My daughters love vegetables. I often write about what they eat and so many people ask me what I do to help them love vegetables. Our approach has really been about developing a love for food- good quality food. So I could easily be writing this post about grains, fish, spicy foods, the list goes on. But it seems to be the perennial parental dinner dilemmna- how do we get our kids to eat veggies?
Here are some of the things we have done to inspire a love of vegetables early on~
We introduced our children to vegetables from the day they started solids. Seems kind of simple but I think that homemade baby food is so essential. It is easy and I could control what was in it. No added salt and only organic, good quality vegetables. As babies, our children ate whole, organic foods and quickly ate small versions of our meals.
2. No pressure-
When it comes to nutrition for little bodies, I have taken my sister's advice- think about what they are getting during the week, not every single day. I look at the nutrients, protein, etc that they are consuming weekly to ensure it is all balancing out. And keep in mind that nutritional panels, and Canada's Food Guide are for adults, not children.
3. Our children eat what we eat-
This is maybe the best lesson I have learned. My kids have learned to love what I love. I took advantage of that brief moment in time when they wanted to be just like me. We talk about the food we love, what's great about it, and where it comes from.
4. Make it fun-
I loathe "kid-friendly food/meals". Food is fun as it is! Right from the time our kids could handle finger food we simply made small, soft pieces of our meals. I also think any kind of "deception" is a ridiculous concept. That doesn't teach them to love the ingredients. It teaches them to love cookies or muffins or whatever it is. (which isn't a bad thing as long as this isn't the primary method of delivery of vegetables). I am a fan of using healthy ingredients in baking and cooking, but it isn't how I get vegetables in my children. Whole raw or cooked vegetables are great as they are. In salads, pasta, roasted dinners, whatever it is, we have taught our kids to love the actual vegetable.
5. Vegetables are not punishment-
Threats, punishments, and negative feedback have no place at the dinner table. We really work at dinner time being our positive, bonding time. We don't rush, we make conversation, we encourage the girls to eat as much as they can. Toddlers get very distracted so we often employ "how many more bites can you take?" Georgia will say whatever number comes to mind and then we let her try to do it.
6. Making the most of when they are hungry-
We have discovered that lunch is the biggest meal they will eat. This seems to be the best time to get protein in them. But every child is different and has a different metabolism. I think it is important to learn when our children are hungry. Even if that means smaller meals or snacks to make it work.
7. Our list of No's-
The following is our list of no foods for either safety or health reasons:
Popcorn, hard candy, hot dogs, "baby" carrots, whole nuts, soda or pop, chocolate milk, trans fats, artificial flavors and colors, anything hydrogenated, very minimal chocolate, fake yoghurt, non organic meat and dairy. There is more on our list to "avoid" and "limit" but this captures our general rules.
8. Teach them to cook-
Hands down, the best move I made early on was to involved my children with cooking and baking. I will write another post about all that I have learned while cooking with children, but if you haven't done this yet, start today. It is absolutely worth the time and energy.
Last night, Georgia wanted to make dinner. I was going to bake some chicken so she was in charge of the rest. (With my help) she made crudite and dip. And look at her- such pride in her work. And her and Olivia ate it all up.
If you know you want to change how your children eat, or even just improve it, I would truly recommend taking small steps. Remember, you buy and prepare the food so you are the one making the decisions. Keep it simple and remember that food is fun just the way it is.