18 Creative Ways To Get Your Family To Eat More Veggies
Wouldn't it be amazing if we could invent a magical pill that could make children eat all their vegetables, clear their plates after dinner, never wake their parents in the mornings, and only ask for ice cream and cookies on Saturdays? How easy life would be for us. Well, we don't have that pill yet. But what we have instead is this list. Here we have gathered all our thoughts, tips, and methods on how to get your little (and big) ones to try new flavors and eat more greens:
This obviously won't help anyone with older children, but if you have a baby, try to give him or her proper food (when they start on solid food). Focus on a variety of vegetables, whole grains (cooked and puréed), and not too much sweet food too early. You'll make it easier for yourself later on.
Crank up the heat.
Roasting vegetables and roots on high heat in the oven gives them a char, a sweet caramelization, and that crunchy-on-the-outside-but-soft-in-the-middle texture that many children like.
Veggie-boost food that you know they like.
Blend spinach or carrots and add to pancakes; mix quinoa into burger patties, or sneak lentils into their favorite pasta sauce.
Divide and conquer!
Instead of putting a big salad or a mixed vegetable pasta on the table, try a tapas approach using the same ingredients. A lot of children like to eat one thing at a time. Divide the foods into separate bowls and watch your children conquer new ingredients that they never would have tried if they were mixed into a salad.
Most vegetables don't carry fat, so by combining them with cheese, olive oil, nuts, etc., they taste better and become more comforting, flavorful, and filling. Grate a little cheese over asparagus, add an extra glug of olive oil to a soup, mix nut butter into a green smoothie.
Top with cinnamon.
Spices can be tricky around many (Western) kids, but one spice that often works is cinnamon. It has a friendly, sweet taste that can be paired with lots of vegetables to improve the flavor of the dish and make the vegetable flavors less prominent. Try sprinkling it over a tray of roasted cauliflower, on kale chips, or in a sweet potato curry.
Vegetables are natural coloring agents. Use them to make food more playful and fun! Bread, pancakes, soups, dumplings, and spreads can all be tinted beetroot (beet) pink, spinach green, tomato red, and carrot orange.
Mix it up.
Many children are doubtful about chunky textures, so a smooth sauce or soup is often more welcome. A hand-=held blender is your best friend for this. It's also a great tool for mixing/hiding extra vegetables in simple sauces and soups.
Pick your fights.
This has nothing to do with cooking, but if you focus on having a positive vibe around the table, it is usually a lot easier to get kids to try new foods. When they are already tired and cranky, new food will just be another reason to fight. We sometimes let our kids eat under the table, inside the pantry, or with their hands instead of a knife and fork if that means that they are giving new food a chance. Arguably, they aren't great at table manners, but we'd rather have them eating well than knowing how to hold a fork properly.
Smoothies are great for hiding vegetables. There are plenty of things you can add to them—look for packs of frozen spinach, broccoli, courgettes (zucchini), and cauliflower in the supermarket. Most of them are already steamed or precooked and can therefore go straight into smoothies. Beetroots (beets) and carrots can be grated into smoothies raw, and avocados can be used to get a lovely thick texture. You can even add cooked white beans to smoothies; their flavor and texture will be disguised by the sweetness from the fruit
For some reason, most children don't like it when one food touches another food on their plate. So serving their food on plates with separate compartments is a way to give them a variety of food and then let them eat it the way they feel comfortable with.
Same but different.
If your child doesn't like a specific vegetable, try a different cooking technique, chop it differently, or add it to a soup. Vegetables are like chameleons and can change a lot depending on how they're cooked. Boiled broccoli can be rather bland to chew on, but roasted has an entirely different texture and flavor.
Kids often come asking for food 30 minutes before dinner is ready. Instead of giving them a sandwich or treat, this is an excellent opportunity to put a tray of raw vegetable sticks on the table. When they are hungry, they are more likely to give new vegetables a try, and because vegetable sticks are not very filling, they will still have room left for dinner.
First chief planner.
Let the children help with planning the weekly dinners. When they are invested, the chances are higher that they will also eat the food. Set some basic rules for the dinner schedule. For example, soup one day, pasta one day, pancake one day, etc., and then let them decide the type of pasta, sauce, soup, etc. Talk about colors and what's in season, and steer them surreptitiously to make sure that you get a variety each week.
How was it?
Letting children taste the food while it's cooking is a simple trick, but asking for their opinion actually helps. Let them know what they should be looking for: Does it need more salt? Should we add a little sweetness? Do you want to squeeze some lemon into it? Maybe we could mix this sauce smoother? It will teach them to formulate more helpful opinions/feedback than just the common "I don't like it."
The naked carrot.
This is one of our favorite little tricks. It is ridiculously simple, but it has increased our carrot intake by 500 percent. Buy the largest pack of carrots you can find and peel them all in one go (preferably in front of Netflix if you get bored easily). Then put them in a large bowl or jar, covered in water, and place in the refrigerator. Now the kids can help themselves whenever they ask for something to chew on. Having naked carrots ready to just put on the table when the kids are home from school makes all the difference. And the water helps keep them fresh and prevents them from drying out.
It's not poison.
Being hesitant about new food is actually a survival instinct. So it's not an all-bad thing. Think of it as though your kid is unconsciously trying to make sure that you are not poisoning them. Be a good example and show them how good it tastes by sitting down and eating it yourself. If you or your partner won't eat the food, your child surely won't either. Also, keep putting it there, and after a while it won't be as scary anymore.
Play the long game.
One mantra that we believe in fully is to not be too shortsighted in your cooking endeavors. Your child doesn't have to eat everything on the table. Simply placing beans and salad and sauerkraut on the dinner table has an important function that many parents don't even reflect on. It educates your children and shows them what it is and how it is served and eaten. And eventually they will also know how it tastes. But if you stop serving them food they don't like, they definitely won't know what it is, and you take away the opportunity for them to say yes to it one day. It might seem like a thankless task, but it can also be a comforting thought if not all the bowls were licked. At least you are widening their perspective on food.
Caroline Muggia has a B.A. in Environmental Studies & Psychology from Middlebury College. She received her E-RYT with Yoga Works and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. A writer and environmental advocate, she is passionate about helping people live healthier and more sustainable lives. You can usually find her drinking matcha or spending time by the ocean.