.
- Pour a tablespoon of olive oil onto your hands and massage into the leaves
- Coat with salt and optional spices.
- Spread the kale onto a baking sheet.
- Roast in the oven for around 10-15 minutes, shaking occasionally, until they get nice and crispy.