We all wish our kids would eat more fruits and vegetables but getting them to do so is no easy task. Between picky eaters who refuse to eat green leafy vegetables to those who only eat certain fruits or none at all, mealtimes can make you want to pull your hair out.
You’re not the only one. According to a survey published in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 in 10 children don’t eat enough fruit and 9 in 10 don’t eat enough vegetables.
Laying the foundation for healthy eating when kids are babies is one of the best ways to prevent picky eating and raise healthy kids who will eat just about anything.
Unfortunately, most kids aren’t getting the opportunity to learn how to eat healthy when they’re young. According to a recent survey in the journal Pediatrics, 1 in 4 babies between 6 and 11-months-old and 1 in 5 one-year-olds didn’t eat any vegetables over the 2 days their parents were surveyed.
Regardless of your child’s age, you can still raise healthy, adventurous foodies and get your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables—without sneaky tactics, negotiations or angst. Here are 10 strategies to try.
1. Start small
Instead of overhauling your entire kitchen and making drastic changes to your kids’ meals, start with one small change each week.
Mix leftover vegetables into a breakfast frittata. Swap packaged snacks for a piece of fruit. Offer two vegetables at dinner instead of one. Then gradually continue the same pattern until your kid is being offered fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack. They might not eat more initially but the more consistent you are, the higher the chances they eventually will.
2. Chop up salads
My kids love salads. Whether we’re at home or out to eat, they’ll ask for a salad. For lunch every day, they get a salad in their lunch boxes too.
Salads are a great way to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables because you can let them choose what they want every time you chop it up. Kids love colorful food so carrots, peppers, celery, cucumber, beets, radishes, strawberries and grapes all work well. One of the fastest and easiest ways I’ve found to make salads is with a Solid Wood Chopping Bowl & Mezzaluna Knife Set.
3. Incorporate vegetables into breakfast
Start the day off on a healthy note by serving vegetables for breakfast. Eggs lend themselves to so many different types of vegetables but you can also add pumpkin puree or shredded zucchini to muffins, pancakes or waffles.
4. Add a dip
Kids love to dip their food and serving dip alongside vegetables is an easy way to get kids to try and enjoy new varieties. Try carrots or jicama with hummus, slices of peppers with black bean dip or celery sticks with salsa.
If you’re not making the dip yourself, remember to read labels and stay away from those brands with strange ingredients, additives or added sugar.
5. Serve a bite, not a plate
Studies show it can 10 to 15 times for kids to accept new foods but when these studies were conducted, kids were actually given only a pea-sized amount, not the entire portion we often serve kids. A bite-sized amount is a no-pressure way for kids to decide whether they’ll try it or not and consistency makes them realize: this is how our family eats.
6. Make green smoothies or fresh juice
I’m not a fan of hiding vegetables to make sure your kids get what they need but when your kid watches you make a green smoothie or juice, there’s no hiding the vegetables. Even better—let your kids help you and they’ll be more apt to try it. If they continue to drink it, it can be a great way to get a lot of fruits and vegetables at one time.
7. Model healthy eating
I’m convinced that my kids love to eat fruits and vegetables because they always saw my husband and I eating healthy. In fact, when I would chop up my salad for lunch, or they would see me cook or nosh on a new type of vegetable, they were always curious and asked to take a bite.
8. Make soup
There’s nothing better than a warm bowl of soup on a cool day and serving your kids soup is also an easy way to get a bunch of vegetables into one meal. Make a large batch of vegetable soup and freeze leftovers to be reheated for another meal. Store-bought might be OK, but many of the soups are filled with too much sodium, not to mention eating out of can or a box will never taste the same than when you make it yourself.
9. Take your kids shopping
Bring your kids to the grocery store or the farmer’s market and let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable they’d like to try. Letting them have a say in what they eat increases the chances they’ll actually eat it and empowers them to make healthy choices throughout their lives.
10. Leave the room
Sometimes all it takes is for kids to be in a new setting—or have their parents leave—for them to try and love new vegetables. My friend told me that when she was living in Brussels, Belgium her toddler started to eat raw vegetables after the daycare served them for a special event. My own daughter grew to love cucumbers after my mother-in-law served them to her. This could also work well on a play date if your child’s friend is eating something he’s never tried.