Updated: Feb 13, 2020
Kids, from toddlers to teenagers, are influenced the most by their parents. They will learn by your actions, examples and attitudes. If they see their parents enjoying vegetables, they will take in this example and be influenced by it, even if they don't eat their vegetables right there and then that night at the dinner table. TV advertisers, friends and others also influence our children, but there are ways you can counteract that and instill a love of healthy food in your kids. Below are some easy and fun ways to help your children along in their lifelong journey to enjoying a variety of healthy food.
Vegetables are sweet and come in a rainbow of colors, as seen in the salad below from our farm. These are characteristics that most kids naturally enjoy!
Connect to their Favorite Characters
Manufacturers of snack foods and sugary cereals have used this technique for decades, because it works. They spend thousands of dollars creating advertisements for their foods that feature popular characters from childrens’ movies and shows. Fortunately, it is easy to duplicate their strategies at little to no cost, and parents have much more time spent with and influence on their children than the advertisements. For example, if your child likes the movie Frozen, put their vegetables on a plate with Frozen characters, or use cut carrots of different colors to create a picture of Olaf.
You can associate healthy food with your child’s favorite characters, just like the junk food advertisers do. (picture of Elsa frozen cereal)
This tip works especially well with tweens and teens who are yearning to express their independence. As a high school science teacher, I am constantly reminded by my principal to provide students with choices to motivate them to participate in learning activities. I have found her advice to work well in that I get more high quality essays and lab reports handed in from my students when they have more choice in which topic to write about. You can help your kids learn to like vegetables by giving them a choice of two vegetables to eat at each meal. Keep it simple for yourself and make at least one of the vegetable options something that takes little to no preparation, such as whole raw cherry tomatoes or whole raw sugar snap peas. Tell your child that they have to choose and eat just one of the vegetable options. Joining a CSA or shopping at your local farmers market can help you to provide even more choices by exposing you and your kids to vegetable varieties you might not have had before. Small local farms typically have a greater option of varieties than the standard vegetables from the grocery store. Here is a link to where you can learn about where to buy vegetables from our farm.
Check out these gorgeous and colorful peppers from our farm. Cutting them into strips and serving them with dip makes an easy and convenient snack or vegetable side dish to serve to your kids.
Think Sweet and Salty
Younger children tend to prefer sweet foods, while older children tend to prefer salty foods. Observe what your child likes to eat, and provide vegetable options that are similar. If your child likes sweet foods, the natural sweetness of vegetables such as winter squash, carrots, beets and parsnips can be enhanced by cooking them with a small amount of honey or maple syrup. It’s amazing how little of these natural sweeteners it takes to make these vegetables taste like a sweet treat, and the natural sweeteners come with important nutrients. Kale chips can be a great salty snack for kids that prefer salty food, or cut up some cucumbers and sprinkle with a small pinch of salt for a super quick and easy vegetable snack. Manufacturers of cereals and crackers use salt and sugar to get kids to love eating their nutritionally deprived products, so why not use a small amount of sugar or salt to help your kids to learn to like healthy foods?
It's easy to cut up cucumbers, sprinkle them with a little salt, and offer them to your kids for a snack or veggie side dish. Pictured are the Katrina cucumbers from our farm, an extra sweet, thin-skinned, seedless variety of cucumber that we love! These are also the first cucumbers to ripen in our greenhouse, coming into season in mid-May here in Sterling, CT.
Fresh vegetables are crisp, flavorful, crunchy and sweet, all of which helps your kids to enjoy eating them. The best way to get fresh vegetables is to visit a local farm and buy directly from a farmer, that way you can know that they were picked that same day! Another great option is to shop at a farmers market. Choose vegetables that are in season for your region. In Connecticut, cold-tolerant vegetables like kale, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beets, and swiss chard will be freshest during the fall, winter and spring. We grow these year-round on our farm in hour unheated greenhouses. Summer in Connecticut brings us an abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, and more. We grow orange, yellow, green, red, pink and purple tomatoes. The variation in different vegetables throughout the seasons helps you and your kids to have a varied diet, and brings interest to meals.
Kids of all ages can get involved in helping to prepare vegetables, and will be more likely to want to eat them when they have pride in helping produce the food. There are many quality kids’ knives that are made from plastic and can be safely used by kids to cut soft vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchinis, and cucumbers. Involve your kids in picking out vegetables at the farmers market or grocery store. Encourage your kids to stir a bowl of cut vegetables with seasonings and olive oil before baking the vegetables in the summer.
Another way to involve your kids in their food is to have them come to a pick-your-own farm. Your kids will love eating vegetables that they helped to pick themselves. You might even be surprised to find them eating vegetables right off of the vine. I used to teach elementary and middle school kids to garden when I was in one of my previous jobs, and the the kids in the program loved to go into the garden and eat raw kale leaves. Growing your own vegetables, or picking vegetables from a farm, is a great way to get your kids to eat more vegetables. We have several kid-friendly events on our farm planned for this summer.