How to Get Kids (and Adults) to Eat Vegetables

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

How do you get adults and children to consume more fruits and vegetables? In her New York Times article, “Learning to Love Veggies, Readers Weigh In,” Jane Brody provides a diverse compilation of creative solutions for both veggie-lovers and those “not especially fond of vegetables.”

Vegetables are Delicious!

One reader wrote, “If you teach Americans how to cook vegetables and stop yelling at them like some righteous food-health nut, they will learn.” Rather than drill home the health benefits of veggies or scold people for not eating sufficient amounts of them, Brody says many readers would rather hear that vegetables are delicious and that their vibrant colors lend aesthetic value to any plate. Generally, readers also want to learn quick and simple ways to make beautiful and mouthwatering meals with veggies.

Additionally, readers suggested:

  • Setting the example by eating whatever you expect anyone else to eat;
  • Making vegetables the center of meals, rather than maintaining their status as “sides;”
  • Making soups and stews that are chock full of veggies;
  • Grilling vegetables like squashes and peppers in the summer;
  • Rather than boiling veggies, saute them in a little olive or coconut oil. To make them especially delicious add chopped garlic, onions and shallots, or balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Add bits of pancetta or bacon for extra flavor;
  • Roasting veggies in the oven / toaster oven: cut them up, toss them in olive oil, season with herbs, salt and pepper, and bake at 400 degrees for @ 20 minutes;
  • Making roasted kale strips by spreading single leaves on a baking sheet, brushing them with olive oil, sprinkling them with salt, then baking them at 375 degrees for five minutes on each side (watching carefully to make sure they don’t burn);
  • For the truly reluctant, pureeing cooked veggies or slipping them into classic favorites like lasagna, pastas, etc.; and
  • Juicing vegetables whenever possible instead of drinking commercially prepared fruit juices and drinks.

Kid-specific tips included:

  • Introducing kids to veggies as soon as they can feed themselves and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…
  • Getting kids down to earth with veggies by planting a garden, even if just in a few pots on the porch or ledge;
  • Letting kids select the veggies in the market and teaching them to assist in meal preparation at home;
  • Encouraging kids to talk about the vegetables, e.g. about the shapes, colors, and other distinguishing characteristics;
  • Making “eating your veggies” fun by creating little challenges (e.g. “how may peas can you pick up with your fork?”);
  • Serving kids the same foods as adults, rather than giving them “kiddie” plates, e.g. with French fries or chicken nuggets – don’t put the meal up for discussion, just expect them to eat it;
  • Getting involved at schools to reinstate cooking classes and to have more fresh (not boiled-to-death) vegetables incorporated into school lunch programs; and
  • Giving kids fresh veggies like carrot and celery sticks and red and green pepper slices with hummus, salad dressing, or seasoned yogurt for snacks; popping edamame (boiled soybeans) out of shells can also make for a fun challenge.

Healthy, Easy Guac & “Chips”

Snacking on fruits and vegetables, instead of cookies, chips, and sodas, is a great healthy food choice for kids and adults alike. Raw veggies in particular are full of enzymes and fiber which are vital for health. In addition to the abovementioned tips, I suggest:

  • Swapping out tortilla chips with carrot sticks and sliced peppers when indulging in guacamole (avocados are a great source of antioxidants and healthy fat);
  • Munching on (organic) red grapes (preferably with seeds) instead of chips or candy– they are full of resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant, and are naturally sweet;
  • Stepping out of the box with salads by adding any combination of untraditionals like mandarin orange segments, sliced strawberries, diced apples or pears, raisins, dried cranberries, pine nuts, walnuts, pecans, edamame, chick peas, beans, jalapenos, or (sparing amounts of) goat or blue cheese. Toss with spinach or arugula, instead of iceberg lettuce, and add (organic) grilled skinless chicken, lean beef, or (wild-caught) fish to make into a main course  – skip the croutons, though, unless you’ll limit yourself to two or three. Make your own dressings using olive oil, your favorite vinegar, herbs, pepper, and a little salt;
  • Cutting up an apple or banana into slices and smearing a dab of almond or peanut butter on each slice;
  • Blending fresh berries or sliced melon with purified water and serving as a light fruit juice (a Mexican tradition);
  • Getting in the habit of adding fresh berries or banana to cereal and yogurt; and –
  • My personal favorite, which I do just about every morning – blending in a Cuisinart with a cup of coconut water (any combination of) greens like kale and Swiss chard (the greener the better), apples, carrots, beets, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, ginger, cilantro, strawberries (all of these organic).

Just Do It

The key to incorporating more fruits and vegetables into the diet is to do it habitually, and perhaps gradually. If the thought of vegetables makes you or a family member queasy, start out by adding small amounts to your favorite foods, then increase the dosage in due time. Choosing fruit or raw vegetable snacks over processed foods like chips, crackers and cookies can eventually becomes second nature if give yourself time to develop a taste for them. The same applies with making vegetables the central focus of the meal.


© 2010 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.

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