Whenever I give workshops on how to raise healthy and happy eaters, one of the questions I get every time is: how do I get my kid to eat fruits and vegetables?
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Making sure our kids have a healthy diet is a common source of stress and strain for parents. If I’m being fully honest, even though I reassure parents that it will all work out (and I truly believe that it will), there are days when even I get stressed about what my kids are eating, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
Given that this is a concern for so many of us, I wanted to share some tips and information on how to get your kids to eat fruits and vegetables without fights.
First Step, Relax
When my youngest son was in his picky phase and I was worried about his growth, I went into full on research mode. I searched for tips, ideas, and answers that would allow us to shift the negative dynamic that was rapidly developing when it came to mealtimes.
Of all of the information that I learned at the time, there was one fact that truly allowed me to relax more than any other: According to the National Institutes of Health, children between the ages of 2 and 8 are the LEAST likely to fall short on key nutrients.
Furthermore, I found an amazing table on Raise Healthy Eaters that showed how much of each category of food kids need at different ages. This table made me weep with relief. I’m not kidding.
For instance, did you know that a serving of vegetables for a kid aged 4 – 8 is only 3 – 4 Tbsp? Or that 2 – 4-year-olds only need half of a small piece of fruit (apple, peach, etc.) in order to get a full serving?
Once I saw these numbers, I found that I was able to respond more calmly when my sweet boy turned into the stubborn toddler who refuses to eat fruits and vegetables.
Once that anxiety was assuaged, I found the following tricks to be really helpful at integrating fruits and vegetables into my kids’ diets.
Offer Fruits and/or Vegetables at Every Meal
A tip that I give people at my workshops is to make sure to serve some sort of fruit or vegetable with every meal (including snacks). This could look like any of the following:
- chopped up or frozen fruit on top of cereal, granola, oatmeal, or yogurt
- veggie sticks or fruit slices with a favorite dip or hummus
- apple sauce as a side with pretty much anything
- salad with a favorite dressing on top or as a dip (kids love dipping things)
- fruits or vegetables mixed into muffins, baked goods, or overnight oats
Why is this so helpful? Because, going back to the small amounts of fruits and vegetables that they actually need, even if they only take a few bites at each meal or skip the fruits and vegetables all together at a meal or two, they’ll be in good nutritional shape thanks to the repeated offerings throughout the day.
Handling the rejected fruits and vegetables
A lot of times, when I share this tip, parents worry about kids rejecting the food and then it going to waste.
As you may know, I am a huge proponent of reducing food waste, so I completely understand this worry. But I’ve got a work-around: offer just a little bit and let them know they can always have more.
For instance, three strawberries, one piece of celery topped with peanut butter, a half glass of smoothie, or a tablespoon of frozen berries mixed into some plain yogurt are all great offerings for little bellies.
In addition, you can always repurpose what is offered. For instance, leftover carrot sticks can be chopped up and added to a salad at dinner and remaining fruit can be bagged up and frozen to be added to a smoothie at some later date.
Make it Easy to Eat
One of my favorite tricks for getting my kids to eat fruits and vegetables is to offer them in an easy-to-eat ways that aren’t too overwhelming.
For example, I’ll put out some vegetable sticks with hummus, ranch dressing, or tzatziki or I’ll slice up an apple rather than offering a whole one. I’m always staggered by how much they’ll eat when it is served in bite-sized and graze-friendly ways.
Keep it Easy for You
Let’s be realistic, though, offering fruits and vegetables repeatedly throughout the day can end up feeling like a burden. This is especially true when your kid won’t eat vegetables or fruit. Offering over and over again only to have them rejected can really feel like an overwhelming struggle. So, here are some of my favorite ways to make it easier for everyone:
You can make them ahead of time and refrigerate (you’ll need to give them a good shake before serving) or freeze them.
Pre-chop raw vegetables for the week
Chopped up carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and celery sticks will all last well for a few days when stored in the refrigerator. That way you (or they!) can just grab and go.
Apple sauce and fruit cups
Both of these are great for those times when you can’t put in the effort, just make sure you get the no sugar added varieties.
Puree into sauces
When you’re heating up a marinara sauce or preparing sauce to use on pizzas or calzones, throw in some frozen broccoli or spinach and then puree. I bet no one will notice a difference but you’ll feel better knowing that they are getting more vegetables
Bonus tip: if they like the sauce, then make sure to tell them what was added in as this may encourage them to try that food again in the future.
Ride the Waves
As I enter my 16th year of parenting (how did THAT happen?!), one of the things that I have noticed is that, as with many things, my kids’ intake of fruits and vegetables fluctuates quite a bit, but if I take a step back and look at the long view, they enjoy their vegetables and fruits more now than they did when they were younger.
In fact, when they’re going strong, I can’t keep enough produce in the house, but when they aren’t so keen on the options, I can start to get anxious.
In those phases when they aren’t so excited about the fruits and veggies, I try my best not to get pushy, since I know that doing so will only encourage tension and discord around food, which is something I do not want to have happen. But, if I’m being honest, sometimes I’ll notice myself reminding, encouraging, and cajoling just a little bit too much.
In those moments, I try to do two things: 1) I allow myself to remind them about eating fruits and vegetables once in a day, 2) I remind myself that feeding kids is like riding waves – sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down, but with some tenacity and patience you can make it back to shore.
Do you have tricks to help kids to eat their fruits and vegetables? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!