Instilling healthy eating habits in your children starts at home. A 2020 study out of Finland showed a positive example set by both the mother and the father promotes the consumption of vegetables and fruit among 3-5-year-old children. A key takeaway is that if the FATHER ate more vegetables, the child also did. All modeling matters, but this study looked at the impact of parental modeling in households with a mother and father. Regardless of what your household looks like, the more we model healthy eating to our children, the more likely your child is to replicate that behavior.
Children under eight years should have 2-4½ servings of vegetables each day. A vegetable-rich diet will help aid in digestion, increase bone growth and strengthen the immune system. Here are a few strategies I use to get my kids to not only eat veggies, but actually enjoy them. These tips will allow you to create long-term habits and ensure your children get the necessary vitamins and minerals for optimal health.
Sneak in Greens
It is no secret that kids can be picky eaters, so an easy way to get more veggies is by looking at the meals you make each week and finding ways to incorporate more veggies into them. Making rice? Go 50/50 with cauliflower or broccoli rice. Chicken noodle soup? Throw in a handful of spinach. Pasta night? Use a lentil pasta instead, and sneak veggies into the meat sauce. Whenever I make pasta for my kids, I like to grate a zucchini, squash, or carrots into the meat sauce using a cheese grater, and they don’t even know it’s there. Onions and garlic are loaded with phytonutrients too, so mince a clove and grate some onion in, and now you have a fiber-rich meal loaded with vegetables.
If you find you slack on your vegetable intake, make it a habit to buy extra vegetables at the grocery store. Even if that means picking up one extra zucchini or a head of broccoli, now you at least have the ingredients available. It is also important to find veggies that your child enjoys eating, which may take some trial and error, but once you find the vegetables they enjoy the most, make them a staple in their diet. If you have the time (and patience) bring your kids to your next grocery shop to allow them to choose which vegetables they are drawn to. Whenever I get the chance, I like to stop by a local farmers market with my kids to try out the in-season fruit and vegetable selection and bring home their favorites.
Fab 4 Smoothies are an easy way to up your child’s daily fruit and veggie intake, plus it is a great way to build healthy habits together. You can modify your Fab 4 Smoothies for kids by omitting flavored protein powder, swapping it for whole food protein sources such as hemp seeds, greek yogurt, or nut butter, and packing them with greens.
Balancing your kid's blood sugar is just as important as balancing your own. I always try to incorporate fat, protein, fiber, and greens when making my kiddo's snacks or meals to improve digestion, keep them fuller longer, and even improve concentration levels. For more in-depth tips, I go into loads of detail in my kid's course #fab4under4.I love to get my kids involved in the smoothie-making process as well. Involving your kids more in the kitchen can familiarize them with different vegetables. Plus, kids make amazing Sous Chefs. I know giving your kids knives (even plastic ones) can make some of us uncomfortable, so if you are looking for a job for your kids, asparagus is for you! The fibrous end can easily be snapped off in the exact right place by your kids. You can use mini stainless condiment cups with pre-measured seasonings and oil for them to add on top and mix with their hands before popping them in the oven.
Here are a few other easy ways I get them involved:
- Washing lettuce in a salad spinner and spinning it
- Rinsing berries: Warning they will eat said berries
- Filling the blender for Fab 4 smoothies
- Seasoning protein: Using pre-measured seasonings in condiment cups
- Broccoli and cauliflower: Cut the broccoli in 1/4 and let them break the florets off
- Brussels sprouts: After I cut off the stem, they pull off the top leaves
Research shows that involving your kids with the cooking process increases their acceptance, curiosity, and consumption of nutritious foods. Plus, you’re giving your kids life skills, independence, and building their confidence in the kitchen. It may be easier and faster to do all the cooking yourself, but this is such an easy way to spend time with your kids and expose them to vegetables and making a nutritious, high-fiber meal with the help of your kids is even more meaningful. After all, a healthy household is a happy one!