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How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables - Think Anew

Get excited for change!

  • Start Early: Start offering your children plant foods as early as possible. When babies and children are exposed to fruits and vegetables early on, they get used to the textures and flavours and acquire a taste for them. The longer you wait the harder it would be to get your children to accept plant foods and, the more opportunities they would lose to benefit from them too. That being said, if you haven't started offering your child fruits and vegetables at an early age, it is never too late to start. Each meal is an opportunity to turn the tide.


  • Be Consistent: Be consistent in including fruits and vegetables in meals. If you take a break, any gains that you have made in getting your children to accept fruits and vegetables may be lost, and you may have to start from scratch. Further to this, if your children do not eat fruits and vegetables consistently, their digestion will be in a constant phase of transition. Our gut contains a colony of good bacteria that help to digest our food. The types of bacteria that colonise our gut is specific to the types of food we eat; so if we don't eat vegetables for a period, our vegetable digesting bacteria may die off. When we start eating vegetables again, our body will go through a transition period in which it needs to build up its "vegetable" bacteria again. During this time our digestion may not be complete and we may suffer from an irritated or overactive bowel. To protect our children from constantly going through a transition we need to be consistent in offering them fruits and vegetables.



  • Be Persistent: That our children will reject some of our food is almost a given, but what makes one child's appetite for healthy foods better than another's? I believe that it is often just a case of loving persistence. When we keep offering healthy foods our children first become used to us offering it, then they may become used to tasting it, then they may grow used to the flavours and textures and start eating it, and perhaps, even relishing it.


  • Be positive: Get excited about vegetables in front of your children. Create an atmosphere of fun, wonder, and amazement at the miracles of nature that plant foods are. You need to be genuinely enthusiastic about your fruit and vegetable journey for your children to be infused with similar enthusiasm. If you allow yourself to serve a meal with a negative mindset, thinking that this will probably not work, your children can catch on to this and they may react the way you expect them to. Keep your energy optimistic, especially in the beginning stages of your healthy eating adventure. If you need some extra motivation to eat a particular fruit or vegetable, refer to page 40 to find out what makes it special.


  • Create a Positive Association: Try to inspire a good relationship with vegetables and fruits so that your children are more likely to continue to eat them even when mum or dad is not there. Include plant foods into your special occasions (such as birthdays, or holidays), so that they learn to associate plant foods with happy times and learn to see it as a reward rather than a punishment. Similarly, when eating out, choose meals where vegetables are the heroes of the dish, at least some of the time. You can also allow your children to watch cooking shows that highlight vegetables during family time. 

  • Be Loving: There is no coercion greater than the power of love. Often, our children mirror the energies we put out to them. If we are feeling negative and frustrated, they do too. If we turn mealtime into a fight, our little children usually push back harder. But if we pepper our sentences with a few sweet words, the process often goes much smoother and they are almost magically more open to what we have to offer them. Before you offer that bite or meal that you suspect is going to be rejected, try a hug and a kiss and watch them melt. Try presenting your meal by saying, "Here you go my sweetheart," instead of using your child's name and he may be happy to accept whatever you offer. It sounds like manipulation, but we do love to show our children affection anyway. This change in energy may help you enjoy mealtime a bit more too. 



  • Be a Role Model: The best teaching tool we have is to conduct ourselves in a manner that we want our children to mimic. Leading by example is useful in inculcating good values and it must not be overlooked in training children to eat fruits and vegetables. Children look to us to teach them how to make the best choices; we must, therefore, aspire to be ideal role models, even at mealtime. It would be very difficult to convince, especially, older children to eat healthier if we have not taken up the challenge ourselves. 


  • Break Dependencies: If our children become accustomed to the strong flavours and high calories in heavily processed junk-foods then it often becomes more difficult for them to appreciate the subtle flavours of homemade plant foods. If we limit their access to overly sweetened, salted or fatty foods, their palate quickly adjusts, and other foods soon taste better. Junk food also takes up the limited space in our children's stomachs, space which could be used to provide nourishment through wholesome whole foods. Junk food could also be adding lots of undesirable ingredients into our children's bellies with junk food often being ridden with unhealthy fats, preservatives, and refined sugar. It is for this, amongst other reasons that treats should be limited to a once in a while affair (if at all), instead of a frequent snack. To help you or your little one effectively break a junk food dependency read tips here


  • Introducing the... ONE-MEAL Family! Cooking one family meal that is suitable for everyone allows us to put more time and energy into ensuring that that meal is appetizing and healthy. Sharing a family meal also makes it much easier to ensure that our children are eating fresh food daily. Look for ideas of delicious one-meal-meals in the recipe section.


