Getting kids to eat their vegetables

Photo (c) Oksana Kuzmina - Fotolia

What parents can do to get little ones used to the taste of bitter veggies

Persuading a picky eater to eat bitter greens, such as kale or brussels sprouts, can be an uphill battle. Kids are notoriously fickle when it comes to food, and vegetables are often a tough sell.

But parents can get kids used to vegetables by following some research-based advice from nutrition expert Richard Rosenkranz. For starters, make sure you are eating vegetables similar to the ones you are serving your baby or toddler.

Rosenkranz says this is important because babies as young as 6 months pick up on which eating behaviors are normal and abnormal. They take cues from their parents as to what is and isn’t desirable.

"Babies start to think, 'Why does he keep putting this stuff in front of me, but he never eats it?' We're being watched by our kids from very young ages,” said Rosenkranz, an associate professor of food, nutrition, dietetics, and health.

Start with sweeter veggies

Rosenkranz recommends gradually expanding kids’ palates by starting with sweeter vegetables, like corn and carrots. When introducing bitter vegetables, parents shouldn’t let their child’s facial expression determine what is served at future meals.

Repeated exposure and dietary variety is how infants learn, says Rosenkranz. So instead of being deterred by a grimace, he says parents should focus more on a child’s willingness to consume a food. An infants’ desire toward the food can be increased over time through repeated exposure.

For school-aged children, he recommends cutting and arranging fresh vegetables into smiley faces or animals. Simple tweaks, like using grape tomatoes for eyes, can make healthy food a little more fun. 

Encouraging healthy habits

Research has shown that when kids get involved in cooking and food preparation, they’re more likely to eat vegetables. Kids can begin picking out vegetables at the store, helping prepare veggies in the kitchen, or growing them in a garden as early as kindergarten, says Rosenkranz.

As children get older, parents should focus on helping them make decisions regarding food on their own. This can be done by allowing kids to choose which vegetables the family purchases or decide how those vegetables are cooked. 

"This way, we're helping them cultivate their own healthy habits because it's their independent decision," Rosenkranz said.

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