Meet my new sous chef, Jackson. He is three years old and he LOVES spending time in the garden picking vegetables, and then helping prepare dinner in the kitchen. I’m not kidding when I tell you that he actually enjoys eating chard and cabbage leaves right there in the garden. Jackson is my cousin and we both have a mutual adoration for homegrown veggies.
My family owns property in Goshen, NY that was purchased in 1942 and there are 11 houses with about 80 acres of land. The houses are all family owned and we rent out a few of them to maintain the upkeep. It’s called Kindred Farm and it’s my favorite place in the entire world. Jackson has a house on the property as well, so we get to have a lot of quality time together when we are both spending the weekend in the country.
He is a shining example of what a garden can do for a kid’s diet. Jackson also happens to have parents who know a thing or two about healthy eating. They have been teaching him how to make healthy choices before he could even talk. They encourage him to try a new food before deciding that he doesn’t like it, and he does not get dessert until he eats all of his dinner first. Jackson may like to pick broccoli more than he likes to eat it, but he still tries it when it’s in his meal and the kid loves basil and radishes, so I’d say he’s off to a good start.
As a private chef, many of the families that I work for ask me how to get their kids into healthy eating habits. I have worked with kids who started off hating to eat anything green, but little by little they grow to eat produce that they never thought they could possibly enjoy, like spinach, kale, and chard. It’s a process, but it works. I know that it’s a struggle that many parents deal with. I figured I would share my tips on how to get kids to eat produce since I get requests all the time to “HELP GET MY KID TO EAT THEIR VEGETABLES!”
1. Get your kids involved: It’s often stressful to cook, even without a little kid running around your kitchen, so adding a child to the mix can be daunting. Don’t let it be. Getting kids involved in the process of making a meal gets them really excited to eat what they’ve created in the kitchen.
2. Garden with your kids: If you live in a place where having a garden is impossible, grow some produce and herbs on your windowsill and give your kids responsibilities involving watering, caring, and picking your plants. Knowing where their veggies came from and getting them exciting about “their own vegetables” is especially important for children: growing up with a taste for plant-based foods gives kids an advantage they will carry with them for life. Research says that it takes an average of ten to twelve attempts before children will try a new food, unless they are involved in cooking and gardening projects like Alice Waters’s Edible Schoolyard or after school summer programs. Learning about food and cooking in an active way helps breed a sense of culinary adventure.
My mother gardening back in the ’80’s. What a a good role model!
3. Lead by example: Kids are smart and they are not going to eat their broccoli if mom or dad look at the calciferous vegetable sideways. Phobias or dislikes that parents have are often something that kids copy, which is a problem if you are afraid of eating vegetables, but if that’s the case, don’t expect your kids to be vegetable lovers. Parents are usually the source for kids bad eating behaviors, so practice what you preach!
4. Try different cuisines: Many people balk at unfamiliar foods, and children in particular spurn new tastes and textures. Still, plenty of healthy and delicious foods—— bean burritos and guacamole for lunch; spaghetti or lasagna with a robust tomato sauce for dinner——are popular with just about everyone and a great way to get protein and veggies into your kid’s diet. Mexican, Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern and even Indian food have proven to major hits with my clients’ kids.
Made this bok choy stir fry for my client’s kids and they LOVE bok choy now!
5. Fib… but only a little: When I feed picky children, do I always advertise that their shepherds pie is loaded with kale, spinach, carrots, onions and garlic? No. Sometimes kids think they hate something or are afraid to try greens before they even give it a chance, leaving parents very frustrated. When a kid is fussy, I just sneak some healthy veggies into their food like quesadillas, pies, soups, pasta sauces, and they just chow down, licking their fingers, having no clue that they have just eaten every vegetables that they swore off. With that being said, I am completely against lying to a child about what they are eating if they are morally opposed to something like meats, fish, and dairy… you should be as well.
6. Don’t be a short-order cook: Many parents come to me emotionally fried because they are making three meals every night and no one is satisfied. Kids don’t warm up to new things right away, and if you keep giving them the old standbys they’re not going to branch out and explore new foods. Be patient. Make the same dinner for everyone in the family while making sure to put some foods on the plate that your children like — then add something new. Reward them in the end for eating something new and healthy. Just keep trying.
I want to know: How do you get picky kids to eat their veggies? Share your answer below and see what others have to say.
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 small red onion, diced (¾ cup)
- 2 small carrots, diced (1 cup)
- 5 green onions, chopped (¾ cup)
- 1 small zucchini, diced (¾ cup)
- 1 12-oz. pkg. extra-firm tofu, drained
- 6 oz. soy chorizo, such as Soyrizo, crumbled
- 3 Tbs. tamari sauce
- ¼ cup frozen corn kernels
- 6 plum tomatoes, sliced
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat 10-inch casserole dish or 24-cup mini-muffin tin with cooking spray.
- Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Sauté red onion 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft. Add carrots, green onions, and zucchini, and sauté 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and cook 3 minutes more, or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove from heat.
- Purée tofu, soyrizo, and tamari sauce 2 minutes in food processor, or until smooth and thick. Stir tofu mixture into vegetable mixture, mix in corn and spoon into prepared muffin tin. Arrange tomato slices on top of frittata. Bake 25 to 30 minutes for mini frittatas, or until top is firm to the touch. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.