How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

how to get kids to eat vegetables

Give kids a choice

The secret

The secret to getting kids to eat vegetables is really quite simple. Give them the choice. Before you click away saying, “My kid would choose not to eat them,” hear me out. I didn’t say give them the choice whether or not to eat vegetables. Give them the choice of which vegetables and fruits.

There is real scientific evidence to back this up, but let me begin anecdotally. The photo above is from our Pittsburgh-area elementary school cafeteria. How does our school get kids to eat vegetables and fruits? They offer a choice.

And when my boys buy lunch, which is about once a week, I tell them they need to choose a fruit and a vegetable, but it’s up to them what to choose. I offer them a choice.

My second son, who is a bit picky, usually sticks with applesauce and carrots.

My oldest son almost always chooses grapes and the crunchy vegetable mix of cucumbers, celery and carrots. Choices within choices.

The science

Now for the scientific evidence. This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that offering kids a variety of vegetables and fruit and letting them choose which ones to eat led to them eating more fruits and vegetables!

The researchers observed that “children chose some pieces in 94% of snacks with variety and in 70% of snacks without variety” and “Providing a variety of vegetables and fruit as a snack led to increased consumption of both food types in a childcare facility. Serving a variety of vegetables or fruit as a snack could help preschool children meet recommended intakes.”

Think about your own eating habits. I am sure you prefer to have more than a little choice in the matter. We all love some control over what we eat. So if you are looking for ways to get kids to eat vegetables and fruits, offer a choice.

Have you given your kids choice in their foods? Has it helped? 

 

 

 

Fun Family Dinners at Skinny Pete’s in Pittsburgh

Join us for the first of many fun family dinners at Skinny Pete’s (click on Events) in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, September 16, 2013 starting at 5:30pm. Parents get to enjoy a peaceful meal while their children are happily engaged in creating a  a self-portrait flatbread from healthy, fresh, local ingredients!

We know the more that children encounter fresh foods, the more they are involved with cooking and selecting the ingredients of their meal, the more likely they are to try something good that’s good for them!

All kids also get a copy of My Food Notebook to record what foods they tried.

Fun family dinners aren’t just a dream – they are happening right here in Pittsburgh! Join us!

Fun Family Dinners this September!

fun family dinners Pittsburgh

Enjoy a great meal with the family!

Fun Food for Your Picky Preschooler

I know it’s tough to to the parent of a picky preschooler. They are not at the age when you can reason with them and their tastes change so quickly, it can feel so frustrating. But there’s another way to approach the challenge: make it fun.

I was so lucky to visit a Bright Horizons class this summer and bring one of my Tasting Party workshops. There was more than one picky preschooler in attendance. I was bringing some new foods to them to try so we decided to make it fun. Making pizza on a stick all by themselves was a delightful adventure. Take a look at these brave little faces!

picky preschooler

Do it yourself – it tastes better!

 

 

 

Fun for these kids means hands-on and the opportunity to examine the food options as much as possible before tasting it.They looked closely at the food, smelled it, touched it and then finally nibbled and tried! More than one child tried tomatoes for the first time. Not everybody liked them but they were giggling and chatting and no one whined! Can you imagine that kind of dinner?

picky preschooler

No one can resist food on a stick

Recipe for Success: Best Brain Food for College Success

Understanding the importance of brain food is not rocket science. Enough research has proven the value of breakfast and a balanced diet not just for kids but for adults, too. I do believe what we eat can impact our total well-being. If you want your kids to do well in school and if you want to get through work or a workout without feeling like a total zombie, then you must pay attention to what you put in your mouth.

So when Nicole from The Best Colleges contacted me about this infographic and asked me to review it, I happily agreed. And I felt that her advice was useful not just for college students but for anyone looking to do their best.

I was dismayed to read about the amount of fast food college students eat but relieved that coffee and dark chocolate (in moderation) can boost memory and reduce stress.

Since my own children are still in elementary and preschool, I control most of what they eat and include a lot of brain food. But parents of college students have to trust their children will adopt or continue good habits. I remember reasonably healthy options offered in my college dining hall, but when I moved off-campus and had to cook for myself an unhealthy amount of pepperoni Hot Pockets entered the picture. And what about campuses in big cities that might be in food deserts?

