10 Ways I Encourage My Kids to Eat Veges (and other good food)

how to get kids to eat veges

Good food is important to me but it’s a challenge making sure my children get all the essentials they need.  There’s the cost of food, time to prepare it and getting kids to eat it!   Many people ask me how I get my kids to eat vegetables and there’s no concrete answer but if I had to boil it down, I would say this:

The best way for our family to achieve a healthy diet is to make good food part of our life in a sustainable way.
It’s about establishing a family food culture.

What’s important?

What’s important to one family isn’t necessarily going to be important to another family.  For me personally, my definition of Good Food at the moment is a focus on these things:

  • Minimal processed food: I try to makes stuff myself when I can
  • Minimal rubbish in the lunch box: less packaging
  • Variety of food: I try new things with the kids 
  • Balance
  • Seasonal food
  • Colours
  • Organic food: this is actually not achievable for me most of the time because of the cost but I do value it and look for more ways to include organic produce.
  • Ethical food: I find this challenging because it’s really hard to know exactly where products comes from and if companies are ethical in their dealings. However, I have an open mind to learning and I’ll keep doing that.

healthy kids

Some standard lunch boxes over the last 3 months.

When I look back and think about food and our family, I can see that certain things have worked well over the long term and I am now starting to see the benefits.   It’s a slow gradual thing and this is how it worked in our family.

1. Make it normal

This is the big one for me because it’s all about living life, and food comes under this banner.  Making healthy food normal, is about value.  I want my kids to expect to see all kinds of veges in the fridge and a bowl full of fruit on the kitchen bench.   I want for our home to one where healthy food is normal. For example, when my children were toddlers, I served them the same food as the entire family. So if this was salad, I would put salad on their plate too, along with toddler friendly options. I didn’t expect them to eat the salad, and I didn’t make an issue of it either, it was my way of saying, “This is what we eat as a family.”  Usually they nibbled on bits and pieces but I didn’t force my kids to eat certain foods. Now my kids are older, they all eat salad because it’s what we eat.

2. Consistency

Just because kids don’t like something, doesn’t mean this will always be the case. Consistency in offering both the same,  and different foods works for our family.  One of my daughters was very fussy at one point about an entire food group.  We kept offering the food and encouraging her. It did take a while but persistence and consistency eventually paid off. There are some particular foods I know my children really don’t like and I’ve talked more about that in number 9.

3. Lead by Example

I challenge myself to live out what I want to teach my kids. This includes the food choices I make. 

4. The Pantry

I rarely buy chocolate, chips or lollies for our family.  It’s not that I’m disciplined but the opposite! You see, if it’s in the pantry, I’ll eat it ALL so I just don’t buy those sorts of treats unless we have a birthday party or special occasion. It’s much easier to make good food choices for the family when there is only healthy food around.

5. Educate

I look for opportunities to educate my children on what foods are healthy and why they are important for growth.  I have found this to be key as they get older.  They are fascinated when I explain the benefits of different types of fruit and veges while grocery shopping or eating dinner.  Educational opportunities pop up everywhere because food is a huge part of our life.  

I purchased coloured cauliflowers one time. It was interesting to see the feedback when I posted a picture on my Facebook Page. The colourful cauliflowers are not the due to genetic engineering, but are a result of decades of traditional selective breeding. Then came the conversation about carrots: the colour purple was more common in ancient times (there’s an interesting colour chart here).  Food and its benefits are fascinating!

I’m still learning about food — always will be!

orange, purple and green cauliflowers

orange, purple and green cauliflowers
Cajun Chicken with Chickpea and Garlic Mash with 3 Colour Cauliflower served with a Lime Slice and fresh Corriander

6. Think

As an extension of educating my kids about food, there’s this element of shaping how we all think about food as a family.  Making good food choices is just that: a choice.  Food is pleasure, but it’s not all about pleasure. I think there’s a culture norm that suggests that what we eat has to be about pleasure. For me, food is ultimately about relationship. My favourite eating experiences have been about sharing food with people I care about. Food is also about nourishment. And yes, food is about pleasure too but I’ve learned to love the blessing of food for its wonderful value over temporary pleasure.  I still eat to my pleasure, and the choices I make personally reflect what I like, but my choices are shaped by an overall bigger picture thinking.

This has been a journey for me and something I want to impart to my kids too.  I had a conversation with my eldest recently about having treats after sport because “you deserve it”.  I say, if you are going to have a treat, have a treat. Enjoy it! But don’t use food as a reward for exercise. 

7. Grow & Connect

I haven’t had much success with growing things in general but I tried again with help from a friend last year. We planted herbs and tomato seeds in toilet rolls and then transferred them to large pots. They are still growing! Even on a small scale, I think it’s fantastic and helpful for kids to experience tasting food they have nurtured.  I have also found getting kids involved in preparing food (like having a Make Your Own Pizza Night) useful for making connections.

8. Variety

I easily fall into a rut with food. Variety is a good thing and when I find myself in a let’s-have-spaghetti-bolognese-again rut, I look through cook books, read blogs and search for new ideas on the Internet.  Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to a dietitian about family health which gave me an entire new range of ideas and perspective too.

9. Dislikes & Respect

These children in my care are little people and while I’m here to encourage and shape them, I need to allow them the space to grow and develop themselves. I don’t want to be this overbearing mother forcing my own journey on them so much so that the very thing I’m trying to achieve becomes a negative thing.  

For example, my son dislikes beans.  He doesn’t particularly adore carrots either, but he will eat them; he doesn’t hold the same dislike for carrots that he does for beans. I can tell. If we are having beans, I will avoid giving him them.  Sometimes I will put a few on his plate and encourage him to give them another go but not make an issue of it.  In my experience, this doesn’t turn into, a “Well I won’t eat this or this or this either” thing at all. Neither does it mean that all of a sudden I’ll have battles with the other kids about beans.  It’s just not an issue. There are certain things that everyone really, really, really doesn’t like. 

Other ways I interact with my kids about food on this level is I often ask casually how the lunch box food was: what they enjoyed, what they didn’t, what worked well in the lunch box. Until they are adults and can fine tune their own food exactly how they want, there will always be an element of compromise with family food and I think embracing that is part of what family is about; however, I think it’s nice (and important) to feel like you have a voice.

The only main rule we have about food at dinner is if you choose not to eat dinner, there will be nothing until breakfast. This rarely happens now though.

I don’t gratify my children’s every whim, believe me.  It’s not about that.  To me it’s about showing love, care & respect to all in this family so everyone feels like they are part of something special. Because they are.

10. Fun

Then, there’s always making food fun sometimes.  Food picks, little notes, fun shapes. Not always (ain’t nobody got time for that!) but sometimes it’s fun to mix it up. Here’s a very short video the kids and I did with Mr Kiwi Fruit about why you should cover your mouth when you sneeze!  

Early on in parenting, I used to stress more about food which takes away from the beauty of it.  The key for me was realising this process happens over a long time.  Leading by example, patience, consistency and imparting value: it’s hard but it’s pretty simple really. Now I see it’s more important to create a positive food family culture than it is to win the small battles.  Food is wonderful. Wonderful!

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