Getting Kids to Eat Veggies

Overall, it may take persistence when introducing—and reintroducing—vegetables to children

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

BrocolliYou may have heard it yourself and now tell your children, “Eat your vegetables.” That is good nutritional advice.

“Veggies are super important because they are nutrient-dense,” said Lacey Roy-Ciciriello, certified nutrition coach and owner of Full Bodied Health in Fayetteville. “Veggies give our kids energy, help their digestive systems, support immune systems and during this time of rapid brain development those phytonutrients are crucial for support.”

Children need between one to two cups of vegetables daily, depending on their ages according to Unfortunately, some children do not enjoy the flavor of vegetables, which demotivates them to eat enough of them. Roy-Ciciriello believes that most children do not eat enough vegetables daily. Part of why might be convenience. Many fast-food places are light on vegetables unless children want a side salad. When offered side by side with French fries, most children want the fries.

Children often do not like the taste of vegetables. Roy-Ciciriello suggests trying different seasonings and means of preparation.

When not serving them raw, avoid overcooking vegetables. Steamed, tender-crisp vegetables taste much better than limp, boiled ones. Try additional ways of preparing vegetables, such as seasoning with sea salt and garlic and roasting them in the oven.

Don’t give up on serving vegetables if the first introduction is not a success.

“Encourage your child to try foods even if they didn’t like them last week,” she added. “Our taste buds last a short time, about 10 days for adults, which means they’re constantly being refreshed according to what we consume.”

Peter Lacell, registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager with Oswego Health, said that offering vegetables frequently can make a difference in success.

“Don’t give up after the first few attempts,” he said. “Don’t put too much pressure on kids. Some parents get a little over-protective making sure their kids eat healthfully. When they’re younger, don’t push too hard or they’ll be against trying new foods.”

Ideally, children should start eating vegetables when they’re small so that they do not develop aversions, according to Vincent Sportelli, chiropractor, clinical nutritionist and owner of Sportelli Chiropractic Health & Wellness Center in Syracuse.

“You’ve got to start them young,” he said. “Vegetables I recommend for kids: beets, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, avocadoes, asparagus, eggplant broccoli and artichoke, especially. Instead of iceberg lettuce, use romaine or kale.”

The strong flavor of those vegetables can make them off-putting unless children start eating them as babies.

Sportelli is a big fan of colorful vegetables, as they are good sources of phytonutrients.

“The more color in produce, the better they are for you,” he said. “When kids eat the proper foods, they have more energy. Their bodies are getting the building blocks they need. Parents should see that when they change their children’s diet around, their behavior will improve. It all plays on your fuel. If you give your body good fuel, you perform well.”

Sofia Sepulveda, registered dietitian at the St. Joseph’s Health Food Farmacy, promotes keeping vegetables more accessible.

“Provide vegetables as snacks,” she said. “Keep pre-chopped vegetables in the fridge for a quick after school snack. Keep tasty dips on hand such as hummus or light ranch to encourage intake.”

She also recommends working more vegetarian meals into the family menu and substituting plant-based pasta for regular pasta.

“Add a tomato-based, low-sugar pasta sauce on top and you easily have two to three servings of plant foods in one meal,” Sepulveda said.

For younger children, mixing more veggies into a casserole, sauce or soup oftentimes goes unnoticed. Sweet red peppers, mushrooms, and carrots as examples of highly compatible vegetables.

Sepulveda suggests adding vegetables to baked goods and smoothies.

Try adding a handful of baby carrots or spinach to a berry smoothie. Or pour the smoothie mixture into Popsicle molds for a healthful treat.

As with most behaviors, parental modeling makes a big difference.

“From the time that a child is born, it is important to demonstrate a good attitude towards eating vegetables,” Sepulveda said. “Some examples may be including your child in the preparation process and aiming to include more vegetables in their own diet.”

Acknowledge “Emma’s salad” or “Cooper’s broccoli” at the table to the whole family so the children feel pride in their culinary creations. Even small children can wash and tear up lettuce for a salad, wash raw vegetables or sprinkle on a dash of sea salt.

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