One of the comments I hear most frequently from parents who seek to improve their childrens’ diets is, “My kids simply refuse to eat vegetables!” My heart breaks as they tell me how the kids run toward chicken nuggets, fish sticks and french fries, but head for the hills whenever the dreaded broccoli or chick pea makes an appearance at the dinner table. Let’s explore some ways we can help kids learn to enjoy the flavors of healthier foods…and how we can teach them that nutritious foods can be delicious, too.
Introduce your kids to all sorts of veggies (including legumes – beans, peas, lentils, etc) when they’re young. As they become familiar with the variety of flavors, textures and aromas of vegetables, they’re far more likely to continue to eat them as they grow up. Making the transition from pureed baby veggies to steamed is not difficult, but be certain that they are fresh…not canned or frozen. Teaching the kids to appreciate the flavors of fresh foods is necessary, so just do it. As their little teeth develop and they become more confident and competent chewers, offer your kids steamed carrots, string beans, greens (like kale, collard greens and chard) and cauliflower. Start with small pieces and always have a couple of different veggies on the plate so the kids can begin to discern the differences in flavor. If they don’t enjoy a particular veggie at first, that’s OK. Try again. Don’t back down…and don’t give in. Kids will learn to appreciate the flavors of the foods they’re given, so doesn’t it make sense to help them learn to enjoy foods that will be kind to their bodies as they grow?
Discuss with your kids why you are asking them to eat an array of vegetables. Tell them how important it is for them to have a well-balanced diet. Instill in them the understanding that eating well is their best defense against illness. Kids don’t like to be sick (who does?), and they’ll eagerly eat fresh veggies when they understand that they will have more play time and less sick-in-bed time when their immune systems can support the demands of their busy lives. When we first switched to a whole-foods diet years ago, my daughter was not yet 3 years old and, trust me, she had very little familiarity with fresh vegetables or whole foods. Introducing steamed and raw vegetables to her was challenging and, at first, she was not a willing participant in my healthy-eating experiment. I explained to her that we, as a family, got sick too often and that we were going to feel better by changing the way we ate. She didn’t love the flavors of her foods at first, but she saw that Daddy and I were eating those different foods and that we, too, were learning to enjoy them. As we all tried new things, we realized that fresh foods, properly prepared, tasted good. I told her that, from that moment on, we only would eat foods that were “delicious and nutritious”…and she got a little excited about the prospect. She’s an adult now, living on her own, and – I must say – is a really good eater. She eats all vegetables eagerly and is not shy about trying them prepared in different ways. She prepares her own meals and has become particularly adept at making her dishes appealing in presentation, aroma and flavor. OK, so she’s not the biggest fan of the parsnip or the rutabaga…but she eats them and recognizes that they are providing her body with energy to do all of the fun things she wants to do each day.