But, I wonder, why? Why do we have to force ourselves and our kids to eat something fresh, delicious, and frankly, something to which we’re lucky to have access. I’m not trying to get preachy, but really, fresh vegetables, or even frozen or canned these days, are great. They’re crisp, nutritious and taste really good. Not all of them, of course, we all have our favorites and our favorites to hate (canned asparagus, anyone?), but for the most part, they taste pretty good. So why do we treat them as such a burden?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that when I first thought of those questions, I changed the way I thought about vegetables, and how I presented them to my kids. No longer are they something we “have” to eat. Rather, it’s something we all want to eat, and for the most part look forward to. Again, not all veggies all the time; but most veggies most of the time.
It wasn’t an instantaneous process, but we’re doing pretty well in the eating department in our house. Here are some ideas I use to get the boys to eat vegetables:
- Treat veggies as a staple, just as you would bread or a condiment – in addition to a warm vegetable side, I usually have a plate of cold vegetables on the table – tomatoes and red peppers are favorites for us. Granted, we’re lucky to live in SWFL where fresh tomatoes are always available and not mealy, and we like to take advantage of that. But, we sometimes have peeled carrots, jicama, pickled beets, etc.
- Offer more than one choice with dinner – sometimes I cook two vegetables – corn on the cob and green beans, or frozen corn and carrots, snow pea pods and red peppers, etc.
- Cut down on carbs offered with dinner – this goes with number 2. Instead of your traditional plate of meat, starch and veggie in equal sizes (or really, large meat, large starch and smallish pile of canned peas, which is what was served in my house growing up), reduce the size of the starch to make room for more veggies. Better yet, eliminate the starch completely a few nights a week if you can stand it.
- Offer bites during preparation as a treat – I’ll usually call the boys to the kitchen and offer bites of red pepper, raw carrots and raw broccoli while I’m cutting them up. By this time they’re really hungry for dinner and often will eat more than one bite. Even though it’s technically not at the dinner table, they’re still eating vegetables and that counts.
- Get creative with preparation – adding extras, like dried fruits and nuts, can turn an ordinary vegetable into something special and fun. Carole’s recipe for roasted brussels sprouts with cherries and pecans is a good example.
- Make sure they’re hungry when they come to the table – I’ve found that eliminating the late afternoon snack has improved my boys eating habits. They usually have a treat in the car on the way home from school at 2, then no more food until dinner at 5 or 6. Harsh? Maybe. But, they eat a good dinner, and we have a liberal dessert policy.
- Be flexible with your preparation – I’m a pretty staunch supporter of the “no short order cooks” policy. But, I try to be flexible when I can. For instance, Gabriel has recently decided that he no longer likes cooked broccoli or red peppers. It’s easy enough to set a small portion aside so he can have his raw while the rest of us have them cooked.
- Don’t offer items your child really doesn’t like – this is another takeaway from my childhood. My mother was pretty rigid in the kitchen, and she’d cook something whether you liked it or not. Usually I didn’t have to eat too much of it, but it really took the enjoyment out of mealtime. If you know your child hates a vegetable, don’t make him or her eat it. Gabriel hates green beans, has since he was an infant, so even though I cook them for the rest of us, I don’t make him eat them. There are plenty of other options for him – see #1 for ideas.
- Never underestimate a child’s fascination with gross bodily functions – Did you know that your urine smells funny after you eat asparagus? And that you can see whole kernels of corn in your poop the day after you eat it? My kids do. Gross? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. They laugh and laugh while eating those items, which gives them a happy memory and a belly full of fiber and vitamins. And, you know what, it’s funny to be a little gross sometimes.
- Competition can be healthy, at least when it comes to dinner time – I really try to avoid the, “your brother is eating it, why don’t you?” tactic. I’ve read that it can cause emotional scarring or something else terrible that we all suffered as kids. But, I’ve also learned that I really don’t need to say anything, they have their own friendly competition. If one is eating an asparagus spear, the other will pick one up and eat it too, just to not be left out. “Me too, me too!” is a pretty common phrase around our house.