How to Get Kids to Eat More Veggies

As some of you moms have surely witnessed, kids more often eat when they're hungry and stop eating when they're full. In other words, children are naturally following their internal cues so parents should try not to undo this healthy intake by encouraging kids to eat past the point of fullness. Teaching children to stay tuned into their own hunger and fullness indicators allows them to have a comfortable relationship with food and avoid overeating as they grow older.

But in this world of aggressive junk food marketing, it can prove difficult to keep kids on the path of wellness, much less convince them that a plate full of fresh, colorful vegetables can be as tasty as a bowl of sugary cereal. This is where we parents need to get inventive. After all, the habits our children develop at a young age are the ones they’re likely to carry with them into the rest of their lives.

Reinvent the Wheel

I love encouraging kids to look at vegetables differently. One of the fastest and most creative ways to do this is by asking kids to assist you in making pizza—with veggie toppers, of course! You can even do a grain swap and use a head of cauliflower to make the base and create a veggie full pizza crust that you and your kids can then top with whatever you’d like (thinly sliced eggplant on mine, please).

Another way to get kids to view vegetables in a new light is to make zucchini noodles.

You can either spiralize a zucchini with a spiralizer or a vegetable peeler or bake a spaghetti squash and top a mound of the spaghetti-like strands with marinara sauce, meatballs, and Parmesan.

Remember to never deceive kids with these recipes. Provide full disclosure (during or after eating) that they are made with vegetables so that kids learn to appreciate their diversity and flavor while never feeling like they're being tricked.

Play With Your Food

We all enjoy being able to pick and choose what ingredients we want in our salads and then adding dressing and toppings as if we were at our favorite frozen yogurt shop. So why not bring that same experience home with fresh, colorful veggies chopped up and placed in serving bowls? Add a healthy salad dressing or two (along with some nutritious toppings that are fun to sprinkle) and you’ve got a new way to make family dinnertime a lot more playful, not to mention healthy. Plus, kids often enjoy helping to set up this homemade salad bar before partaking in it.

Kids can also use different vegetables to create fun objects like celery boats. Fill celery stalks with low-fat cream cheese and top with red pepper “sails.” They can also cut veggies into strips and other shapes and then use them to design faces or artwork on whole-wheat mini pitas topped with nut butter, light cream cheese, or ranch dressing.

By Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, Health and Nutrition Expert for NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks. Joy’s latest book is From Junk Food to Joy Food.

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