I was very strategic about introducing foods to both of my children. I knew that getting them to eat and like vegetables at an early age was the goal. Taste preferences are shaped very early and the window for introducing foods is small.
In those early months of pureed peas, I already sensed that getting my son to eat vegetables would be a challenge. I would often do things like give him a spoon of fruit and then veggies, mix the fruit with the veggies, or even hide the veggies in the fruit. As he got older, and savvier, he would pick out the vegetables he could see, which meant I couldn't hide them anymore.
Several weeks ago, a friend and I were out to dinner with our kids. We were at the same restaurant, but our children ate completely different meals. At one point she asked me how I get my son to eat healthy foods, including vegetables.
Here are just a few simple ways we've managed to teach our children to eat vegetables without force, threats, or deception (although, we may have bribed him a few times!).
1. Start Early! Taste preferences are shaped very early in life. Consider starting your baby on vegetables rather than the traditional rice cereal or fruit. If you want to get a head start, eat a wide variety of vegetables during pregnancy and while you're nursing so the flavors are familiar to your baby.
2. Be Persistent! According to Dr. Greene, it takes 6-10 attempts for a baby to develop a preference for a new flavor. Most parents stop before this and assume their baby (or child) doesn't like the food they introduced. I gave my son the same vegetables day after day when he was a baby to truly determine if it was something he did or didn't like.
3. Role Model! Since dinner is the only meal we all sit down together for, we used that time as an opportunity to role model the types of foods we wanted our son to eat. Once he was old enough to eat food from our plate, we'd give him little pieces of our veggies.
4. Educate! We read books about vegetables to my son, bought him plush toy vegetables to play and learn with, and occasionally popped in a video with kids and characters eating vegetables. It's important to start educating children early on about the importance of eating vegetables while creating a positive image surrounding them.
5. Give Options! As my son got older, we began asking him what vegetables he wanted for a meal. We give him some freedom and guidance when it comes to selecting those vegetables. My son is more wiling to eat veggies when he is given some autonomy.
6. Get them involved! Whether it's planting a garden, selecting veggies at the grocery store or helping to season them, my son is more willing to eat them when he's been involved.
7. Get creative! Animals, smiley faces, shapes and more...there is no limit to the number of creative way to serve up vegetables. Use a cookie cutter to make vegetable shapes, whip up some fun (and healthy) dips, and get your kids excited about eating their veggies.
Getting your children to eat their veggies doesn't have to be a daunting task. With a little patience and creativity, you may just be able to instill a lifelong love of vegetables in your children.
By guest blogger, Caryn Baily, Rockinmama