By Eric Welder

Struggling with getting your kids to eat vegetables? Can’t seem to get your baby to try any of the green baby food without making an “ick” face? Have a tween who thinks ketchup is a vegetable? I’m here to help, and I’ve got the kids to prove it.

My wife and I faced an interesting decision before having kids, since she eats meat and I don’t. We settled on our kids being pesco-vegetarian (no meat except seafood), so we needed to introduce them to vegetables early, often, and effectively. Here are several tips that might help if your children are as veggie-averse as many, or if you’re a new parent and want kids who eat more than chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese.

Start early. When introducing solid foods, try those that sound or look yucky (I’m talking to you, green peas) before obvious hits like pear and banana, and don’t give up after one or two rejections. Wait a while before starting on meats like chicken and rice – your kid’s a lot more likely to tend toward these flavors than, say, butternut squash, and the goal is to delay pickiness as much as possible. Try making your own baby food by steaming then pureeing vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes – it’s cheap, can be frozen for later, and retains more flavor than jarred.

As kids get older, recognize that refusing to eat certain things is often more about control than taste. Give choices whenever possible – this can be done at the grocery store, by letting your child pick which new vegetable to try, using recipes (we’re having fill-in-the-blank, here are some ways it could be prepared…), or just on his/her plate, by offering a variety of vegetable options with the choice to try each and then say, “that’s not my favorite” (preferable to “I don’t like that”, which often precedes actual tasting).

Flavor matters. Don’t be afraid of spices, especially early on in introducing a new food. Encourage your child to try veggies that you might not like, such as olives or pickles, that have strong flavors but are actually pretty popular among kids. Incorporate veggies through ethnic, especially Asian, foods, which often rely on both vegetables and spices to please the palate. Choose a vegetable that you wish your child would eat, such as sweet potato, and then keep working at it until you find something he/she likes. Often, less cooked is better. Raw broccoli with a little light ranch or steamed broccoli with a little pepper not only has a stronger flavor than overcooked mushy broccoli, but also more nutrients.

Make it fun. As your child gets older, let him/her help you with selecting, peeling, cooking, and chopping vegetables, giving more ownership of the meal and making him/her more likely to try it. Let the kids make their own salads, and be creative, including interesting flavors like edamame (soybeans), green peas, chick peas, raisins, etc.. Go colorful – a bean salad filled with red peppers, carrots, and celery is a lot more appealing than a pile of scary green spinach.

If all else fails, trick ’em. If snacks just before meals are normally not allowed, put out a dish of carrots and light ranch, or better yet veggie sticks and hummus or white bean dip, and tell the kids to help themselves while you’re cooking – they’ll think they’re getting away with something! We let ours eat (safely) right off the cutting board! Serve veggie crumbles such as Morningstar Farms in a spaghetti sauce or tacos instead of real meat or even sneak veggies in, but tell your kids after several times that you did, and that they DO like veggies after all.

Connect the kids to their food. Stress that “you are what you eat”, and that veggies provide important vitamins and minerals. Make eating some vegetables in each meal non-negotiable – stress that it’s your job as a parent to keep your kids healthy, and you wouldn’t compromise on seat belts or doctor’s visits, either. Help your kids see where veggies come from by having a garden that they can help with, or taking them to the farmer’s market.

Have a Meatless Monday each week. This forces the issue, but also opens up dialogue and provides opportunity.

Model it. Realize that kids take your lead. If Mom frequently says, “I don’t like fill-in-the-blank” or shows an unwillingness to try new things, you can’t be too surprised when the little ones do the same. This is important for teenage brother and dad, too – most of these techniques work regardless of age.

Two easy recipes my family makes all the time are Lemony Lentil and Pasta Salad and Extra-Easy Humus (add a splash of lemon juice). Good luck, and bon appetit!

Eric Welder is married to Ashleigh, a Triad Moms On Main sales representative. He is a father of two, Bryce (6) and Savannah (3). Eric teaches middle school at Southern Guilford Middle and tutors and coaches as well. He loves traveling, spending time with his family, cooking and reading.

Find out more about Fatherly Fridays here!
Previous Fatherly Fridays:
Ten Easy Ways Dads can be More Involved with Their Kids – by Travis Finn
5 Parenting Tips from a Seasoned Dad – by Kim Williams
Programmer Preschool – by Scott Rigdon
Tolerance – by James Raper
Oh So Very Wrong – by Jon Lowder
I’ve Bought Six Wedding Dresses – by Teddy Burriss
The Tiny Terrorist and Toddling Dictator – by Bryan Timmons