Veggie Battles: Tips to Help Parents Avoid Being the Veggie Police

Written by Katie Maxey, MS, RD, CHES

"You can't have dessert until you eat your vegetables!"

"Just take 1 bite!"

"You can't get up from the table until you finish your plate."

Do these sentences sound familiar? You may have been told this growing up or you may even tell your own children something similar to this. One thing that has remained constant over the years is the struggle children have with eating their vegetables. Many parents feel like the "food police" when it comes to vegetables at meal time. If this is you, check out our tips below to help meal times become less of a struggle around vegetables.

1. Get kids in the kitchen: The more children are involved in the process of cooking vegetables, the more likely they will be to give vegetables a try. Depending on their age, they are able to help you wash, peel, cut and prep veggies to be cooked. They could also help with the cooking process by stirring vegetables on the stove or getting the vegetables ready on the pan to roast. It may take a little more time and effort for you to teach them how to help you in the kitchen but in the long-run you are helping them become more familiar with the concept of eating vegetables. 

2. Vary your veggies: When cooking dinner, aim for a variety of vegetables. Families tend to eat the same handful of meals over and over again and the same holds true for vegetables. Try different types of vegetables cooked in a variety of ways. Roasting is a great way to try vegetables. Roasted broccoli tastes very different from fresh broccoli or steamed broccoli. You can also use fresh, frozen or canned vegetables. Head to the grocery store and let your children pick out a new vegetable for you to cook that week. They may not try it, but at least they are involved by picking it out for you.

3. Don't be scared to add flavor: Make sure the vegetables you are providing have flavor. Don't be scared to add a little fat and a few spices to flavor your vegetables. If you are steaming carrots, add some honey or a little spray butter to add extra flavor. If you are roasting cauliflower, add a little garlic or cumin to give it an extra pop of flavor. We want vegetables to taste good, especially if children are trying them for the first time.

4. Be a role model: Are you eating your veggies? It's hard for children to like vegetables if they never see their parents eating vegetables. Try new vegetables you have never had before or try cooking a vegetable in a new way. As kids see you eating your veggies and trying new veggies, they may feel empowered to do the same.

5. Remove the pressure: The more we pressure our children to eat their vegetables, the more they will push back and avoid eating them. Once your job of cooking and providing the vegetable has been done, take a step back. Let your child decide whether or not to eat the vegetable you have provided. Allow your children the ability to spit out a food if they do not like it. This allows them safety when trying new foods. If pressure has been removed, children will become curious and eventually venture out to try new vegetables. But remember to involve them in the process, offer a variety of vegetables cooked in a variety of ways and make sure you flavor the veggies!

Provided by staff who are part of Brenner FIT (Families in Training). Brenner FIT® is a pediatric weight management program at Brenner Children's that helps families create healthier lifestyles together. Brenner FIT offers free cooking, nutrition and parenting classes.