Set a Good Example
It's irritating, but true: When you pass the broccoli slaw for the chicken legs, your kids noticed. They are watching us and learning all the time, although they'll never admit it. If you are constantly going back for braised Brussels sprouts, you are more likely to pique their interest.
Scare 'Em! (a Little)
Tell them there's a reason we're told to eat 5+ servings of fruits and veggies per day - They help prevent disease. Explain in detail some of the diseases one can get from not getting enough of the protective elements such as antioxidants and fiber in fresh (preferably organic) fruits and veggies - especially cancer. They may not start loving veggies overnight, but they will certainly start having more respect for them.
Put Veggies in Perspective
Explain to your kids how 5,000, or even 500 years ago, we didn't have much else to eat but whole foods in their natural forms. There were no Goldfish crackers or Twinkies back then. Mankind created these other "foods" that have no vitamins or nutrients - all they do is taste good. Tell your kids to "get back to nature" and appreciate what was intended for us, and not what was made by man.
Natural Options Prepared Creatively
Eating fresh can mean much more than a few celery sticks and a cup of Ranch dressing. Kids will appreciate 100% all-natural applesauce cups (sometimes with cinnamon), crunchy kale chips baked in the oven at home, and Asian fresh rolls filled with fresh veggies to dip in peanut butter sauce at a restaurant. Scour store shelves, especially in health food stores or aisles, which offer creative wholesome packaged veggie and fruit ideas.
Have Kids Cook with You
Using only fresh and, whenever possible, organic vegetables, have your kids get involved in the preparing of veggie casseroles, side dishes, main dishes, salads, etc. Have them flip through a vegetable cookbook and a recipe that looks appetizing. Remember, the more colorful, the better! If you have your own home garden, have your children help select and harvest foods as they ripen. The more they participate, they more respect they will garner for vegetables and fruits.
Allow the Pros to Help
At restaurants, encourage your children to try dishes with mostly vegetables mixed with different spices. Vegetable-based dishes are common in many Asian cuisines, for example, so look for names like Veggie Stir Fry or Broccoli with Tofu. Chefs know how to cook these common foods in exotic and delicious ways sure to leave your children with good impressions of vegetables.
Patience and Persistence
Try not to resist the temptation to make mealtimes a struggle. If your child is really resistant to trying something, use the "Just One Bite" rule. Try to keep things pleasant during eating time. Make a deal: If they just try one bite and still don't like it, they don't have to eat it. But be persistent. Keep reminding them of why veggies are so virtuous and why it's vital that they eat them. Your words will not be voided!
Catherine S. Hains, MS RD CLT has been interested in health and nutrition since she was a young child. Growing up in Fort Worth, TX, she earned a Bachelor's Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Texas Christian University and wrote for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for 12 years. Her life-long interest in nutrition and disease prevention never waned, and she went on to earn her Master's Degree in Nutrition from Eastern Michigan University. Cathy, now a Registered Dietitian, owns Lighthouse Nutrition and Wellness in Gig Harbor, WA where she enjoys inspiring people of all ages to make losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle easy, fun and permanent. She enjoys good food, cooking and food preparation, and showing others how healthy this can be. Her other pastimes include traveling, art, music and family life. She also likes staying fit with tennis, bicycling walking and jogging, researching nutrition and helping clients be at their best. For more information on Cathy, visit www.lighthouse-nutrition.com or write to Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.