Friday, March 20, 2009

Eat Your Veggies

Kids will eat their veggies when prepared properly, offered regularly, and abundantly set in a great colorful variety.

Children will go through a fussy phase. Sometimes it starts when they see another child (older sibling, friend, cousin, classmate) give the puke face to a certain food. But other times it seems to just come out of nowhere. This is to be expected. We have to remember that children have a a much finer palate than we do as adults. They have twice as many taste buds (or taste bugs, as we call them in our family) so sour tastes sourer and sweet that much sweeter. When you think about it, this evolution in our bodies makes sense. As children, a new plant that might cause severe stomach cramps in an adult could kill a child.

We're told to introduce them as infants to veggies first so they don't get a taste for sweet first, but that is not really true. After all, their first food, breastmilk, is very sweet. It is supposed to be like that. So don't despair if you offered your child fruits before vegetables as an infant. It's never too late. You can (and I feel must) teach your child good eating habits as early as possible but it is never too late.

Children are instinctively curious. If they see you enjoying something, they will enjoy it too. So the first and best way to get veggies into your child is to enjoy and eat them regularly in front of your child. They learn by example.

Kids will often be more apt to try something that they chose. Have them shop for something in your refrigerator or with you online or in the grocery store or farmer's market. Have them help prepare it with you. "I did it!" can help instill a sense of pride in their food; with rave reviews on their cooking, they may willingly give it go.

Some kids grow out of their finicky phase gracefully, but some may never grow out of it so don't wait for it to just happen. We need to insist that they try new foods and we have to try new foods too. Be patient, extremely patient for your must stubborn child, and absolutely lovingly yet firmly insist they must try it. Be prepared. They will make gagging noises, cry, scream, threaten, even all out puke, oh gosh, I've been through it myself too. Just be calm, and be ready to sit there for a half an hour if need be, until they take a bite. It starts small but eventually they will start eating their vegetables and actually enjoy them! Your patience and persistence will impact their future so take a deep breath and do it now, no matter their age.

The day they ASK for a certain vegetable will be a gracious reward for all those painful hours that you will finally be able to look back upon and laugh.

How to get your kids to eat their veggies:
  1. set a good example
  2. offer a colorful variety
  3. offer vegetables at (virtually) every meal and for snacks
  4. let your child choose what to try
  5. cook with your kids
  6. prepare them deliciously - do not overcook
  7. put it on their plate, at least one tiny piece to start
  8. be patient, insist that they take a bite, you have all night
  9. next step is to insist they take at least three bites
  10. offer it again at another meal maybe prepared differently. Insist that they try a new food at least ten times before they express their displeasure (this is ten times over weeks or months, not all in one day.)
It may not be easy. It may be close to impossible. I promise, they will not starve. Eventually they will see that you mean business and they will take a bite without any fuss. But they are clever and know how to push your buttons and they will try and avoid it. Stand your ground. You are doing the right thing. Have them try the new vegetable first or after two bites of another food that they like on the plate but don't wait until the end of the meal. Be patient. Be persistent. It is worth this aggravation.

Roasting vegetables is such a simple and delicious way to prepare vegetables.

Here I have some yellow cauliflower and asparagus.

Just put in a pan, don't crowd it, drizzle on olive oil, sprinkle on some sea salt, and roast in a preheated 425F oven until it begins to caramelize and brown and until tender, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending upon what you're roasting and how thick it is.

Roasting with oil and salt intensifies the sweet flavors and, as you can see, the colors, of the vegetable.

Any vegetable can be prepared this way: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, leafy greens, really any vegetable, give it a try!

I sometimes sprinkle on some dry spices, like the curry powder I added to the green beans, before tossing it with the olive oil. I think it's important that children try a variety of flavors from spicy to sweet, all within reason of course, and I ask them to try it and give their review (while certain words like gross, disgusting, foul, are off-limits) of that food empowering them in their decision. Yet, they know they will have to try it again one day too. We've talked about how their taste bugs change as they grow up.

