Q: My preschool-age daughter spits out her vegetables, and her brother loves them. How can I get her to try new foods?
Your child is unique in every way, including their evolving taste buds. If your child isn’t born with an immediate veggie adoration, don’t panic and be persistent. It’s essential to continue to offer new veggies many times. The average child will reject a food 8 to 12 times before trying it.
When introducing a new food, add a familiar favorite! If your child L-O-V-E-S corn but cringes at the sight of red peppers, try marrying the two food items into a simple corn and pepper mixture or offer them next to each other on the same plate. Also, try offering foods in different sizes, shapes, textures, and temperatures! For instance, your child may not appreciate steamed Brussel sprouts, but may absolutely adore them when crisped in the oven. The little ones aren’t a fan of sautéed kale? Try baking it into a chip! If your child isn’t a fan of tofu, try serving it pressed and breaded in panko bread crumbs with a bun. Sometimes, a new favorite way to prepare a food will be both easy and a hit, but it does take some experimenting.
When serving up new vegetables, think mini and cute shapes. Break up broccoli or cauliflower into itty bitty trees, then caramelize. This changes the taste, size, and texture. Some kids hate carrots but may dive into a plate of crinkle carrots in a healthy dip or enjoy carrot fries. Grab your spiralizer or other handy kitchen gadget and transform your veggies into noodles, rice, and other kid-friendly favorites.
Sometimes, it’s good to switch things up! Instead of relying on the household classics, make sure you introduce some veggies that rarely make their way to the dinner table. Who knows, it could turn out to be your child’s favorite! I was surprised by my daughter’s love of golden and red beets, a veggie I would have never cooked had she not asked for them after seeing them in the deli.
It’s okay to add and blend veggies into foods they like. And no, you aren’t tricking your children into healthy eating habits. Have them experiment with you in the kitchen and normalize veggie eating. For instance, ask them to put some baby spinach in your smoothie. Then drink it without any dramatic comments, just your typical,“Yum, this is good!” Lead by example, and they may eventually want to try it, especially if you seem to enjoy it! Patience is key. If they like pasta with marinara, mix in some canned pumpkin, cooked and blended sweet potato or carrots. Remember, build on their existing preferences when trying to incorporate new vegetables. But, avoid bribing or using food as a reward; research shows this doesn’t encourage a healthy relationship with food long-term.
Go Family Style
While younger kids may need help, serve food family-style, and let each child plate their food. Let them see their parents and siblings put the foods on their plate. If the parents don’t eat the vegetables, their little ones will also be less inclined to eat them. Lead by example! Also, team up with the hunger monster and put out a healthy snack that includes a veggie in a new temperature, size, shape, or texture. For example, serve frozen corn or peas right out of the freezer along with some fruit. When kids are hungry, they will be more inclined to give new foods a try!
Allow your kids to connect to their food by growing herbs, and then selecting which get incorporated into tonight’s dinner. Not to mention, herbs can offer powerful antioxidants, even in small portions. You can also try growing vegetables, which can expose and familiarizes kids with this food group, and ultimately make them less intimidating. To start, try something with a little sweetness like sunburst golden tomatoes.
Lastly, kids hear everything (apparently except when it’s time to clean their room). They don’t miss a beat when they listen to you talk about what they don’t like, which can increase resistance. In the end, the process towards healthy eating habits is a marathon, not a sprint. Even many young veggie detesters grow up to be veggie loves. There are many colorful foods in nature, like fruits, beans, and whole grains. Even rice comes in purple! Take refuge in these foods while your kids’ taste buds evolve.
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Melissa Halas, MA, RDN, CDE, is a registered dietitian and founder of superkidsnutrition.com, the first kids’ nutrition expert website, and creator of the Super Crew®, who get their powers from healthy colorful foods. Check out her books for kids and families: Healthy Eating for Families, the Ultimate Guide for Kids, Parents, and Educators, the Super Crew’s Breakfast Cookbook for Kids, 50 Tasty Recipes, and 100+ Fun Nutrition Activities, and her Plant-Based Boost books for adults. Melissa spoke at this year’s Beyond the Lunchbox about “Using Parenting Styles to Make Fun and Tasty Plant-Based Meals for Kids.”