Getting kids to eat vegetables is high on any parent’s “to do” list.  But it’s hard to accomplish — especially since so many of our parental “persuasion” techniques tend to backfire.

That was the theme of my last post 10 Ways Kids Learn to Hate Veggies. 

But learning how to avoid all the ways we unintentionally teaching our kids to hate vegetables isn’t the same thing as generating a kiddie-veggie “love affair.”

That’s why I am so grateful to the reader who wrote to ask me what she should do, not just what she should avoid doing.  How, this reader wondered, could she teach her kids to love vegetables?

So here’s my answer, in the form of another top 10 list.

Note: Don’t be tempted to pick and choose amongst the tips. Use them all.  The techniques that seem tough to you will have the biggest payoff, because they’re the ones most outside your comfort zone.

10 ways kids learn to LOVE veggies:

1)Expose your children to vegetables all the time (instead of only once a day) – every meal and snack is ideal.  This normalizes vegetables.

2) Don’t make a big deal about the veggies or put pressure on your children to eat them.  Treat vegetables as “normal” (not special) foods and your kids will be more likely to eat them.

3) Serve a wide variety of vegetables.  Pay attention to the range of tastes, textures, aromas, appearances and temperatures that exist in the vegetable world. Don’t limit yourself to “kid” vegetables. Try artichoke, avocado, asparagus…

4) When you introduce a new vegetable, make it a tasting, not an eating experience.  Prepare other foods for the meal or snack.  Help your children predict what the food will be like in regard to taste, texture, aroma, appearance and temperature by comparing it to other foods they are familiar with – and which they like!

5) Don’t just serve vegetables “straight-up.” Cook with them too.  Put vegetables in soups, in noodles, in anything that they compliment, but DON’T hide them. I’m talking about making vegetable lasagna, not putting cauliflower puree in mac ‘n cheese.

6) Increase the proportion of fresh, natural foods you feed your children and decrease the amounts of sweet and/or crunchy foods they eat.  Most vegetables aren’t that sweet (even with a sweet sauce) so make sure your children have a low “sugar threshold.”  And since veggies don’t come in crunchy, cracker textures, don’t train your children’s taste buds in that direction either.

7) Offer your children vegetables when they are hungry – after school, before dinner, as an appetizer or salad course.  If your kids won’t eat the vegs then they can’t be that hungry. If they are hungry, you’ll score! Plus, getting kids into the habit of snacking on veggies is a lifelong habit worth adopting.

8) Encourage your children to eat a bite of this and a bite of that instead of finishing their favorites first.  This will ensure your kids eat at least some of their vegetables before they’re too full.

9) Enjoy vegetables in front of your children.  And if you don’t like veggies (or if your spouse doesn’t like them) then explain to your child why not eating vegetables has made your life (or your spouse’s life) harder.

10) Introduce your children to vegetables cooked in interesting ways.  Why not use a teriyaki sauce, or garlic, even a mild spice?  Don’t rule out Indian or Mexican flavors as long as the heat is toned down. Use restaurants to expand your child’s experience of vegetables. Restaurants cream, sauté and fry foods in ways that most home cooks don’t. Go wild. Eating these “unhealthy” vegetables is fine in limited quantities and they are an extremely palatable way to introduce your kids to new vegetables.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~