By Brittini Gehring, MH (and mother of 5)
I wish there was a way to get kids to eat every vegetable, but it's difficult. There is, however, a way to get most kids to eat a lot of fruits and veggies! Over the years, I have experimented and found ways to increase a child's desire for healthy foods, but one simple technique has proven to be effective nearly all of the time. So many parents are constantly trying to force-feed veggies to kids by telling them, “They are good for you!” or “You’ll grow up big and strong!”, but there is a problem with that - Kids don't really care about those benefits at their age, and there are too many unhealthy, “yummier” options. What does “they are good for you” even mean to a child? Not much. It isn’t a concept that kids can fully comprehend. So while parents mean well, we need to recognize that kids think on a different level, and they don't want to just take your word for it, especially with food.
Kids are learning machines. They need to absorb information intellectually and visually in order to accept and apply it. As an adult, I know what foods are good for me, and why! That is the key – the “WHY.” Kids ALWAYS want to know why, and a simple “because I said so” just won't do. With all of the good tasting junk food options out there, kids need to hear the actual reasons why eating healthy is important, and why junk food can be bad for you. Fulfilling a child’s “why” will give them the information they need to start making good dietary choices on their own. In my home, it began with “superhero” juice; freshly squeezed juice made up of mostly spinach or collard greens, kale, ginger, beets/beet greens, and occasionally carrots or a green apple for a touch of sweetness. This juice is potent enough to scare most adults away! At first, my kids saw me drinking the juice, and like most kids, they wanted whatever I was having. The first sip resulted in a firm “EW! Mom, why are you drinking that?” Well, if I had replied with a “because it is good for me,” that would've been the end of it! Instead, I replied with, “This is a super-food drink, and only super-food heros can drink it.” Interest spiked, because what kid isn’t up for becoming a hero? Eating healthy certainly makes you a hero in my book! Next, I provided them with some of the ingredients, and their “powers.” Here are a couple of examples:
Kale - “This is the king of all the vegetables! It is one of the strongest, because it has so many vitamins and minerals! One of these vitamins is Vitamin K. Vitamin K helps to make sure your blood is strong and that your heart is strong. A strong heart means you will be able to run fast at school, and still have energy to give lots of love to everyone around you!”
Carrots - Show them when you slice a carrot it looks round, like an eye. Because it has beta-carotene and lutein, this veggie has the ability to help them see better at night! There are a lot of healthy foods that look like the organs they help (walnuts/brain, tomatoes/heart, kidney beans/kidneys, onions/skin, etc.). Kids love this!
My kids became so intrigued by responses like these, that they began asking me about EVERY fruit and vegetable. “Hey mom, what does this have in it?” and “What does that do for me?” Of course, responses require some education and creativity. The ability to quickly Google their questions on a phone certainly helps! Answers will vary, depending on a child's age and interests. I’m not telling you to trick them, but be creative and appeal to each child’s interests. Don’t ever feel like you are giving them too much information, or that your answers are over their heads. I’ve found that the more detailed and educated answer I’ve given them, the more success we’ve had. Sometimes, they don't even fully understand, but the answer sounds so smart to them, that it must be true, and they gobble the veggie in question right up! As for the superhero juice, I can't make it without all of my kids, as well as the neighbor kids begging for a glass! Younger kids are even easier to convince, because when they see older siblings doing something, they’ll want to participate too - half of your job is done! Remember, it doesn’t happen overnight, and depending on the child, it might take some time. Be a good example, and be persistent in educating and intriguing your child’s hungry mind. Once they get a taste of all the things healthy foods have to offer (educationally and physically), they will feast on them for life!