“I need help, my child won’t eat vegetables!” That’s the famous shriek I get frequently from parents. It’s no surprise that children spend more time poking their broccoli with their fork at dinner than actually chewing it. It’s also no surprise that for those parents who pack lunch for their kids, the banana or grapes happen to come back home. How come? They’re surrounded by advertisements aiming at them; from cereal boxes with friendly cartoons to happy meal billboards. I don’t see an abundance of billboards convincing kids that broccoli can make them happy. True, it doesn’t come with a surprise toy, nor does it come with a friendly bunny or a popular character from their Saturday morning cartoon. These are all marketing techniques that surely work on the kids.
I see it in my own household, and believe me when I tell you it’s a challenge. Although I don’t have children of my own yet, my 7 year old sister, Layan, is 15 years younger than I, and is good enough of an experience. During one of my group coaching classes, I covered a few tips of dealing with a busy schedule and feeding a family nutritiously. I had a few handouts about feeding picky kids healthy vegetables, and tips on boosting the nutritional value of their favorite meals. Well, things didn’t go as planned in terms of all my audience being eager about it. Layan decided to tag along with me that day. She almost fell out of her chair when she read one of my tips of how I’m always sneaking pumpkin into her organic homemade macaroni and cheese. Boy did she gasp loudly, and made sure to tell ever person she met on the street that I sneak pumpkin in her food. She talks about it until this day.
With time though, aside all the free parenting tips I got from having a youngster like her around, I recognized that kids will most likely try something if they aid in the process of making it. If I call her to the kitchen to put her hands in the meal, believe it or not she tries it- out of excitement of her hard work. I had her help me prepare a quinoa vegetable salad for one of my workshops before, and as she stood their organizing the vegetables, she wanted some herself. The same goes with her smoothies; she only minds spinach in there if she watches me make it for her. If she’s able to help, suddenly spinach is her friend.
I had to learn myself, that there really are things your child will not exaggerate about. Personally, I love spices, and spicy. Aside their wealth of health benefits for us, they give food a delicious taste and aroma. But I know that when I make my healthy version of Biryani in this house, I have to make two small separate batches. Not everyone, especially Layan, can handle an overload of curry or jalapeño peppers. So if your child is telling you that the food is spicy, they definitely are more sensitive to spices than you, even ones like black pepper or cumin. Try using those sparingly, or omitting spices from the meal you make for them completely.
It’s extremely difficult for kids to comprehend how some foods are simply devastating to their health. It becomes even more difficult when they go to school and see all the junk in the lunchboxes of their friends, sold at school lunch lines, or in vending machines all around them.
So how can you get your child to eat their vegetables? First off, don’t force it upon them. Be an example for them, and like everything else, they will imitate you. Secondly, keep the junk out of sight. If you have a bowl of color-dye-full M &M candies or chips on the table, no doubt about that they’ll be coming back and forth. Instead, let them grow and familiarize with seeing fruit bowls and platters of cut up fresh vegetables. Smoothies are fun to make while letting the kids get involved, and a great way for them to get a serving or two of fruit. Adding a few handfuls of fresh baby spinach will not ruin the taste, but will undoubtedly boost the nutritional value.
Lastly, incorporate vegetables into foods you know your child will eat. If your child loves soup, blend in cooked vegetables. When I make lentil soup, I toss in carrots, zucchini, kale, cabbage or spinach. After cooking is complete, I use my hand blender to turn it into a very smooth and creamy soup. Layan eats this, and considers it one of her favorite foods. Or, as I mentioned previously, make macaroni and cheese from scratch and toss in some pumpkin for a nutrient punch. Just please, don’t tell the kids!
Prominently, nonetheless, don’t stick to the notion of always sneaking in the vegetables to the extent where your child never sees vegetables in their whole form. They might mix up the names of a broccoli with a carrot. It might sound wild, but I was conducting a workshop for children, and when I held up an orange one student kept on reassuring me that it’s a vegetable. Be sure to keep whole foods around, and talk about them with your child. As I’ve mentioned, children love to be helpful. Have them help write the shopping list for the grocery shopping trip, and instead of them running down the chips aisle, let them come with you to pick the fruits and vegetables out.
Children discover and emulate from their environment; if you clean up their environment which you can amend, it’ll help clean-up their diet.
Editor’s Note: Noor Salem is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and is CEO of her own wellness practice, Holistic Noortrition, LLC. Noor specializes in women’s health, weight loss, and food intolerance versus allergies. She offers individual and group health coaching programs, and is a speaker on the topic of holistic health at workshops and seminars. The views expressed here are her own.