Other ways to get veggies into the kids:
  • have them available in the fridge: have cleaned carrot and celery sticks in the fridge ready for dipping in a nut butter or ranch dip
  • add veggies (even pureed) to breakfast frittatas (we love spinach basil pesto and even my fussiest pickiest worst vegetable eater now loves it! Believe me, I have one and I DO understand. See most post on greens for the recipe.)
  • You can add a kale leaf to the breakfast smoothie and they won't even notice. If you add 2 (remove the tough stalk) then it will take on an enticing pale green color.
  • Juice with your kids! Kale and Apple are a great combo - have them do a blind taste test at first or use a shot glass to have them gobble it quickly until they realize, hey, this is delicious (because it tastes like sweet apple juice - only it's green! I've even said how they can freak out their friends with their green food the next time they're over.)
  • Use veggies to decorate the plate - better yet, have your child do that. Use carrots as legs of animals, make a face with different vegetables.
  • Add pureed greens to soups, stews, even baked goods if you want. Add pureed cauliflower to mashed potatoes. Add pureed butternut squash to macaroni and cheese. Make a sauce from pureed veggies. Add pureed veggies to your egg base before making chicken fingers or fish sticks. Add pureed leafy greens to pasta sauce. Casseroles and stews can hide a multitude of healthy veggies. Add tomato paste to ground beef for tacos or meatloaf. Offer a selection of veggies for homemade pizza.
  • Get some dried veggies and have fun sampling those.
  • Kids may actually eat FROZEN peas cold as a fun treat. (btw, frozen grapes are fun too!)
  • Top with melted cheese - melted cheese makes everything delicious.
  • Add crunchy bits of bacon - everything is better with bacon.
  • Cook in a tablespoon of butter, olive oil, or coconut oil.
  • Teach good nutrition lessons so they know why vegetables are so important. Explain how many we should eat and why. They will eventually hear you and understand it better.
  • Play like an animal and have fun eating leaves like a giraffe or a baboon and act them out.
  • Include fruits and vegetables in their lunch box.
  • Eat dinner as a family, have a good selection of fresh vegetables available, set a good example by eating and enjoying your vegetables yourself.
Instilling healthy eating habits that last a lifetime, teaching and setting a good example, the rewards for this patient lesson (even when you're ready to pull your hair out and give up) is the best thing we can do for their good health and future.

I am a Food RENEGADE!This is part of Food Renegade's FIGHT BACK FRIDAYS where people who are fighting back against the dominate food culture blog about our adventures in real food including:
  • updates & stories about our Real Food journey,
  • tips,
  • recipes,
  • anything we think others might find useful, helpful, encouraging, or inspiring.


  1. so true true true. the first time my son tried chickpeas he puked in his bowl, no lie. Now he looovveesss hummus and will eat my chickpea chili. kids are so funny.I loved all these veggie tips- we just had asparagus this weekend too, so funny...

  2. Great post - thanks for writing it :)


  3. thanks for the great post. my son has been in the super fussy stage for the past 2 years, i'm at my wits end with him. i have to totally improvise about i give him, and it's still a major challenge.
    Saucy Salsita, AKA The Green, Sexy Expat - Guide to Green Living!

  4. This is an interesting post. As a professional who works with children with feeding issues, I think you commented on many important and wonderful tips: Keeping food fun, trying something 10 times and being patient.

    One thing I would add- some children are picky eaters not from a behavioural stand-point, but from an oral-motor perspective. I see many children who have a history of GERD, stomach related issues, or early "trauma" related to eating (and yes- I mean scraping that spoon across the infants mouth, forcing food down as they cry- research shows that children are conditioned to fear food).
    It is important for parents to recognize where and why their children are refusing certain foods. Do they have issues with bowel movements? A history of GERD as an infant? A history of choking, gagging or vomiting due to sensory issues or difficulties managing foods with their tongue/lips/cheeks? All these issues often condition an automatic, fear response in children, causing adrenaline to increase and food/hunger signals to decrease. As a result they are honestly NOT hungry. And yes they CAN lose weight and "starve".

    I do think you have an amazing blog and it's nice to see an honest, patient perspective to help children eat more healthy. :)

  5. hola again, thanks for coming by. I've actually moved my blog from saucy salsita, to The Travel Expert(a) and an Expat with a Twist
    hope to see you there!!!!!

  6. Very true! Just sometimes it takes a little extra effort. Thanks for the excellent post.


  7. Thanks for your insight on getting children to eat healthy choices. As a daycare provider I constantly see children who have very bad eating habits and I can't help thinking that the parents are mostly to blame. Children will eat veggies etc. if they are offered them again and again. I have had children you have never eaten fruit until coming to my home. They would freak out over a piece of banana, a grape or a piece of orange. But, gradually, after being offered it over and over again, they have learned to like it. I find that the kids that have the hardest time learning to eat well have parents who have a poor attitude toward eating fruits and veggies as well, and so I feel the children pick up on it. I also have some children who are wonderful little eaters and are willing to try anything and I can assure you that these parents also have good and healthy eating habits. It can sometimes be frustrating preparing meals for children, especially, new children just starting daycare, but usually they soon adjust to eating what I offer and we're all happy. I send home a written list everyday so parents know what their child had for snack and lunch and if I had a dollar for every time a parent said to me "my child ate that!" I could retire.

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  9. Hi, I want to share this great cookbook that I found on this website for cooking green with your kids:

    your recipes sounded delish, I'd love to try them out with my daughter

  10. The picture with the kids is hilarious, thanks for the article : )

    Workshop Taarten Maken & Workshop Chocolade Maken


thanks for your comments! If you submitted a question or position on one of the points, I'll do my best to research that and respond promptly. Thank you for your part in creating a healthier world for us all.