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As a parent, one of the greatest challenges was to get my kids to eat vegetables. It’s not an easy task to do especially when they associate potatoes with McDonalds from an early age. Fortunately this is a challenge we (my wife and me) managed to overcome and our kids love to eat their daily dose of fruits and vegetables either for breakfast, as a snack or after dinner treat.
1. Lead by example
In my opinion this is the best way to make your children get into the habit of eating fruits and veggies. If they see you eating them on a regular basis it is more likely that they will do too. This worked in our case very well. Eating fruits on a regular basis and having vegetables with meals is part of our lifestyle. We grew up this way and this is how we want to raise our children.
Of course this is not a rule, there are cases where parents like fruits but children don’t and there are cases where neither parents nor children want to hear or see green routes in their plates. If you fall in the latest category don’t expect your kids to eat fruits or vegetables, at the end of the day if you are not eating them why should they?
2. Start early
It’s important to start early when they are still young and try to get them eat fruits and vegetables. They won’t like each and every taste but this is normal and expected. The more they try the bigger are the chances of liking some of them. Try giving them fresh seasonal fruits that have a sweet taste like strawberries, red apples and watermelon. You can always chop the fruits into small pieces and make them easier to chew or let them eat with their bare hands to feel and enjoy each bite.
Eating healthy is a matter of habit and when you get in to the habit from an early age it’s easier to keep it when you grow up.
3. Take them to the grocery store
Picking items from the shelves and putting them in a bag is something kids love especially when they are young. If you take them to the grocery store with you to shop fruits or vegetables you will notice that they will want to do the process by themselves.
This is important because later at home they are more likely to eat something that they picked up alone rather than food brought by their parents. They will eat it and feel proud of their achievements.
4. Cook together
Following from the previous tip, if you encourage your children to get involved in the preparation of food you increase the chances of eating the end result without complaints. Be prepared in advance and choose a recipe or desert that has fruits and vegetables and ask them to participate in the cooking process. If you do 3 and 4 (shop and cook) together you will be surprised by the results.
5. Prepare and serve fruits while playing or watching TV
Don’t expect that while they are watching TV or playing video games they will stop and go to the kitchen for an afternoon fruit. This is where you should make the first step. What worked for us is preparing a nice bowl of fresh colorful fruits, cut in pieces and serving this in the living room or even in their room.
Try to have different types of fruits with different colors in the bowl and make sure that they are ready for consumption (remove the skin when applicable and cut them in small pieces like snacks).
6. Explain to them the nutritional and health benefits
Make up stories or use their hero figures (think Popeye) as examples demonstrating the nutritional and health benefits of fruits. “They will help you build more muscles” or “you will run faster” or “you will grow taller” are examples that work.
7. What does research say and what how do other parents do it?
In a nutshell, more than 70% of kids growing up this decade in the modern western world fail to eat the recommended daily dose of fruits and vegetables. It’s a huge percentage and unfortunately the outcome is increase in obesity rates and various other cardiovascular diseases. It is our responsibility as parents to really try and change this trend and find the ways to convince our children that fruits and vegetables are essential to our health and diet.
Besides the 6 methods suggested above, that worked for our case, other ways parents use are:
Serve them before dinner – The idea of serving vegetables as appetizer before dinner is that they will eat them because they are hungry.
Veggie dinners – Once in a while you can serve food (with no meat) but with different vegetables and fruits. They will have no choice of choosing between other food (especially meat) and they will be “forced” to eat them.
Add them to their food without giving emphasis – If they don’t like seeing vegetables in their plate you can add them in their food in a way that is not visible. For example you can add tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce in their burger so by eating the burger they will eat the veggies as well.
If they don’t want to eat, let them drink – Maybe they don’t want to eat raw strawberries but they are most likely to drink a strawberry smoothie especially when they do it themselves.
Reward – Using rewards for food is not a suggested method but you can use the reward system in moderation when it comes to fruits and vegetables. For example: if you plan to give them ice cream as a snack, you can agree with them that they will get the ice cream after they eat an apple. In the majority of cases if the reward is good enough they will eat their fruits in minutes!
Make it fun – Giving funny names to food or cutting them into funny shapes can help especially if you accompany dinner with a funny story.
As a final word, don’t try to introduce too many changes at the same time. Nobody likes to change their eating habits from one day to the next. Better do it slowly and get results in a couple of months rather than trying to do everything at once. Forcing them to eat fruits and vegetables will make them negative and more stubborn and you will lose your hope and quit any effort.