At the most recent check-up for my four-year-old son, we hit a new first where he answered his own health questions. Our pediatrician went through the list. Do you brush your teeth? Yes. Do you go potty in the toilet? Yes. Then she threw a curveball his way and asked him does he eat vegetables. Surprising me, he quickly answered yes. Then she followed up with “What is your favorite vegetable?”, to which he responded with strawberries. After explaining strawberries are in fact not a vegetable, he retorted with “I love veggie straws“. She then listed actual vegetables, which based on my toddler’s face, I knew were not going to fly in his book. He then proudly announced, “Oh, I don’t like vegetables, I don’t not like broccoli.”
By this point, my face is permanently in my palms. We were eventually able to settle on him liking Avocado, which I am aware is technically a fruit, but don’t take this half victory away from me. This was not for lack of trying, might I add. He used to eat whatever I put on his plate, which would always be full of veggies. Somewhere between first bites as a baby and this 4 year old practical grown up, I missed the day when he all together started refusing veggies. I left that doctor’s appointment feeling like somehow the world would find out I was a terrible mom. A mom whose son thinks veggie straws are ACTUAL VEGETABLES. Fail.
Does this sound even a little familiar yet?
I have some news. I don’t know any parent who hasn’t struggled with mealtime one way or another. Does my kid refusing vegetables make me a garbage mom? Absolutely not. Does wanting to avoid an argument every night at dinner make me a lazy parent? Again, that’s a no. I refuse to put this additional guilt on myself, but at the same time know the importance of vegetables and getting vitamins in your diet.
So now what?
I came up with a couple of easy, conflict-free (well, mostly), ways to get my kids more used to vegetables. I wanted to share in case I could help ease some of the mealtime pressures while teaching your kids to tolerate, maybe even (GASP) like vegetables.
Setting the Stage
As parents, we are constantly leading the way for our children. Whether we know it or not, those tiny eyes are watching and learning from all the things we do and say. So eat vegetables. It seems simple, but I’m not talking about taking a big bite of kale and exaggeratingly saying, “YUMMMM”. Chances are you aren’t that great of an actor. All I am saying is don’t make vegetables a big deal. Honestly, food shouldn’t be such a big deal right? Stop telling your kids what is delicious, and what they love (By the way I do this all the time, I swear I am trying to stop). Let them eat and decide how they feel about it. If we make a big deal of it, positive or negative, it becomes a big deal.
I am by no means a health nut, but I can honestly say that every night when I plan dinner, I plan at least one vegetable. Personally, I will not force my kids to eat anything, but I also don’t cater to multiple different dinners. Providing a healthy substitution is always an option in these cases. I heavily encourage trying a food to know if you like it.
I have learned a common truth among kids is that everything tastes better off mom’s plate.
Save yourself some craze and instead of forcing it on them, just enjoy it yourself. In my house that is the best way to get my kids to want anything. Tragically, I lost a salad to my 18 month old just the other day this way (but also my 18 month old ATE MY SALAD!).
Similarly to setting the stage as a parent and showing a good example, I also feel exposing children to vegetables is huge. Now if you are thinking, hold up Kayla you just told me you don’t force your kids to eat things. Good Listening. By exposure I mean, I am a terribly mean mom. Regularly, I put vegetables on my kid’s plates I know they don’t like (again, GASP!).
This does admittedly cause a momentary ruckus when my son informs me I have mistakenly put a carrot on this plate. I calmly inform him there was no mistake, I was just giving him dinner, and if there is something he doesn’t like he can leave it to the side. Another guilty admission here, I will regularly offer the option for him (after it’s been on his plate for most of the dinner) to offer it to his brother, which is a cruel trick in manipulation that normally results in the vegetable in question being eaten. How dare I suggest his brother have something he has sworn he doesn’t want. I do hold my breathe and hope a tantrum doesn’t ensue, and most of the time it doesn’t.
Exposure is the long con. Just like my top suggestion, it is making vegetables over time a nonissue. They are just something that is offered with dinner. We put such stress on eating your veggies that it becomes taboo.
A more immediate fix
The first two suggestions are great for getting kids used to veggies over time. In the meantime, you may have to try to a sneaky vegetable approach. I have always tried to add extra vegetables to all recipes to get my kids to eat them, but usually it just ends with my eldest refusing to touch his plate until all the essence of onion has been removed. I have found the key is making sure the vegetables are subtle tasting or blended in and are small enough they cannot be identified.
The Sneaky Vegetable
My kids love pasta. I have found most kids do. After all, what’s not to love about carbs? I have found my favorite way to sneak in extra vegetables is with pasta recipes. Mac and cheese and pasta with red sauce are two fan favorites in my house. I will cook up any and all veggies I can find over the stove. For the pickier children, you may want to stick with veggies that match the color of the sauce and are more bland in flavor. Spinach, zucchini, and butternut squash are great ones to add that don’t change the taste much. I cook the veggies until they are soft, then I put them in the blender. Make sure to blend them until the consistency matches whatever sauce I am using, then I combine.
While, I don’t love the idea of tricking my kids into eating vegetables, it sometimes it’s the only way. Just today I got both my kids (and husband) to eat and enjoy a chicken mac and cheese with a cheese sauce that was about 50% vegetable. I made the sauce out of butternut squash, onion, carrot, and orange/yellow pepper.
Another idea would be to take a more popular starchy vegetable such as potato or sweet potato and add other veggies to it and serve it mashed. Potatoes can also be great in potato pancake form. Full disclosure, this is not an area I have much expertise in because my 4-year-old won’t even touch a potato.
Hang in there
Most of my articles end this same way, but hang in there Mama. We don’t need another thing to stress out about or feel guilty about. I just love the idea of encouraging healthy habits where we can to make our lives easier down the road. Remember, food doesn’t have to be a fight. I work to build healthy relationships with food every day. I hope some of these suggestions come in handy, or at the very least they remind you, you are not alone in the trenches.