Someone asked me why I thought my children love vegetables so much, here are the reasons why.
Jaxson, my 5-year-old, and Tristan, my 2-year-old, love fruits and vegetables. They literally would choose raw fruits and vegetables over most offerings (although Jaxson loves, chocolate and cupcakes probably just as much). However, my older two boys are a little more reluctant about choosing fruits and vegetables first. Someone asked the other day why I thought that was. The past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about the answer to this question and my journey feeding my family over the years. The following six tips are what I have come up with as things I have inadvertently done to promote a love of raw vegetables and fresh fruits in my children. These six tips are based on the changes I have made in my relationship to food as well as how the way I serve food to my family has evolved over the years.
Make Their Vegetables Look Pretty
Before I had a blog, I was organically sharing my meal planning and my meals on Facebook, and I went out and bought different plates so that my pictures would look better and more uniform. I also started plating my food for the pictures. Inadvertently that action created a lasting effect on my family. The kids loved the plating. I noticed that the boys were more likely to try a new food if it looked pretty. So I started testing it out and lo and behold it worked consistently with getting them to try new things, eat their vegetables, and just enjoy meal time overall.
Serve Smaller Portions
Another thing that I learned a few years back, was to stop serving my littles large portions. This may seem intuitive to some, but for me, I thought that as long as the portions were less than our adult-sized portions then they were appropriate. Then I found this blog from a nutritionist with small children and realized my approach was not encouraging my children to eat their vegetables. Overwhelming portions were doing the opposite. So I started serving really small portions (think the size of a toddler’s palm) and then allowing them to ask for more. Not only did this increase the likelihood they would eat their vegetables but it allowed them to be in control of their dining experience by tuning into their bodies rather than seeing portions sizes they thought they were “supposed” to eat.
Allow Them To Graze
Allowing my children to have repeated exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the day, by offering them vegetables as snacks, and also leaving fruits and vegetables in plain sight so they have the opportunity to graze or snack on them throughout the day, has contributed to their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables immensely. How many times have you looked at a menu in a restaurant, ordered your food, and then saw a delicious plate go by, and then immediately re-think your decision? I do this all the time. There is something about visually seeing food that makes your mind desire it. Simply creating easy access by leaving out a vegetable charcuterie board or having pre-cut vegetable bins in your fridge for easy access will help create desire.
Model Healthy Eating Choices
Every single time I have food in my hand, my children ask for a bite. I know there are a lot of parents who can relate to this. We have all seen those funny videos where someone crinkles a wrapper in the kitchen and a toddler comes running from the living room. The same psychology applies here. Your children want to eat the things that they see you eating consistently. Of course, this is not a hard rule, some of the time individual tastes are just different. However, modeling eating fresh fruits and raw veggies is worth a try. The more my children see me casually eating vegetables, the more they have gravitated to them.
Do Not Overcook Vegetables
Overcooking vegetables makes them lose some nutrients but also changes the taste and texture of the vegetables. I have found that once my children have teeth, leaving vegetables crisp by slightly cooking, blanching, or leaving them raw helps to create an environment of enjoying the true taste of fruits and vegetables. If there is a vegetable my children do not necessarily enjoy, I like to add a little salt and pepper to the raw vegetable instead of making them mushy. Also, I find it helpful to offer a light dip (balsamic vinegar or light ranch are our favorites) to accompany the vegetables.
Pay Attention To Food Sensitivity
Sometimes children stay away from foods because of the way they make them feel after eating them. Most small children do not have the language to describe that a particular food makes them feel sluggish or bloated. However, they can experience these feelings just the same. So help your child describe their feelings if they are avoiding a portion of food and watch for signs of allergies or food sensitivity if they avoid the food adamantly. One of my best friends in college was allergic to lettuce, something that until that time I always thought was a neutral food. Sometimes kids are just being kids and do not like the taste, rediscovery of the foods should be encouraged so they can have the opportunity for their tastebuds to adjust, but watch closely for signs and symptoms of sensitivity. Believe it or not, our instincts tell us very early if our body is sensitive to certain foods. Sometimes cultural exposure and programming make us keep eating those foods even though they make us feel bad. We do not want to create that cycle with our children.
After thinking about this topic all week, these six suggestions have helped encourage the love of vegetables in my younger children. I want to iterate that I am not a nutritionist or medical professional, so I always suggest speaking with your pediatrician for guidance. However, these six tips are anecdotal evidence based on my experience as a mom of six.