As parents, we want our children to be as healthy as possible. And even though we have every intention and desire for them eat a balanced diet and crave foods other than grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, pizza, and macaroni and cheese, they have a mind (and appetite) of their own and another opinion entirely.
As a professional child behaviorist and a mom of a toddler, here are my top 5 ways to creatively get your child to eat more fruits and veggies.
First and foremost, the best thing you can do for your children is be a positive role model. If they see you eating something new, they are more likely to try it also. Role model the way you want them to behave. Show them what it looks like to eat healthy food. Be an example to them. Educate them about healthy foods and teach them your expectations.
- Implement an Incentive. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way. Think potty training. When they go to the potty, you celebrate not only when they do it right, but also for the attempt. You celebrate even the tiniest of successes. So do the same with food. You are essentially training them to eat in a healthy way. Make a sticker chart. Find what will motivate them. The prize doesn’t have to cost money, it just has to be something they would want to earn. They don’t even have to eat the entire thing, maybe start small where they earn a sticker for just taking a bite! We started even smaller, where she would earn a sticker for smelling the food or licking it first!
- Encourage Empowerment. Let your child choose a fruit and vegetable to eat for the week. In our home, our daughter gets to choose one meal for dinner each week. We give her a list of options (kind of like a menu) we come up with and she chooses from the list! Each meal she chooses has a vegetable (fruits we typically introduce at lunch time). When you are at the grocery store, let your child pick out a fruit and or vegetable they want to eat. They will be more invested by feeling like they have some control over the matter instead of feeling forced to eat a food they don’t want. Make it into a game! And make some ground rules. I suggest making a rule that they have to pick out one favorite fruit and vegetable and one new fruit and vegetable that they haven’t tried before. The possibilities are endless!
- Utilize the “7 Day Trial Method” – If you want your child to eat a new food that is unfamiliar to them, let their sensory system do the work! Cognitively they will resist something that is foreign to them, mostly out of fear, and maybe some out of feeling a loss of control. So let them experience the food. Let them see it. Let them smell it. Let them feel it. Let them taste it. Let them hear it (crunch, crunch, crunch). Let them experiment with the different textures of the food. They may want to somewhat dissect it, so allow this exploration to happen without judgment. If they end up taking a bite, all the better. But if they don’t, try not to force it during this experiential period. All you have to do is be consistent. Pick one fruit or one vegetable. Give your child the same fruit or vegetable every day with one meal for the entire week and then provide them with an invitation to explore and eat it by giving them the space to do so. The goal is for them to become familiar with it after the week is done that they will feel comfortable enough to eat it!
- Make a smoothie. Invest in some type of blender or food processor. Any food that is blended and has a varying consistency and hidden taste to what they try to avoid by eating “the real thing” will win the prize. Grab some spinach and carrots. Grab some berries and bananas. They will benefit from all of the nutrients and won’t even know it. The best part is that they can help make it! Let them put all of the ingredients inside before you blend them together. Make sure to watch their fingers so they don’t go near the blades. They can even guess what color the smoothie will be before you mix everything up! I also suggest adding some cinnamon and some coconut flakes for some extra sweet, delicious, and healthy natural flavoring!
- When in doubt…buy a pouch. You know when your baby was little and ate only puréed fruits and vegetables? We used to buy organic pouches at the store and use them for entire meals and then eventually as a snack on the go. These pouches do not replace the real thing, but when you are in a crunch and need a healthy alternative, give your child a fruit and veggie pouch. They don’t even need to be refrigerated. Just make sure to check the expiration date and also the ingredients on the back. You want to make sure it is just the fruits and veggies they are eating and not added sugar or preservatives of any kind. In addition to the pouches, there are other healthier versions of fruit and veggie snacks you can give your child guilt free including bars, dried fruit pieces, and more.
What are some things you have been successful with using to get your kids to eat their fruits and veggies? What HASN’T worked for you? Share in the comments!