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Monday, June 15, 2015

7 No-Fighting, No-Crying Ways to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables


I am very happy to have a guest writer for Renaissance Dad. This is the Highly Driven, lovely wife of mine, here with some helpful advice on getting kids to eat their veggies. 

Actual phrases spoken at the Renaissance Dad home:

Dad to 7-year-old: “No more kale until you eat some of your pizza.”

4-year-old to Mom: “SALAD?! I LOVE Salad!! You’re the BEST mom!”

Dad to 7-year-old: “Hey, leave some artichokes for everybody else.”

3-year old to no one in particular: “I have strong eyes because I LOVE red pepper.”

Our kids don’t eat veggies. They devour them. So many other parents are mystified, impressed, even jealous, that I finally sat down and really thought about how we got here. So, without further ado, I offer you The List of how we got our kids excited about vegetables.

1) We started early. When our oldest was born, someone gave us a copy of the book Super Baby Food. I skimmed through it, panicked, and gave up. Who has the energy for all these gourmet pureed recipes? I was already sleep-deprived, half-starved, hormonal and scared. Six months later, I added up the prices of all the jars and pouches of commercial baby food, panicked, and decided to make homemade baby food work. I went back to the book and found helpful recommendations for what
ages to introduce various foods, although I never used a recipe. I never made food ahead and froze it. And I never spent more than a five minutes making food for any baby. I just fed them simple, easy stuff. Here are my two favorite baby food recipes: 

Sweet Potatoes
Prep time: 2 minutes
Total time: 1 hour-ish

Take sweet potatoes out of fridge. Stab them with a fork. Put them in the oven (no need to wash, because the peel is coming off later). Bake at any temperature for any amount of time (400 for 45-60 minutes works, but if you need to throw them in with something else, you can bake them at lower heat for longer). Let cool. Peel off skin. Blend inner sweet potato, adding water to desired consistency. Keeps in the fridge for several days.

Avocado
Prep time: 2 minutes
Total time: 2 minutes

Cut avocado in half and remove pit. Scoop avocado flesh out with a spoon. Blend, adding water to desired consistency. Does not keep, so eat it all, baby. I wasn’t necessarily considering the long-term implications at the time (I could barely remember my own name). But looking back on it, I realize that by starting our kids out on fresh food from their very first bite, their pallets grew accustomed to
the more intense flavors of real food. Plus they were too young to argue. Score one for the parents!

To succeed in baby food making, you do need a good blending gizmo. My sister-in-law loves her Magic Bullet. I’ve been really happy with our Ninja. Both blenders have the MOST important feature: all their bits can be tossed in the dishwasher. And now that we are past baby food stage, we still use ours constantly for smoothies, homemade popsicles, gazpacho (or as Big A calls it, “God’s poncho”) and various food experiments. Pick one up today!

If your kids are already past baby food stage, it’s not too late to help them fall in love with veggies. But it won’t happen overnight. To win them over, be ready for a long haul. So on to tips for big kids…

2) We garden. There is something magical about being able to eat something from the yard, am I right? Kids want to put grass, dirt and rocks in their mouths. Of course, we follow them around saying, “No! Yucky!” and swiping stuff away. So when we actually say, “Go ahead! Pick that and pop it in your mouth,” it’s like Christmas came early.  Big E wasn’t born liking tomatoes. But the thing she’d throw on the floor from her highchair, she’d chow down straight from the vine. Once she
learned to like it in the garden, it eventually transferred back inside. Same thing happened with sugar-snap pees and Little E. Oh, and did I mention that veggies from the garden taste WAY better than grocery store produce? It’s easier to get kids to like something that actually is good.

Extreme Gardening has been our gardening guidebook for years, and I highly recommend it.

3) We fake it sometimes. Our kids take their cues from us. So we make sure they see mom and dad excited about veggies and not eating junk food. Do we pull out the ice cream, brownies and Halloween candy after they’re in bed? YES. And we destroy the evidence. No shame. But when they’re awake, we are boisterously excited about broccoli, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and kale. We stage fights for the last bite. We cry fowl if someone got more veggies than us. We have dance parties to celebrate salad night. We make many yummy noises and comments like, “You’ve got to try
this! It’s like a party in my mouth!” And the kids have picked it up. If anyone at our house says they don’t want or can’t finish some vegetable, three or four other people yell, “DIBS!”

4) We tap into child psychology. Sibling rivalry is our friend. I have no problem saying, “Big A, you are eating so many vegetables! You’re going to get taller than your big sister someday!” That comment gets at least two kids cramming veggies in for the rest of the day. We also go for the good old fashioned eating competition. “I bet I can eat more spinach than you!” and “Let’s see who can take the biggest bite of beans. Ready, set, go!” Other prompts that have worked well for us:

Even dinosaurs need veggies!
“I’m sure you can’t eat that. Maybe when you’re bigger…”

“This is mommy’s salad. It’s ONLY for mommy…Oh ALL RIGHT, you can have ONE BITE.”

In response to, “I don’t like…” I often say, “You didn’t like it last time you tried it, when you were LITTLE. But you should try it again now that you’re big.”

5) We add salt, butter and silliness to season. I am not above coating Brussels sprouts in salt, butter and even a sprinkle of brown sugar if that’s what it takes to get them into my kids’ bodies. But even more important, I think, is that we try not to
be too serious about vegetables. Kids pick up on “serious,” and they’re allergic to it. One comment of “You’ll SIT THERE until you finish your vegetables” could set us back months. It’s not that we never tell them to eat their vegetables or bribe them
with a cookie, but we try to keep it to a minimum. We prefer to be gross, silly or juvenile to get the veggies down their throats. We sing the Popeye song, Captain Vegetable and the Beans Beans song.

We’ve also had success with:

The girls love their vegetables.
“Did you know your pee will smell really bad if you eat asparagus? I’m going to eat a LOT so mine will smell the worst!”

“You need to eat your carrots. They are full of orangeness and crunchiness and essence of carrot.”

“That cauliflower looks like a brain. Gross! You’re eating brains!”

6) Hunger is our Ally. I wait until our kids are famished. Then I strike. If they are whining while I’m making dinner, I let them eat as many vegetables as they want. They will typically eat more veggies between meals than at dinner, and that’s fine with me. Big A can demolish more servings of vegetables during snack times than most adults eat in a day. I also give them bowls of veggies if they ask for a snack while they’re watching TV (gasp, our kids watch TV).

7) We let them be in charge. Kind of. If a kid chooses something, they are more likely to eat it. So we give them options like:

“Do you want peas or green beans?”

“How many tomatoes do you want?” (If the answer is zero, we revert to #4)

“Do you want your salad separate or all mixed together?”

I also let them help make the veggies. If they make something, they are more likely  to at least try it. They especially love pumping the salad spinner (this one has stood up to three kids), cutting vegetables (I found some great kid-safe knives from Curious Chef that make this possible), and mixing things together.

With all that, there are certainly times when our kids don’t clean their plates. And times we go out for a burger. And lots of begging for candy and sugar. When little E was less than two, he coined the phrase, “Cake. My. Mouth.” We just don’t worry about it. We keep encouraging them to enjoy fruits and vegetables, and we let it be okay for them to have preferences, phases, and moods or to just not be hungry. Our reward has been incredibly healthy, smart and (generally) happy kids…and a
massive produce bill.

So, does anyone have any advice about how to get kids to pick up after themselves
or play more than 10 minutes without fighting?

Sincerely,

High-D Mom (married to Renaissance Dad)

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