One of the most common questions I get from other mamas is, “How can I get my kids to eat more vegetables and healthy foods?” My daughters are 10 and almost 12 now. I studied to become a health coach when my youngest was three and my oldest almost five, and this was around the time that I began making changes to both their diets and to mine and my husband’s diets. It’s a constant process to get kids to eat more vegetables and to make healthier choices. I believe it’s one of our greatest struggles as moms, but also one of our own greatest opportunities to learn.

I actually asked my older daughter to help me out with tips to get kids to eat more vegetables. I asked her what helps her want to eat healthier foods, and what tips she thought I needed to share with other parents. So together, we came up with these tips for that have worked well for our family…

 

1. Ask your kids what they’d like to have on the family menu for the week. Getting kids involved in the weekly menu and asking them to help you plan makes them feel like their voice is being heard. If you ask them which veggies they’d like for you to buy at the store, your kids will be more likely to eat the veggies you picked out together. On the weekends I’ll ask my family, “What does everyone want for dinner this week?” Whatever they ask for is typically what I build our family dinner menu around. This tomato bisque, shown below, is one of my girls’ top requests.

 
 
 
 
 
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2. Try new veggies regularly to find out more about what your kids really like. If they haven’t tried many different veggies, how can you know what they really like and what they don’t? Just because they don’t like tomatoes, don’t assume they also won’t like broccoli, spinach, and peppers. Make it a habit to buy at least one veggie a week that’s new to your kids, and ask them to try it. This way you’ll have a better understanding of what they love, what they don’t love but will eat anyway, and what they really can’t stand.

3. Let your kids see you eat veggies. If your kids hear you asking them to eat their veggies, but they don’t see you eating yours, it becomes one of those “I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions speak so loudly” things. Why would they feel it’s important for them to eat veggies if they don’t see you doing it, too? Model the behavior you’d like them to emulate, which also means mom and dad are trying new veggies, too. 

 
 
 
 
 
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4. Let your kids use favorite condiments for dipping and topping their veggies. Don’t be afraid to let them cover their broccoli in cheese sauce or douse their sweet potatoes in ketchup, if that’s what it takes to get them to eat it. It’s important that they learn to try new foods, and getting them to eat the veggies, even if they are covered in a condiment, is actually better than them eating no veggies at all. 

5. Talk to them about the why behind eating veggies and other healthy foods. I talk with my daughters about how their bodies feel when they’ve eaten too many processed foods. We talk about the importance of nutrition. We talk about what their energy levels feel like, how it affects their mood, and even how it affects them in the bathroom. Yes, we discuss their bowel movements because it’s a huge indicator of the health of our bodies. Kids should be eliminating at least once a day, just like grown ups should. On the flip side of that, I try to help them to identify the way they feel when they’ve eaten mostly healthy foods – lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. My hope is that they’ll make this connection with how certain foods make their bodies feel, and carry that with them into their teenage years and adulthood. I am trying to help them establish lifelong healthy eating habits, and I believe that a lot of what we carry into our adult years around food and issues with food, starts in childhood.

 
 
 
 
 
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6. Don’t make kids clean their plate. Encourage your kids to try just a few bites of everything, especially the veggies and especially if the veggies on the plate are new to them. Let them know you don’t expect them to finish it all, but that they are expected to just try. Some veggie flavors (like more bitter greens) are an acquired taste, and kids will get more and more used to these different flavors each time they try them. It’s important for kids to know they have a choice around whether or not they want to finish the full serving you’ve put on their plate.

7. Place more emphasis on all the delicious foods they’re adding to their diet, not on taking things away. This is a great tool for grown ups, too. It’s really more of a mindset trick. When we think too much about all the foods we aren’t getting to eat, we end up feeling restricted and we automatically want more. Try placing the focus instead on all the new, delicious foods you’ll be adding in to your family’s diet. 

 
 
 
 
 
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8. Make sure your kids come to the dinner table hungry. One mistake I hear parents often making is letting their kids eat freely and over snack after school. Then, the kids aren’t hungry at all for whatever’s on the dinner menu. My girls have a small snack after school, usually a piece of fruit and nuts or some kind of whole grain crackers or snack bar, but they know that after school snack time is time for just that – a snack. I want them to be hungry when we all sit down to eat dinner, which means they’ll be more open to eating vegetables.

9. Don’t give up. If your kids are younger, it may take a few or even many times of placing the same veggies in front of them. Just keep trying, and keep encouraging them gently to try new veggies and new foods. You may feel like you want to bang your head against the wall after the tenth time of asking them to try broccoli, but keep offering it occasionally and keep offering other veggies that you know they like. Remember that this is a journey for them, just as it is for you. Keep going, mama. 

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