I was so tickled when someone recently referred to me as “the picky eater whisperer”. I love sharing ideas with parents about how they can encourage healthy eating patterns with their kids using the formula of “inspire- educate- give choice”. The inspire and educate part is why I wrote Give It a Go, Eat a Rainbow (Illustrated by my 12-year son for awesome peer-to-peer messaging). The book is now available on Amazon!
Here is my article which appears in the June 2016 Idaho Family Magazine. The title of the article is “Fun Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies”. You can read it online, as a PDF or below. Enjoy!
By Kathryn Kemp Guylay
Too often, parents find that convincing kids to eat their fruits and veggies involves bribery and begging. These tactics don’t work, and yet we need to find ones that do if we’re going to improve the health of little ones.
Consider the statistics. One third of preschoolers do not eat fruit or veggies on a daily basis, and one in three American children will develop diabetes if they follow an inactive and overeating lifestyle.
What can we do? A lot. And we can have fun doing it.
Here are my top 10 tips to guide you in getting your kids to more nutritiously-packed produce.
1. Rename your veggies. How you name and serve foods affects how they will be received. Studies have shown that kids are three times more likely to eat carrots that are called “x-ray vision carrots” as opposed to just “carrots.” Also, young children respond positively to broccoli and asparagus “trees” and cauliflower “clouds.” Other creative names to try include “power spinach” and “high-voltage sprouts.”
2. Use your senses. If kids don’t want to taste a food that is new to them, don’t force it. Praise kids for at foods and encourage them to describe them in a positive or neutral way, such as “these carrots look crunchy” and “this kale is bumpy.” Then, praise them further when they a food, and describe it with words such as “this onion smells spicy” and “this lettuce is earthy.” Only positive and neutral descriptions should be praised; this type of engagement will help set a child on his/her way to potentially food.
3. Play games. Simple activities such as a grocery store scavenger hunt in search of “a purple veggie to go with dinner” can go a long way in getting kids interested in foods. Also, play a form of Bingo where kids create a card that includes foods to try, and reward your child with a non-food prize when they get five in a row.
4. Educate, inspire and give choices. Reading food labels together can be an opportunity to teach kids about healthy ingredients. Also, compare foods by noting, “Wow, this kale has the same amount of calcium as milk!” and set a good example by eating well and meeting your own nutritional needs. Ultimately, let kids make healthy decisions for themselves; for example, ask, “What colors of vegetables do you want on your dinner plate tonight?”
5. Know what motivates kids (and what doesn’t). Kids are not interested in hearing about cardiovascular disease, diabetes or other health issues. The key currency for kids is .Kids want to run, play and do well in school and activities. Teach kids that food is fuel, and that “go foods” (healthy foods, including fruits and veggies) are the best fuel for your body. If you ask kids how a car will run if you put sand in the gas tank, they’ll likely say, “it won’t go” or “it will break down.” Help them understand that improper fuel for their body is sugary foods, processed foods and fast foods. The best fuel? Protein, whole grains, calcium-rich foods and, of course, fruits and veggies.
6. Teach kids where veggies come from. Kids are more likely to eat foods that they have grown themselves. Plant a family garden and allow the kids to sow the seeds, water the plants and watch them grow. If you can’t plant a full garden, then create a mini garden in pots on the windowsill; a little basil or parsley can do wonders in increasing the freshness factor of any meal. You can also visit a local farm or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to see how food is grown.
7. Prepare meals together.It’s rewarding for kids to eat foods that they have had a hand in selecting and preparing. Allow kids to choose meals from recipes you have on hand or ones you find together. They’ll feel further invested when they help you prepare the shopping list and visit the grocery store, and then wash, chop and cook the food.
8. Let kids play with their food. Bring out a child’s creative side by making “edible art.” Ideas can range from a character with a cucumber head and celery stick body to a caterpillar created by arranging carrot circles on a plate. The possibilities are endless.
9. Get silly. If games and edible art are not enough, take it a step further and get super silly. There are funny, short videos available on YouTube that just might inspire kids to try new veggies. I suggest “Parry Gripp’s I Like Vegetables” and also the “Bolthouse Farms Baby Carrots Extreme Ad,” which features an engine-powered shopping cart, machine gun-shooting baby carrots, and a pterodactyl. If your kids are on Instagram, have them join the “ugly fruit and veg” list where the uniquely shaped produce is so ugly it’s adorable.
10. Make reading-time work to your advantage at the dinner table. The more often kids are exposed to veggies, the more comfortable they will be when veggies appear on their plates. In my new book, “It a Go, Eat a Rainbow,”I use photographs of real veggies mixed with illustrations drawn by my own son to help tell the story of Blake, who “feels sleepy” (lacks energy) before finding strength and vibrancy through a magical journey including fruits and veggies. Fun and entertaining exposure to produce at a young age can be a powerful tool to limit power struggles and, in fact, turn the tables and have kids for healthy food options.
My hope is to have a world where kids beg for their veggies rather than parents begging their kids to eat them. Seems like an awesome one to me.
From kindergarten classrooms to corporate boardrooms, Kathryn Kemp Guylay has inspired tens of thousands of individuals to improve their health and happiness. She is an author, speaker, certified nutritional counselor and founder and executive director of Nurture, a nonprofit that provides nutrition and wellness education to children and adults. Kemp Guylay and her family reside in Sun Valley. For more information, visit makewellnessfun.com.