I’ve seen it over and over again. Parents, baby sitters, cafeteria directors, or after school staff trying to figure out how to get their kids to eat vegetables. Too often it seems like a battle. “If you eat your carrots, you can have a dessert” or “You can’t leave the table until you finish all the beans on your plate.”
Helping kids learn to love vegetables has been part of every job description I’ve ever had. Becoming a vegetable whisperer isn’t as hard as most people think. It does, however, take time and strategy. Children often dislike new foods the first time they taste them but will change their preferences with multiple exposures. Your efforts, in other words, will pay off! I’ve listed some tricks of trade below for you to try out at home or school:
Provide healthy choices: Too often we are given a choice between something healthy and something unhealthy – salad or fries, for example. We like having options and know which choice we should make, but it’s often different from the one we want to make, causing us to feel guilty and conflicted. Providing choices allows your child to feel empowered, so why not allow her to chose which vegetables she eats? In making a selection, she decides which vegetable she thinks she likes the most. Seeing that vegetable in a positive and empowerd light will make it much more likely that she will enjoy her selection.
Taste testing: Better yet, she can take some of both veggie options to taste test, and then have seconds of the one she likes the most. Taste testing very similar items such as peaches and nectarines, or different colors of the same vegetable, helps children take a full serving of produce. I have a student who takes only two carrot sticks when orange carrots are offered. He takes two sticks of each color (eight in total) when white, yellow, purple, and orange carrots are offered.
Student-grown: Anyone who has worked with students in a school garden will tell you: kids are more likely to try new veggies and love familiar vegetables when they grow that produce themselves. Having ownership over the plant’s entire life cycle has a logical result: wanting to have ownership over the eating of that plant!
Cooking together: Helping with meal or snack preparation can have similar results. When we cook with ingredients, we strengthen our relationship with them. Their smell, texture, and color becomes familiar. We’re naturally inclined to attempt (or even pretend) to like things we cook – if we put all that work into it, it better taste good!
Experiment with raw vs. blanched veggies: My students prefer blanched (or steamed) green beans over raw green beans, but prefer fresh carrots over blanched ones. When blanching vegetables, I make sure to cook them very lightly – just enough for the color to deepen, but not so much that the vegetable becomes soft or mushy. Some vegetables taste better cooked, and some taste better raw. Do taste tests with your kids to learn their preferences, and then serve them what they like! Try blanching broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, or pea pods.
“But it’s hard!”: Offering choices and increasing student involvement takes time, energy, and money. Families and school districts struggling to provide healthy eating options rarely have time, energy or money to spare. School gardens, back yard gardens, and partnerships with local farms can make a huge difference. I’ve never found rainbow carrots in a grocery store. Growing multicolor produce, however, makes a school garden more fun without adding any expense. Community members can be a great resource, and may be willing to help garden or cook with students. In the end, each of these partnerships and projects help bring neighbors together to grow stronger as a whole community. Celebrate each small victory, and enjoy plenty of delicious vegetables along the way!