  • Celebrate: Acknowledge and applaud any positive efforts your children make to eat healthy foods. This affection and approval will spur them on in the meals to come.


  • Take a Break: Most children have a "least favourite" set of vegetables that they may not want to eat under most circumstances. Try giving that vegetable, or those few vegetables, a break and reintroduce them in a few weeks. Your child may soon forget that she dislikes this vegetable. In the meanwhile, offer your child other varieties of fruits and vegetables. 


  • Start a veggie garden: Doing so helps children (and adults) appreciate and understand the value of these foods. They can witness first-hand the elements of nature coming together in miraculous complexity to selflessly provide us with sustenance. This appreciation will make it far more difficult to waste the foods everyone nourished and nurtured. Try growing micro-greens if you would like to see quick harvests. An added benefit is that you can eat vegetables fresh and therefore, at their peak of nutritional value. You can then also compost your vegetable waste to feed the next round of vegetables.




  • Have your children cook with you: If they are too little to cook, then allow them to feel the vegetables, smell the spices and mix up the vegetable cut-offs  in their own little pots. This will allow them to have a fun relationship with vegetables, outside of mealtime, as well as extend their knowledge base. (Note that dry corn flour can be dangerous since it can be breathed in. Have them use a different flour at playtime. Use only those vegetables cut-offs that do not irritate the skin and eyes - raw tomatoes, butternut, chillies, onions and garlic are harsh on the skin and eyes.)


  • Would you like it here or there? Set up your upcoming meal for success by offering your child an option concerning the meal. For example, ask, "Would you like your meal in a plate or bowl?". By choosing which dish they would like their meal in, they are inadvertently accepting that they would "like" their meal - almost saying "yes" to it in a way. This acceptance, on an unconscious level, may go at least a small way, towards them accepting that meal. This also involves them in the meal in some way, which can make them feel obligated to participate in it. If their answer is, "I don't want that food", then ignore that answer and try calmly asking your question again.


  • Jealous much? You may be able to get your young child interested in the upcoming meal by exaggerating interest in it yourself. Try sitting down near your child, with a plate of the next meal. Now tuck in with exaggerated relish. Tell someone around you how delicious it is. Allow your child to watch you enjoy the dish, and perhaps their interest will pique. They may even ask for a taste. This trick could work well with everything from a plain-old carrot to a more complex and exciting meal. Of course, if you try this on an older child, you will more likely draw some laughter, and I suppose that would be great too.


  • Give them partnership: Try getting your older children on board as partners in this healthy eating journey rather than as "victims" of it. Have a frank conversation with them about what it is you want to do, and why you want to do it. Then explain to them the steps you are going to try to take to make this process as easy as possible for everyone involved. You are much more likely to obtain cooperation from your older children if you take them into your confidence and involve them. You could have them help you pick out recipes or ingredients as you go along or even help you cook or bake. They may start to take ownership and pride in the journey along with you.


  • What will motivate your child? It is a common human tendency to be more committed to doing those things that bring benefits. Often, the benefit that children focus on is immediate sensory gratification; but if you can provide your children with information on short and long term benefits of plant foods, they may be more likely to eat those things that would not usually interest them. Education may help to create lasting habits. There are numerous benefits to eating more plant foods, but each person's motivation to do so is different. Considering what could motivate your child to eat fruits and vegetables may make it easier to appeal to them to do so. The benefit to outward appearance or athletic performance may be particularly alluring to some children. Members of the plant-food-loving community such as Lewis Hamilton, Kyrie Irving, Novac Djokovic, and Beyoncé Knowles can be a great inspiration to these children. Other children may be more concerned with benefits to older or ailing family members that they would like to see feeling better, or less at risk. Many children are easily motivated by compassion for animals, compassion for the underprivileged, and the environment. There are many animal welfare, social, and environmental advantages to eating more plant foods. Love is a language understood by the youngest and oldest of us and this is what has motivated my children to choose mostly vegetable based meals. Details of the impact of meat-production can be found in the fast-growing number of documentaries and online articles.

Written by Natasha Subbiah

Next: How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables - Cooking for Success!

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