Charm Your Kids into Eating Veggies

Angela Braden has researched and reported on wellness and lifestyle for a decade. She has been published hundreds of times in national and international magazines. Angela serves as a speaker for Alive! Expo (health convention) and as the Editor and Founder of web magazine, where you’ll find more indulgent health tips and articles updated monthly.

Charm Your Kids into Eating Veggies
So Parents, you’ve seen the light—eating healthy really does make a difference! Our children’s mood, growth, susceptibility to illness and disease, and even intelligence are affected by nutrients, blood sugar balance, and chemicals in food. You’re also savvy enough to know that just because the box is brown and says, “all-natural” it is not necessarily healthy. (“Natural” has no legal meaning. The FDA has no definition of the term natural. This means that companies can put a ‘natural’ label on almost any product.) Eureka—that means fresh vegetables are in order, and lots of them! (Fruit is important too, but that’s easier.)

What to do if your kids don’t immediately share your enthusiasm for whole, unprocessed broccoli and kale? Don’t despair, and most importantly don’t over control; “it’s important to go slow,” says Dr. William Sears and remember that food is more than just nourishment. “There are habits, cravings and emotions attached to food,” he adds. Pediatric experts agree: food should be fun, not controlled. In Dr. Sears’ NDD book: he says nutritional studies have shown children of parents who try to control what their children eat with lots of unrealistic limitations tend to choose more unhealthy foods. The last thing you want is to turn mealtime into a battleground that your kids will rebel against as soon as they are not under your thumb. So what’s a parent to do? In a word: manipulate!

Yes, there is a great deal of research on how to psychologically influence kids to consume in desired ways (more water, fewer sugary snacks please!) Here’s a summary of the best tricks . . . I mean, keys from the experts - especially the ones that work like a charm with my 3-year-old.

Portion Magic
As the first course, when kids are hungriest, put a pile of lightly steamed veggies in front of them. Read: large portions. Double what you think is a reasonable kid portion. Don’t be afraid to drizzle with organic butter or olive oil to taste. Definitely babble on about how yummy, warm, crunchy, etc. those veggies are and how you yourself can’t wait to eat them. Studies have shown for years that we eat proportionately more food when served larger portions and kids are no different, according to Brian Wanskink, PhD He gives his daughter 20 ounces of water when she’s thirsty (juice is not offered). “She may drink eight or nine ounces from this cup compared to four or five if we poured her drink in a smaller cup,” he explains. She feels in control while Dad gets the satisfaction of getting more pure water in her – sans nagging. Apply the same strategy in reverse to things you don’t want your kids to have much of, without making it an issue: serve the mac ‘n cheese in a small bowl (second course - after they’ve eaten all the veggies they want) and the juice or soda (if you must) in plastic Champaign flutes. This gives the illusion of much more then 4 ounces. If you’ve got a raging soda or sugary-bev-addicted child, this trick is your salvation, along with watering it down gradually, increasing the water over time (wink wink).

Serve to Dazzle
The best way to inspire change is to personally make the change and enthusiastically be a model of the eating habits you want your kids to embrace, even if it requires a bit of embellishment. “Those who grow up with healthy parental modeling tend to follow their parents’ eating habits,” says Dr. Sears. My best trick is to make sure my son sees me heartily enjoying vegetables every chance I get. I oooh and ah over spinach and cabbage like they were the finest gourmet goodies I’ve ever been lucky enough to encounter.

Role Model Mom and Dad
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Rules of Engagement
Forcing the child to finish a food or standing over his shoulder demanding and controlling are out. But rules/guidelines are still appropriate at the dinner table. Transition slowly away from less-healthful foods that kids are used to, to lessen resistance. Add some of the old in with the new (i.e. brown and white rice) or something they like with something new (i.e. organic cheese with the brussel sprouts) to avoid a fight. But, after a genuine effort is made to present food they will like, set guidelines that work for your family. Here are some suggestions that encourage healthy eating habits (and preserve your sanity) without risking negative emotions associated with food (like over-controlling can):
  • “This is what we are eating for dinner. Here are your options.” Children choose from the healthy choices you provide—no ordering off the menu.
  • “You don’t have to eat, but you do have to sit at the dinner table and ‘hang with the fam’ for a little while”. *Parents job is to put good, healthy food in front of child, and keep doing it meal after meal. Keep the faith – they will eventually eat it.
  • “If you eat well (or eat your veggies), you may have dessert.” Dessert, being decorated fruit, of course! And the occasional healthy dessert [] made from whole grains and natural sugars, like honey and molasses.
Involve your child and find what they like within the vast array of healthy foods. Try introducing an exciting new vegetable once a week while keeping the ones they willingly eat as staples. Add carrots, peas, or broccoli to a favorite casserole or pasta dish (whole grain) and sneak pureed carrots, sweet potatoes, and apples into cupcakes and cookies for special occasions and holidays. Have the kids choose vegetables at the grocery store and build excitement and anticipation all the way home about how “Bobby’s beets” will taste roasted and sprinkled with goat cheese. Get the little ones involved in food prep so they feel more invested in the meal and more appreciative of the food. In other words, give your kids more control . . . or at least make it look that way.

Stay well,


*Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer

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