Oh my goodness, getting my kids to eat more veggies or just to eat healthy at all is such a struggle!

There is no place that poor nutrition is more prevalent than in children. Somewhere along the line, we have deduced that it is ok for children to eat garbage. We justify that they are picky or that they are young and growing and will burn it off. We feed them things we would never consider eating ourselves all under the guise that they aren’t fat or their tests at the doctor are ok.

Case in point: Mom orders a salad, Kids get chicken fingers and fries. True? True.

Before I had kids, it was easy to eat healthy and I secretly challenged myself to make every attempt to not fall into the trap of letting my kids eat whatever they wanted all the while choosing nourishing foods for myself. Of course, that was BEFORE I had kids.

I never realized it would be so hard. Seriously.

Everyone wants to give them a “treat.” Grandmas, oh Grandmas, how we love you but we also know that our kids need a total digestive detox when they leave your house. Last time I picked my kids up from my mom’s, Emme had a cookie in one hand, a piece of chocolate in the other hand and then I found out they had spent some “quality” time eating ice cream cones on the back porch.

Now I know why I am not their favorite when I offer raisins for dessert.

But, on top of that, readily available snacks are generally loaded with sugar and mysteriously lacking any nutrient content. Children’s menus often don’t even have a vegetable on them. Plus, here is the kicker.

They know a cookie tastes delicious. It makes no sense in their little mind that they shouldn’t be able to eat cookies all day. Kids know they taste good. We all like things that taste good. What could be wrong with wanting cookies all the time. Right?

It takes a lot of effort to even get one good meal in them doesn’t it? It takes a little bit of work to get them to eat even one vegetable a day.  This is a daily challenge for me, but one I know is important. Just like other habits, I find that we fall off the wagon and we have to struggle to climb back on. If you and your family struggle with this, we are right there with you.

Do you want your kids to eat more veggies?  Here are some tried and true strategies that have seemed to help our kids eat .

  • Start early: If your kids haven’t started eating solid food yet, you are at the best place to start. Baby food is actually pretty healthy if you buy the vegetables and fruits versus the apple cobbler or the macaroni and cheese baby food. Seriously? Kids that young don’t need either one of those. Once they can go to more solid foods, avocados are really good as are bananas, cooked butternut squash, eggs, quinoa, raspberries, and homemade mashed potatoes. I could go on for a long time. The idea is to look for things that you also eat that they can eat as well.
  • Be an example: If you do not eat vegetables, they probably won’t either. Public service announcement: Kids love their parents and love being like them. So eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains and healthy fats.   Try to have a veggie at every meal. Once you have mastered that, shoot for two vegetables at every meal.
  • Serve vegetables first:  When they are really hungry before dinner put out a plate of veggies.  They are more likely to eat them if they are really hungry and don’t have another option.  We typically do baby tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and red peppers.
  • Carry good snacks:  I am pretty horrible at this one, but it I still try.  I’d love some ideas on this one if anyone has others.  I typically try to have Larabars, Kind Bars, grapes with cheese and triscuits, or peanut butter sandwiches.
  • Sneak vegetables into recipes they like: Mashed potatoes seem to be a favorite for kids. Throw in half a bag of frozen spinach. Throw butternut squash into chili, peas or cooked cauliflower into macaroni and cheese, broccoli into rice, zuchinni into noodles. AND, here is a trick that will seem obvious, but I wasn’t doing it. Chop the veggies into small pieces. They are hard to recognize when they are small.
  • Keep junk out: There flat out is no reason to have processed baked goods in my house. None. They don’t come in. No Pop Tarts, no Ho Ho’s, no mini muffins, not even Oreos. Yes, I know, I am depriving them. Wait, no, I am not. When they go to Mimi and Papa’s they always have treats. They have treats at school. If you go to some function where they serve snacks, there is most likely have some sort of food that makes me shudder. I cannot protect them all the time, but I can protect what is in my house. Plus, it doubles as protection for me. Because, let me just be real truthful about what happens when I do buy those things.

I buy the cookies.

I hide them so the kids don’t know where they are.

I eat them all when they are not looking.

Ice cream? I don’t even get a bowl.   I just eat it right out of the container. In my mind, it makes me feel like I didn’t actually have any. Dumb, I know, but I can convince myself of a lot of dumb things.

  • Keep at it: I know your child is picky. The older mine get, the pickier they get. Let’s face it. When they are young, they don’t realize they have choices. Emme, who is 2, will down an avocado followed by spinach casserole and roasted squash and be happy as lark. Eli? He doesn’t “like” squash or avocados or mushrooms, at least he says he doesn’t.

Case in point:   I have been making a Squash and Quinoa gratin for the last 6 years after a co-worker shared the recipe with me. I LOVE this dish. It is a wholesome side but hearty enough to eat as a meal, and it’s good hot or cold. Last week, I made it and added mushrooms. When I served it to Eli, he looked at it suspiciously.

Eli: “What is that?”

Mommy: “It’s a casserole, kind of like a potato casserole. You should try it. I made it special for you. I think you will like it.”

Eli: “Mommy, I LOVE it! I hope you make this every day!   More please.”

I about fell over.

The point is, stick with it. Keep putting it on their plates and encouraging if not enforcing that they try it.   We don’t enforce it every time, but if it is something I think they will like OR if they are not choosing to eat anything good, then I’ll make them finish everything on their plate before they can have more of anything else. There will most certainly be things they don’t like, but it can’t be every vegetable.

It is easy to let this go.  It is easy to just give in, but for me, I know I want my kid’s to be as healthy as possible so that they focus on other, more important things and not have to worry about illness or simply not feeling their best.  It is my job to look out for them, to teach them that what goes in matters.  What goes into their tummies matters and what goes into their minds.

Healthy habits start early!  And, this just might help us adults too.


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