Set a positive example
Parents are key players in the quest for children to eat healthy foods, and it is important to lead by example. Parents who eat vegetables have children who eat vegetables. Studies show that there is no need to make a big production or to rave about how good they taste. Kids can see through a hidden agenda. Simply make vegetables a regular part of your meals and eventually curiosity will lead your child to taste them.
Offer and observe
Expert, Ellyn Satter, has written several books on a parent’s role in healthy eating. She advises that parents are responsible for what is served, and when and where it is served. Your child is responsible for whether or not he or she eats it. Although it is frustrating, a child may need to be offered a food 15 to 20 times before trying it. As you continue to offer vegetables, you will see small changes taking place over time. It may begin with putting the food on the plate, on another occasion taking a bite and spitting it out, and later successfully eating one or two bites of the vegetable.
Don’t make vegetables the bad guy
Making a clean plate the bridge between your child and dessert or going out to play can easily backfire. The goal is to truly enjoy the food, not to make eating vegetables the dreaded task needed to get a reward.
Family meal planning
Children who are involved in meal planning and preparing vegetables are more likely to try them. Start with shopping and allowing your children to select a vegetable they would like to prepare. Look through a child-friendly cookbook together, select a recipe, and prepare it as a family.
Get involved with gardening
Growing a vegetable has a significant impact on a child’s perception of that food. Children are much more likely to eat a vegetable they have cared for, watched grow, and harvested. Not all families have the space or the time to garden, but even a single tomato plant on the balcony is a good option. Community gardens and youth gardening classes provide an opportunity for your children to learn about growing food if you are unable to garden at home.
Celebrate a "New Food Day" each week
Select one day each week when you will serve a new vegetable at dinner. Consider vegetables that are associated with a current school lesson, such as a food from a specific country in social studies or a type of plant from science class. Engage your child in selecting and preparing the new vegetable.
Incorporate vegetables into more foods
Adding vegetables to favorite dishes is one way of getting your child to eat more, but also introduce vegetables in their whole form on other occasions. Remember, the goal is for your child to develop healthy eating habits with the ability to recognize vegetables and a desire to eat them. Sneaking them in won’t accomplish this. Adding shredded carrots or summer squash to breads, muffins, and oatmeal, mixing pumpkin puree into soups and stews, and blending kale or spinach into smoothies are delicious ways to add more vegetables to meals.
Make vegetables taste good
Children can be sensitive to strong and bitter flavors making it no surprise that Brussels sprouts or raw kale often receive a negative response. It’s okay to dress up vegetables to make them more appealing. Dips made from low-fat yogurt or beans, a sprinkle of cheese, or a light coating of whole wheat breadcrumbs can make vegetables more appealing without making them unhealthy. Using cauliflower and broccoli in a vegetable-based mac-n-cheese is often a welcomed dish. Making a sweet dressing with fresh fruit puree creates a healthy salad that tastes delicious.
Serve vegetables first
Some nutrition experts recommend serving vegetables first, when your child is hungriest. Consider an appetizer of carrots and sliced bell pepper strips with yogurt-herb dip or hummus. A small salad of greens topped with dried fruit and sunflower seeds, or a cup of pureed vegetable soup topped with croutons make an ideal first course.
Research shows that children of families who eat meals together also eat more fruits and vegetables when compared to children of families who rarely eat together. Studies indicate that eating together even as few as two times per week increases fruit and vegetable intake.