Eating vegetables does not have to be something your family endures day in and day out—it should be fun. It needs to be fun. The habit of eating vegetables will not be sustained unless there is some joy attached to it.
Imagine a world where we could get all our nutrients and sustenance from a pill (like that blueberry bubblegum that goes all wrong at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory). Taking a pill would remove all the sensory pleasure we gain from food—the smells, textures and tastes. It would remove all the mental, physical and social aspects of deciding on, preparing and sitting down to a meal. What a dreary, sad world that would be.
Here are three fun ways that help picky eaters love vegetables …
1) Make the Plate Fun
If you want to entertain your inner child while getting your actual child to eat more vegetables, then you can go all out and make the whole plate fun.
I hope you read these suggestions and start to feel excited, not exhausted! When she is at college your child is not going to appreciate you turning up with her broccoli tree montage dinner in her dorm room. But your five-year-old will love you for it.
Here are a few ideas:
- Faces – Use a base of yogurt or soup in a bowl or a piece of bread cut in a circle and add eyes using peas, cut up carrot rounds, cucumbers, radish, etc., plus add a mouth with a strip of any kind of vegetable.
- Scenes – What about a broccoli forest on a bed of mashed potato, perhaps with a carrot ‘sun’? Or make a rainbow using different colored vegetables—strips of red pepper, grated orange carrot or kernels of yellow corn.
- Animals – A lion face with a mane of grated carrots, a caterpillar using cut up cucumbers as the body with a sliced red pepper face and peas for eyes.
2) Hands-On Fun
For the more sensory child who exhibits more practical tendencies or learns in a kinesthetic way, then getting down and dirty may be the key to help picky eaters love vegetables.
See if your child wants to eat with his hands. This becomes even more inviting (and messier) when there is a dip or a sauce in which to dunk raw cut up vegetables. Try natural yogurt, sour cream, hummus, ketchup or even a homemade vegetable dip.
Mashed potato can be ‘finger painted’. Vegetable soup can be presented in a cup or small bowl to drink directly from. And corn on the cob practically begs for a hands-on experience.
Parents may despair, especially if looks like more is going on the floor than into mouths, but it is all learning and familiarization, and the more familiar we are with things the more likely we are to want to try them and embrace eating them.
3) Fun for the Whole Family
A few times a year you could switch it up a bit and get into a whole day of food-related fun. When they grow up, your children won’t remember the breakfast you made for them each morning, but they will remember ‘Backwards Day’.
What Is ‘Backwards Day’? It is a day when you eat your meals back to front. You have dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner (lunch can take care of itself). Kids find this hilarious. And you can get them to eat vegetables at breakfast time. Yes, you heard it right: vegetables at breakfast. Breakfast on this day could be a Mediterranean buffet style breakfast that includes cut up feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumber with hummus and other dips and fresh bread or crackers. Or you can switch it up completely and eat spaghetti or barbeque or fried rice (all with some vegetables thrown into the meal).
Dinner can be scrambled eggs or an omelet with some spinach thrown in, or pancakes with a selection of fruit. That last option did not have vegetables, but remember, your family has already had vegetables at breakfast!
If a whole day of fun is not within the realm of possibility, then why not change up the location of dinner once in a while? Have dinner on a cloth on the living room floor or outside in the backyard.
Make Fun a Habit
You can inject fun into any mealtime. You can encourage creativity on a plate, eating with your hands or schedule in a ‘Backwards Day’.
These ideas may prompt you to adopt your own fun practices to help picky eaters love vegetables. It doesn’t really matter what you do. What is important is the associations that are made. Vegetables can indeed be a tasty treat. Meals with vegetables can be enjoyable. Eating vegetables is not just something you do out of habit, but can be a welcome pleasure. The more you and your family associate happiness with vegetables, the more likely your kids will effortlessly choose them.
People keep up habits that they enjoy. Eating vegetables should be a normal, everyday habit. But without any fun involved it’s unlikely that the habit will be maintained easily. Do something that ends up becoming a fond memory for your family, a tradition that just happens to include salad.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce) out of the many in my best-selling book, Easy Peasy Healthy Eating – now available as an audiobook!