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How to Get your Kids to Eat their Vegetables

by: posted Thursday, December 1, 2011
Category: Nutrition & Food

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It’s time to talk about that age-old parenting question:  How do you get your kids to eat their vegetables?  Having read all the horror stories about stubborn, veggie-hating children, I decided on pre-emptive strikes by giving Maia the green stuff as soon as she was weaned off of breast milk. Her earliest encounters with solid foods included finely chopped spinach leaves boiled with rice, and served like a watery porridge.

As soon as she learned to use her hands to feed herself, I filled her plate with tiny broccoli florets that I boiled until they were soft enough for baby teeth to chew. Once she got the hang of munching on broccoli, I mixed in a few pieces of cauliflower. From there, I slowly introduced her to a wide variety of vegetables that she could pick up with her fingers. Sticks of cucumber and daikon (Japanese radish), boiled stalks of bokchoy, green beans, snow peas and asparagus.

I rarely served her anything that did not include vegetables. Finely chopped leafy greens were added to meat dishes and pasta sauces. Vegetable cream soups were mainstays on the menu. Maia was so perfectly happy eating her vegetables that I was convinced I would be spared the agony all other parents, begging their children to eat the vegetables on their plate as they doggedly refused.

Unfortunately, getting Maia to eat her carrots was one parenting test I was not allowed to skip. All of a sudden, Maia stopped picking up the carrot sticks. She refused to open her mouth to a spoonful of soup with diced carrots. She spit out the bits of carrot I hid under small amounts of rice.

Where did I go wrong?

When Maia turned away from a spoonful of carrot cream soup, all confidence I had in my parenting skills evaporated. Still, it was the first few years of parenting. I was young and full of energy. I rolled up my sleeves, and prepared to do battle. Having promised myself never to force vegetables on Maia, I decided that coercion was out of the question, but trickery was not. And I had quite a few tricks up my rolled up sleeves.

Instead of adding diced carrots to soup, I mixed in very finely minced carrots to tomato sauces Maia enjoyed with her pasta. I banished plain white rice from the menu and replaced it with chicken-soup-flavored rice that had tiny specks of orange. I learned to bake orange-colored cakes. I found means and ways of disguising the carrot, and Maia was back to enjoying the orange stuff.

As Maia grew older, not only did she eat her vegetables, including the dreaded carrot, without my prodding, whenever we were in a new country, she willingly tried unfamiliar vegetables such as the Swiss chard we found in the vegetable stands of Vienna’s Naschmarkt, and the winged bean sold in Bangkok’s open markets.

Vegetables, raw and cooked, were such a huge part of her diet that when she failed to find any of the entrees in her college dining hall remotely appetizing , she happily survived on offerings from the salad bar, and apples and bananas that were always plentiful.

With Maia finally in college making her own healthy eating choices, I heaved a huge sigh of relief, thanked my lucky stars, and gave myself a huge pat on the back. I was able to parent without ever yelling at a kid to eat their vegetables. It never occurred to me that when I became the Elementary School “Cafeteria Lady” at International School Bangkok (ISB), it would be my job to convince other people’s children to eat their veggies!

Unlike all the international schools Maia attended as an elementary student, lunch was provided to all of ISB’s youngest students. Not only was there a choice of several hot dishes, there was also a salad bar from which the children could serve themselves.

While there were many children who heaped their plates with nothing but mashed potatoes and spaghetti with tomato sauce, there were also children who frequented the salad bar with much delight. Everyone knew that vegetables were good for you, and that healthy eating meant eating your vegetables.

To further encourage trips to the salad bar, I got into the habit of giving a high five to any child who came to show me a salad bowl full of vegetables. I had no doubt that these children understood the meaning of healthy eating until a first grader came to show me a bowl filled with red cherry tomatoes. I suggested that he add some broccoli, but he refused saying that he only liked tomatoes. I was about to lecture him on broccoli being packed with vitamins, but it suddenly occurred to me that tomatoes were, too. And before I could utter another word, he claimed his high five and went off to join his friends.

So, how was I going to make this young boy, and many others like him, understand that healthy eating meant more than filling your salad bowl with one favorite vegetable? How could I make these children see that healthy eating was all about having a balanced diet that included a variety of vegetables and other foods, like whole grains and protein? Even after all those years of being Maia’s mom, I was stumped for an answer.

I went back to parenting books, and surfed the Internet for clues. All of the information came with pictures of vegetables in vivid colors, and they reminded me of a rainbow.  I’d found the answer I was looking for!

The next day, I introduced the first graders to “rainbow eating” by showing them a salad bowl filled with vegetables of all colors, from ruby red cherry tomatoes and green broccoli florets, to bright orange carrots and chunks of pumpkin. And sure enough, right after seeing my colorful salad, kids started walking away from the salad bar with more than one vegetable on their plates.

And the boy who only liked tomatoes? Well, he made a good effort at balanced eating.  One lunch, he came to show me his bowl filled – as usual – with tomatoes, but this time also with one lone broccoli floret. It was a good start.

FULL SOURCE: communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/east-meets-west-parenting/2011/nov/18/how-get-your-kids-eat-their-vegetables/