Did your nutrition get worse when you were in college? Does anyone know of colleges including farmer’s markets or increasing fresh produce options in campus eateries?

 

freshman 15, brain food

Boost Your Brain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying New Foods

Not everyone likes trying new foods. It’s funny that while my husband and I will be adventurous about our eating out and about and restaurants, we often exchange nervous looks when our CSA serves up a vegetable that neither of us are used to using.

Enter the red cabbage.

red cabbage

Nothing scary here

It’s actually quite beautiful when you look at it up close. I did a tiny bit of reading and found a simple recipe that I could make without too many opportunities for mistakes. For me, trying new foods needs to be simple.

red cabbage detail

A work of food art

The recipe is simple. Chop the cabbage. Add some lemon juice and warm up some chicken or vegetable broth. Cover and steam the cabbage for about 5 minutes. When it’s done you can add garlic, salt and pepper, ginger, sesame…all kinds of flavors. So easy my three year old helped me cook it.

cooking red cabbage

The color of this cabbage was exciting for my son.


If you’re looking for ways to add color to dinner and interested in trying new foods, this isn’t a bad choice. The flavor is mild and it’s not too hard to clean or chop. Apparently the lemon juice keeps the cabbage from turning blue while cooking.

trying new foods warm

Trying new foods – Some like it hot!

The Taste Test

The real test came when the steamed cabbage appeared on the dinner table. We don’t pretend to our kids that we like every food we serve for dinner. We think it’s important that they see us actually trying new foods. We want them to know we understand how they feel when they’re encountering something new and that’s it’s tricky for us, too.

kid trying new foods

Trying new foods is easy for some people

We had salmon, pasta and sauce and red cabbage for dinner tonight. My three year old eagerly scooped some on his plate because he helped cook the cabbage. My husband and I tried it and found it to be mild and possibly improved by the addition of some zinger flavors like ginger or even soy sauce. My picky eater chose not to try it today (but that doesn’t mean he won’t later). My oldest took a tiny taste then grabbed a bigger bowl to enjoy a larger portion!

 

 

Tricks For Picky Eaters – Why they don’t work

tricks for picky eaters may not work

Me and my picky eater enjoying an honest meal

Parents, if there is one piece advice I wish you would follow it’s this: Tricks for picky eaters don’t work.

My picky eater recently discovered he likes fresh spinach with ranch dressing. He won’t take it cooked on pizza or mixed in with pasta, but if I set aside a few fresh leaves on his plate and he’ll chomp it down. Another entry in his copy of My Food Notebook! This kid usually avoids salads and fresh vegetables with a passion, so this was a huge victory for healthy eating.

But when we ran out of fresh spinach and our CSA sent us Romaine lettuce, we were faced with a dilemma.

Do we put the Romaine on his plate and tell him it’s spinach?

That’s when I realized: Tricks for picky eaters are not worth it.

Setting aside the dishonesty for a moment, just do the math.

He already likes spinach. If he likes Romaine, too, that’s 1+1 = 2 new fresh healthy foods to enjoy!

He already likes spinach. If we tell him the Romaine is spinach and he decides he doesn’t like it, that’s 1-1 = 0. We’ve just lost a food.

Honesty is the best policy. And you know what? He tried the Romaine because it looked like spinach, and he gave it a so-so rating. That’s better than a no!

Hidden Vegetables

Some parents hide vegetables in recipes in order to get their children to eat healthy, nutritious foods. I’m not throwing stones here, Moms and Dads. I’ve done it. I’m just saying that the payoffs for a kid understanding that they actually like healthy foods are big.

Imagine the bliss of seeing your child voluntarily eat fresh fruits and vegetables! Don’t trick your picky eater into eating them, help them find a way to enjoy them.

There are plenty of posts about tricks for picky eaters, but I’d rather help my kids learn ways to try new things. I believe it will help them when they are at school, at friend’s homes, at restaurants and more.

