How to Raise Children to Love Eating Vegetables

little adorable girl sits beside healthy vegetable dishes eating vegetable cucumber
by Helena Popovic

If there’s one thing all nutrition experts agree on, it’s that we need to eat more plant food—especially cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale and other leafy greens). Yet these seem to be the hardest vegetables to entice our children to eat. So what to do? How do we compete with thousands of junk food ads on TV, billboards and websites that children are exposed to every year? Here is a 10 point game plan to turn your veg abstainers into green gourmets.

  1. When the weather isn’t too hot, have bowls of fruit and vegetables attractively displayed in the kitchen or dining room so everyone sees them (whether they are consciously aware of it or not) whenever they approach an eating area. The key is to make fruit and vegetables look as appealing as possible.
  2. In summer when fruit and vegetables need to be in the fridge, place them at eye level in the middle of the fridge rather than hidden in the crisper. When food scientists rearranged the content of people’s fridges in this way, households ate three times more fruit and vegetables without even thinking about it. Research shows that the most visible foods are the ones we eat first and the ones we eat most.
  3. Place breakfast cereals, biscuits and other packaged foods in the pantry out of sight. (Even better is not to buy these foods in the first place.)
  4. Make mealtimes special, quality family time. Everyone sits around the table with no devices, newspapers or other distractions and actually talks to each other.
  5. Eat your own vegetables with enthusiasm and relish. Make comments like ‘I love eating broccoli because it keeps me strong and healthy…this capsicum is so crisp and juicy and what a fabulous red colour—just like superman’s cape!’ Parents have the power to create wonderful associations around food.
  6. Make trying new vegetables an exciting adventure. For a child there is a lot to take in with all their senses: shape, colour, texture and aroma as well as taste. Present vegetables in interesting and appealing ways: cut them into fun shapes, arrange them as a smiley face on the plate and use adjectives such as ‘brainy beetroot’, ‘clever cauliflower’ and ‘superhero spinach’ so they associate vegetables with desirable qualities.
  7. Children’s taste preferences can change from week to week and even from one day to the next. Just because your child didn’t like broccoli last week, doesn’t mean they won’t try it this week. It can take 15 exposures for a child to feel comfortable enough to try new food. Between meals show them pictures of vegetables and describe how they make us strong, smart and healthy in order to get children curious and eager to eat them.
  8. Involve children in all aspects of food preparation as early as possible. Allow them to be responsible for growing herbs, take them shopping with you and encourage them to watch you cook—with the promise that they’ll be able to help as soon as they’re able to handle a knife.
  9. Never make vegetables a pre-requisite for dessert or extra screen time. Rewards for eating vegetables teaches children that eating vegetables is a chore. The goal is to make eating vegetables intrinsically fun and rewarding.
  10. Speak to the decision-makers at your child’s school and ask that fruit and chopped vegetables are offered at sporting events rather than sweets and chips.
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