Question of the day: how do you convince your child to eat vegetables? You’ve tried making eating veggies more exciting, but to no prevail. You watch them eat a diet that is strictly Ritz crackers and wonder, how the heck are they staying alive? Fortunately, there is hope for the concerned parent! Join Michelle Miller, Founder of healthy eating and lifestyle blog Vitamin Sunshine as she shares some rather clever tricks of the healthy eating trade.
Last year, I became a mom. More than anything, it has been a year of absolutely joy: tiny smiles and coos turning into babble then full blown words; hugs and open-mouthed kisses; his tiny face lighting up in wonder over blinking lights or fish in an aquarium.
It has also been a year of challenges I never could have imagined- months of sleep deprivation, stretching to the point I felt I was losing my mind, and hours upon hours spent rocking and soothing a tired fussy baby who refused to sleep. And then the challenge I never expected- a child refusing to eat his meals.
Helping a child develop good eating habits is harder than it sounds. I am a healthy eater. I went as far as to eat giant bowls of strong tasting vegetables during pregnancy after learning babies remember familiar tastes. I love to cook, and fruits and vegetables are at the core of almost everything that comes out of my kitchen.
Xander’s first foods were avocado, carrot, cauliflower and sweet potato, followed by pears, oatmeal, bananas and broccoli. There wasn’t a fruit or veggie we could put in front of him without him devouring it. At 8 months, he started grabbing roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus off our plates, gumming them toothless and managing to suck them down anyway.
But then it happened: At 10 months, he started to refuse his meals if he saw the fruit I brought out as “dessert.” No more quinoa and salmon, bring on the banana mom! At 11 months, he almost altogether refused anything but bread and watermelon, and this phase lasted for months.
Instead of feeling defeated, I worked around his fussy attitude. I used some of the knowledge I had gained from teaching, being a nanny, and a camp counselor for over half of my life. I’ve prided myself in encouraging children to eat healthy food even when parents have claimed they wouldn’t.
Here are some of my secrets:
1.) Offer Vegetables Consistently
Most kids aren’t going to dive in to every dish you serve them; most adults won’t dive into something unknown either. A common mistake is serving something once, having a child reject it, and then deciding, “Owen doesn’t like Brussels sprouts.”
That last statement is something I want to address. Another rule I have in my dining room is that we never say our son doesn’t like something. As soon as that’s said, the child has learned a phrase that will seemingly relinquish him of trying something new. This phrase plants an idea in his head he may or may not have been thinking already. If you’re convinced your child doesn’t like something, you will resist serving it, and if your child thinks he doesn’t like something, he is likely to reject it.
Don’t cater to your child’s favorite foods (but do serve them sometimes and allow them). Serve what you would like your family to eat, and do so consistently. After a while, it will become clear that this is the meal, and your child will become familiar with healthy foods.
Don’t push your child to eat something he is resistant to. We all know kids can’t be forced. Your child will have a much healthier relationship with food if he is allowed to make these choices on his own.
2). Serve Vegetables How You Like Them
I don’t blame kids one bit for rejecting bland veggie purees or boiled, unseasoned vegetables. I wouldn’t prepare vegetables for myself that way, so why would I expect my child to eat them? I love my vegetables roasted until they have crunchy bits, and seasoned with salt and pepper, or steamed and drizzled with a tasty salad dressing.
If you expect anyone to like healthy food, make it taste good! And for kids, that might mean you melt cheese on their broccoli, serve carrot sticks with ranch, or roast rather than boil or steam their broccoli. Try different cooking methods and toppings until you find one that works.
During my son’s bread and watermelon hiatus, I had to get creative. I smeared guacamole on his bread. I started blending spinach and pumpkin puree into his smoothies. I made him “bread” by combining oats, yogurt and eggs into pancakes with fruit.
3). Reject the Idea of “Kid Food”
I have lived overseas for many years, and worked in schools with many children of other cultures. One thing I noticed sitting in the cafeteria on my first overseas teaching post was the food: No hamburgers or french fries- normal, “adult” food.
Will a child more excitedly dive into pizza, french fries and chicken nuggets than into something like fish and roasted veggies? Undoubtably. And believe me, I know how good it feels to see your child really happy and enjoying something. I gave my son pizza for the first time at 8 months and had never seen him eat so much or be so excited to eat.
But, repeatedly serving “kid food” in place of a variety of dishes will set you up for failure if your goal is to help your child develop healthy eating habits. I still give my son pizza- often actually. We take him most weeks because it’s certainly not a terrible food, and he still gets excited over it. But this is not the full scope of his diet. He knows that sometimes he gets pizza, but most of the time he gets whole grains like rice and quinoa, a variety of fish and other meats, and lots and lots of veggies served roasted, steamed, and in soups and curries.
Try one of these healthy but flavorful meals both kids and adults will love:
4). Make Lots of Smoothies
I used to very judgmental when I saw parents offering their child less-than-ideal foods. “I’ll never give my child x or y.” Believe me! I’ve been humbled.
Yes, my son gets potato chips. And soft pretzels. He got vanilla ice cream every day while visiting his grandparents in Australia. I’ve given in and bought him chicken fingers and french fries for dinner out at a restaurant. I wanted him to EAT! Something, anything!
And then at home, I supplemented with smoothies. They are the perfect way to sneak fruits, veggies, healthy fats, even grains, into tiny mouths. We make Green Pumpkin Pie Smoothies most often (green and orange veggies, fruit, and yogurt– a great start to anyone’s day!), but we also love:
(Notes: I leave whey protein out of my son’s smoothies, and often add a few teaspoons of coconut oil or 1/4 of an avocado for healthy fats. If your child is older and doesn’t like the green color, add zucchini instead of spinach! I call it the starter green smoothie veg because it adds no color or taste, but packs in extra nutrition).
- Ultra Dreamy Chocolate Chip Mint Smoothie (we leave out the chocolate 75% of the time)
- Tropical Green Smoothie Bowl (we make as bowls and as drinkable smoothies)
5). Sneak Healthy Ingredients into Loved Foods
When all else fails, hide the veggies!
Not all kids will eat fruits and veggies despite your best attempts. I’m so grateful Xander has recently given up the fight and is back to eating all I offer. During those 3 months, I was beginning to think I was going to have to “Sneaky Chef” him and add spinach and carrot puree to his brownies.
The truth is, I am not above hiding veggies. I believe it’s best to teach children to like healthy foods as they are, rather than always relying on “healthified” treats, but if you’re really struggling (or just want to offer healthy treats rather than conventional ones), here are some sneaky ideas:
Thanks to the BUB Team for having me here today!
Please hop on over to my blog, www.Vitamin-Sunshine.com for more delicious recipes and healthy eating tips.
About the Author
Michelle is an American expat, soaking up the sun in Kuala Lumpur, with her husband Alex and their adorable 18 month old son Xander. As an advocate for healthy eating, Michelle creates inventive, produce-heavy meals that are allergy friendly (peanut & soy free), gluten free, and mostly lactose free. Check out her amazing recipes on her blog, Vitamin Sunshine. If you’re a new mom looking for easy to make, nutrient filled recipes, this blog will have you hooked in no time!