Tips to Get Your Child Hooked on Green Vegetables
March is a time where everyone starts thinking green. Whether it’s because of St. Patrick’s Day or the spring blooms starting to pop up, we have green on our minds. March is also National Nutrition Month, so it’s a perfect time to monitor your child’s intake of green fruits & vegetables.
As adults, we all know the power of fruits and vegetables. They help us stay healthy and give us vital nutrients. But when our children are throwing broccoli back at us at the dinner table it’s often hard to stay consistent and get them to eat what is on their plate. Before we go any further, let me reassure all parents, the struggles you are encountering with getting your child to eat their greens isn’t an exclusive problem in your family. In fact, children being picky eaters is almost a rite of passage into adulthood. Relax, most children who go through an extremely picky eating stage grow out of it.
The good news is, it isn’t impossible to get your children on the right track. With just a few consistent routines your children will be adding more color back on their plate.
Start by setting a good example. No, I don’t expect you to start eating every fruit and vegetable, but if your child hears you say something like “No, Mommy doesn’t like peas,” or “Daddy only eats orange fruits,” then he/she is going to catch on really quick that it’s OK to only include certain things at meal time. Keep an open mind, try foods you don’t normally eat in order to encourage your children to do the same. It’s also important not to assume that they are automatically going to dislike one of these fruits and vegetables. You may be surprised!
If they decide it isn’t their favorite, you can also try asking your children to just take one bite, or take as many bites as their age. Reward their behavior when they do try it.
Ask your children to help pick out the fruits and vegetables in order to get them on board with eating them. Then keep an eye on whether they eat the ones that they picked out. For instance, if they pick broccoli, but then say no once you serve it, perhaps they just don’t like the way it is served. Maybe you boiled it, and they think it’s mushy. Try roasting, steaming or eating it raw to see if your child responds differently.
Keep the plate interesting. We all eat with our eyes, so a colorful plate will help. Adults like to eat with their foods grouped together, but children might be more apt to spread theirs out on the plate. Putting broccoli together to form a tree might inspire your child to eat it, or spreading out kiwi into little circles on the border of the plate could encourage your child to make his/her way around to eating everything. Not much of an artist? There are clever ideas posted on blogs and sites like Pinterest which are easy to copy, including some, which you can view on Carolina Parent’s Recipes and Kid-Approved Snacks board on Pinterest.
A main point I’d like to make is that this is not the time to force your child to finish all of the food on his/her plate. Yes, fruits and vegetables are healthy, but if you force your child to eat everything on the plate, you run the risk of setting your child up for bad behavior with food. This could lead to problems with food later in life, whether it is an eating disorder, or obesity. Mealtime should be a chance for your whole family to sit together and enjoy family time. It’s often not the best time for your child’s attention span for you to launch into a large nutrition debate.
The overall message I would love parents to take away is that eating these fruits and vegetables with your children will get them on the path to a healthy life. It’s easy to start during a time where a holiday or theme helps you convince them to do it. So start with St. Patrick’s Day, and show your children that green is good.
– Written by Dr. Wendy Anderson-Willis, Pediatrician, Nationwide Children’s Hospital