To Hide or Not to Hide
How to Get Your Kids to Eat More Veggies
My husband Derek and I grew up in households where at mealtime, we were served platefuls of what we were expected to eat, and we ate it. Sure, we each honed our different strategies for avoiding what we didn’t like, but our mothers didn’t alter their tactics. They continued serving up undisguised vegetables, plain and simple, like it or not.
Now that we’re in charge of our kitchen, the tables have turned and we're responsible for the nutrition of our two little girls. According to Canada’s Food Guide, young children need 4 to 6 servings of fruits and veggies a day while teens and adults need 7 to 8 servings. That’s more than most Canadians eat on a regular basis.
Veggies? What veggies?
A few years ago, Missy Chase Lapine, also known as The Sneaky Chef, started hiding pureed veggies in kid favorites like chicken nuggets and cupcakes. It seemed like the perfect way to avoid conflict and whining at the dinner table while making sure kids got nutrient-rich food (shhh! don’t tell them there’s broccoli in the sauce!)
Then Jessica Seinfeld started promoting her cookbook Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to get your Kids Eating Good Food. She made an appearance on Oprah with recipes like pureed cauliflower in mac and cheese and kale in spaghetti and meatballs. Millions of viewers watched her enthusiastic tactics for outsmarting picky eaters— give them what they like to eat, but hide the veggies. Sounds like a win-win for parents and toddlers alike. Why didn’t our mothers think of it?
Teaching versus Tricking
Modern families are relearning the value of a sit-down family dinner (no TVs, no cell phones). Of course, at the end of what are all too often busy and stressful days we want dinnertime to be as pleasant as possible. It isn’t much fun if there’s a face-off every night over what’s on the table.
Although being a sneaky chef may be a sanity-saver, there is a lot of value to the you-have-to-eat-your-veggies method. Hiding peas and broccoli doesn't help children develop an understanding that vegetables are a necessary part of healthy living. Teaching this lesson may create a lot of short-term frustration, but the upside is a child who will eat Grandma's food at family gatherings, a healthy teenager who views vegetables as valuable in their own right and, ultimately, a grown adult who can pass these principles along to their children as well.
Putting An End to the Food Fight
Is there a middle ground for allowing children to develop their appreciation of vegetables while avoiding nightly conflicts around the dinner table? Every family needs to discover what works best for their own dinner table, but here are five helpful tips.
- Buy local. Buy seasonal. These fruits and veggies are fresher. They hold more nutrients and usually taste better. Not only do you support agriculture in your area, but you get higher quality of food, too!
- Involve your family. Take family trips to a local farmer’s market and let your kids pick out the veggies! Allow your family to help with menu planning. Then experiment with different recipes and spices.
- Get creative about presentation. Make veggies fun to eat. Arrange the food into shapes like a smiley face on your child’s plate or plant broccoli trees in mashed potatoes.
- Set goals and offer praise. For especially picky eaters, the first step would be to serve the veggie on the plate. Whether they eat it or not, the veggie stays there. Then they should be expected to take one bite, then two, and so on, until they learn to eat a whole portion. For every bite, offer enthusiastic praise, cheering, clapping, so that they feel encouraged.
- Most importantly, set a good example! If your kids see you making healthy eating choices, then they’re more likely to develop good eating habits, too.
What do you think of this debate? How do you get your kids to eat their veggies?