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I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that I am not the only parent out there who has one (if not more) picky eaters in the household. Frustrating, right? Over the years I have had to get creative in finding ways to get a little more veggies into some of my childrens' diets. Now, please remember that I am in no way a professional when it comes to dietary needs. I just thought I would take a moment to share my thoughts as a mother who happens to enjoy cooking very much.
1. If you find a vegetable that they like, please let them have it often. Do not use it as a substitute for all other vegetables, though. Keep making and trying new vegetables as often as possible. As much as my daughter loves carrots and would probably eat them almost every day, I know that her little body needs many more nutrients than carrots alone contain. Variety is important.
2. If your child comes up to you at an odd non-meal time and asks for a healthy treat, like a vegetable...stop what you are doing and get it for them. (I do not mean run to the store and buy it quick. Just if you have it on hand already ;-) My daughter discovered that she likes V-8 juice. What?! Yup. I had a pack of the small low sodium cans from Costco a while back and let her take a sip of mine one afternoon, fully expecting her to make a face, spit it out on the floor and be otherwise upset about it for a while. She surprised me. She loved it. She had her own can and has since requested it here and there. Baby Girl wants a V-8? Baby Girl gets a V-8. How can I argue with that?
3. Don't force it down their throats, so to speak. Just keep putting it on their plate. Night after night after frustrating night. They might whine or complain but once they see you are not giving up...they just might take a tiny bite. Key word "might."
4. You should eat the vegetables too, by the way. This will show your child many things. They will see that you are not giving them anything that you yourself wouldn't eat. I have had to explain to my kids many times that I do not cook gross food. I mean, come on, why would I make something yucky for dinner? I don't want to eat anything that tastes disgusting. See look, Mommy is taking a bite. Ooh, mmm, it's so good.
5. On the other hand, I hate peas. I hate 'em. Blech! But I eat them anyway. Everyone is allowed to have things that they don't like to eat. I just prefer they take a fair bite, chew it and swallow before they state their opinion on that. My children know that I have a strong dislike for peas and they see me eat them anyway. They have asked me why I make peas if I don't like them and I have explained to them that peas are good for me so I should eat them. I also let them know that just because I do not like something does not mean that I should not make it from time to time for the other people in the house that do like them. That would be unfair of me to eliminate them altogether.
6. There is a rule in my house. All the kids get a plate of food that is portioned appropriately for their ages. The 15 year old gets a bigger plate of food compared to the 4 year old, obviously. If they want seconds of the parts of the meal that they liked the most than they must eat all of the food from their plate first. They don't get to eat the chicken and the stuffing and skip the veggie and then get more stuffing. If you are hungry enough for seconds than you are hungry enough to eat your veggies, too.
7. Do not be a short order cook. Beside the fact that, "Who the hell has time for that crap?!" I feel it sets a bad precedent. Do it for them once and they WILL remember. "Hmm, if I don't like dinner then Mommy will just make me a PB&J. Whoopie!" Sorry kid, that's not how life works and it's really not that healthy. PB&J's are delicious and all but we probably shouldn't live off them. Just sayin'.
8. Explain yourself. One of my children is the pickiest eater in the whole wide world. Well, maybe not the whole world...but it can get pretty bad. I need him to know that I am not making all of these foods just to specifically torture him for pure parental pleasure. There really is a reason for it all. The biggest of those reasons is love. I love him. It is important to me that I teach him healthy habits for someday he will be all grown up and venture out into the world and will choose for himself what he wants to eat. Why do you need carrots, son? Vitamin A for your eyes. Meat? Protein and iron for healthy blood. Dairy? Strong teeth and bones, my Love. This is all simplified, of course, and there is much more to these foods and groups than these child-friendly explanations...But it's a start to the communication on food.
9. Let them help. Have them help pick out the produce at the store. My kids love to do that. I remember my oldest always wanted to pick out and bag the tomatoes. He knew to check each one for bruises or mushy sections. He enjoyed it very much and was always proud of his picks. Even more so when sweet old ladies would stop in awe and tell him what a great job he was doing helping out his Mommy. If you grow your own, let them help you in the garden. It might be tough having them underfoot sometimes but if they want to help, let them. And cooking. It can be a pain to have literally too many hands in the kitchen, small inexperienced hands at that, but if it helps to get them excited about the vegetables, do it. This is actually something that I personally have to work on. I need to get mine into the kitchen more. I don't want them to be helpless in the kitchen when they move out of the house someday and I told my oldest that it sure would impress the ladies if he knew how to whip up a couple simple dishes like spaghetti or something. He laughed and rolled his eyes a little bit but I am pretty sure I saw a sparkle of interest in his big brown eyes.
10. You'd be surprised at how many meals you can sneak veggies into. This is my favorite way to get the vegetables into their tummies. Seriously, you should try it. Making tacos? Well, why not finely chop some celery, bell peppers, and onions? Throw in a cup of frozen kernel corn and a can of dark red kidney beans while you are at it? It is delicious and way healthier! The kids most likely won't notice because it tastes so darn good. And...bonus...you have just stretched out that pound of ground beef by a lot. Win-win! Try it with any pasta dish, casserole...just try to make the veggies complimentary to whatever you are having.
Here are a couple website links I found that may be helpful when trying out and introducing new vegetables to the kiddos. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-why.html and http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.
Good luck and have fun with it! Peace.