Parents have to fall in love with vegetables. Studies show that the number one factor in getting kids to eat more veggies is parents who eat more veggies. Kids model what they see their parents do. So, parents, expand your palate, experiment with vegetable-centered dishes, and eat a wide variety of colorful veggies.
Kids prefer veggies cut into fun, bite-sized shapes. The latest studies also show that the size and shape of veggies matter to kids. So grab a cookie cutter and have your kids cut cucumbers, bell peppers, squash, and zucchini into small stars, moons, rockets, and other fun shapes.
Put an Elmo sticker on it. I'm not a huge fan of this idea, but the latest studies also show that kids who were presented with a choice between broccoli with an Elmo sticker on it or a chocolate bar chose the broccoli 50% of the time. Marketing is powerful, folks. It works for candy and it works for veggies, too.
Call them Tiny Tasty Treetops instead of Broccoli. Research also shows that renaming veggies gets kids to eat more of them. So, kids are more likely to eat X-ray Vision Carrots then just plain old carrots. Have your kids come up with their own creative names for veggies--and have them draw pictures of what those X-ray vision carrots and other SuperVeggies might look like.
Puree veggies and add them to familiar foods.Adding pureed veggies like cauliflower, sweet potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, squash, and zucchini to familiar foods like spaghetti sauce, chili, or macaroni and cheese without changing the appearance, flavor, or texture of the dish is another quiet way to get in those veggies.
Plant a vegetable garden with your kids. You probably already know this--and it works. Children who plant, nurture, and harvest their own vegetables are more likely to eat them.
Take veggies off the side of the plate. Nothing screams "Yuck, vegetables!" like mushy green peas or broccoli on the side of the plate. Instead, make the veggies a key ingredient in the main dish. For example, if you’re making a quick stir-fry for dinner, make it a rainbow stir-fry by adding in chopped fresh ginger, red peppers, broccoli florets, corn, string beans, some thinly sliced purple cabbage, and throw in some raw cashews or chick peas. Saute it for about 5-10 minutes with a little sesame oil, add some orange juice and soy sauce and you’re good to go. Or how about frozen vegetable pot pies from the store? All those chopped rainbow veggies in a creamy mushroom sauce inside a flaky pastry crust are delish. (That was one of my favorite meals as a child, and yet I hated vegetables.) Another example: stuffed red peppers with brown rice or quinoa, black beans, and non-dairy cheese.
Vegetables don't have to be green. Give them veggies from a rainbow of colors:
Orange sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, pumpkin, butternut squash, and acorn squash
Purple eggplant and cabbage
Yellow corn, squash, and ginger
Red bell peppers, tomatoes, radishes, beets, and onions
White mushrooms, cauliflower, potatoes, water chestnuts, garlic, and onions
Green snow peas, kale, collards, string beans, broccoli, spinach, celery, avocado, and edamame (baby soybeans), and herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, and oregano
Keep veggies crunchy when you cook them. Parents, please stop overcooking your vegetables and turning them into gray mush! Remember that vegetables are already done, just like fruit. They don't have to be cooked. When you do cook them, you want make sure you keep most of their crunch.
Give kids unlimited raw veggies with dip or in a marinade. The studies I cited earlier also show that kids are more likely to eat any vegetable when it's dipped in peanut butter. So after school and before dinner, set out a plate of those cute veggies you cut into star and moon and rocket shapes or some baby carrots with a bowl of dip, using peanut butter, or hummus, or Italian dressing for the dip. And on that same plate, include some small white button mushrooms that you've already marinated in Italian dressing, and stick a toothpick in them for easy grabbing. This works well for olives, too. (And parents, be sure you eat some, too!)
Add vegetables to your kid's fruit smoothies. Yes, add a leaf of kale or spinach to their blueberry or strawberry or mango smoothies. It won't change the color or taste, and it will make it more nutritious.
Include a green salad along with lunch and dinner. Don't be afraid to serve more than one veggie at the table. It's a good idea to put a big bowl of colorful salad on the table, even when your meal already includes cooked veggies. Put your kids favorite salad dressing on the table also and let them add it to their own helping of salad. Oh, and ditch the iceberg lettuce--no nutritional bang for your buck. Try the Spicy Kale Salad recipe in instead--it's the most popular recipe in my book.
It's ok to use frozen veggies. Next to fresh, frozen is best. Avoid canned vegetables because they tend to contain too much salt and preservatives. So, cook up a Rainbow Couscous with some mixed frozen veggies and add them to couscous with some raisins and sliced almonds and Italian dressing. I made this regularly for a school of kindergarteners and they loved it so much, they called me "Couscous Lady." You can also buy frozen sweet potato fries, bake them in the oven, and voila--you know your kids will love em!
Try sauces and seasonings from different cultures. Take a stroll down the spices or international foods aisle of your favorite grocery store and choose a simmer sauce or dried seasonings packet for Indian, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Ethiopian, Jamaican, and many more flavors for your next veggie stir-fry. The recipe is right on the bottle or packet. This is one of the easiest and most delicious ways to add variety to your vegetable dishes.
Use a Spiralizer to make veggie pasta noodles. With this inexpensive kitchen gadget, your kids can help turn veggies like zucchini and squash into pasta noodles. Top it with tomato sauce, salsa, or guacamole.
Get your school to bring in more veggies. The Coalition for Healthy School Food provides free guidance and done-for-you resources to help schools around the country bring more veggies, fruits, whole grains into the lunchroom and the classroom.