Simple ways to help picky eaters:

  • Prepare the vegetable in a variety of ways.
  • Ask the child to help you select the vegetable.
  • Involve your child in cutting, cooking and serving the vegetable.
  • Celebrate each time they try a new vegetable – don’t punish them for not trying it.

 

Skinny Pete’s Kitchen growing among family friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh

Farm to Family Skinny Pete's

Pittsburgh families deserve delicious food!

Who’s hungry? Join me at Skinny Pete’s in Avalon for Farm to Family, a fantastic new option and from one of the truly family friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh. Parents, grandparents and kids can come together to enjoy a special meal in a relaxed fun atmosphere.

Kids get to create their own meal while adults can take a breather and enjoy fresh farm-to-table offerings from Skinny Pete’s. Kids also get their own copy of My Food Notebook to record the foods they’ve tried.

We need more opportunities for families to enjoy delicious food in a family-friendly setting – and Skinny Pete’s is making it happen. Even if you can’t stay for dinner each meal is available for carry out.  Make your reservations today and stay connected with Skinny Pete’s on Facebook. 

How Can We Raise Healthy Kids if Parents are the Problem?

logo for Let's Move Pittsburgh, healthy kids

It’s never too late to inspire change.

I attended a fantastic meeting yesterday discussing ways to support healthy kids hosted by Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Any event at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens puts me in a good mood, but this topic is dear to my heart. I not a perfect parent but I do value resources that help me and my community raise healthy kids.

We heard inspiring information from Healthy Armstrong, a community partnership that has made great strides in the past ten years. But no one had any illusions about how much more needs to be done. As I listened to the excellent ideas Healthy Armstrong had implemented in schools to help kids eat healthy and be more active, like Monster Salads (who can resist eating a monster-faced salad), I had a specific question waiting.

“Did any parents object to these changes?”

“Yes,” our speaker acknowledged. “Ten years ago when we took fries on the menu, there was a boycott. But it’s not like that any more.”

I thought about my own school district where parents objected strongly to the removal of 400 calorie cookie from the snack items available for purchase at lunch. I thought about the subtle ways my school district has blocked concerned parents from working with school staff.

Other attendees noted that they’ve hosted events for parents to learn how to cook healthier, buy fresher food, eat better.

“No one comes,” they all agreed.

Why aren’t more parents willing to eat healthy?

At more that one school, parent groups will host fundraisers selling junk food items in an attempt to support the school. Our school district hosts a fundraiser that puts teachers behind the counter at a fast food restaurant and the school administrators actually called parents at home to encourage them to bring the children to buy food.

What are these activities teaching our kids?

Thankfully, some kids are learning the right messages and making changes on their own. Chef Mike from the City Charter school shared a moving story that showed kids may be the key to encourage parents to make some changes.

“We had a student who loved a menu item we made, and asked for the instructions. But I got an email from the parent saying ‘don’t send this home with my kid, I can’t afford these ingredients.’ Well, next time we did the menu item we showed the student how to make it and what to buy. He used money from his own part-time job to get the ingredients. He made it for his parent and the parent emailed me and said ‘thank you.’ They finally realized it wasn’t that bad.”

Let’s Move Pittsburgh focuses on children birth to age 8. That’s key because as Healthy Armstrong knows, even with their changes, 35% of kindergarteners come into school obese. Something needs to change at home.

Has your child ever inspired you to adopt a new healthy behavior?

Choosing the Right Format (For Picky Eaters!)

 

Fun size fro-yo!

Fun size fro-yo!There are lots of ways to help picky eaters try new foods. One trick is to introduce food in a different format. Myyoungest thinks he likes yogurt but he never eats is out of the container. He insists I buy it, but if I serve it in the yogurt cup he takes one bite and will not finish it. Instead of wasting the food, I switched up the format.

There are lots of ways to help picky eaters try new foods. One trick is to introduce food in a different format. My youngest thinks he likes yogurt but he never eats it out of the container. He insists I buy it, but when I serve it in the yogurt cup he takes one bite and will not finish it. Instead of wasting the food, I switched up the format.

I offer it in smoothie form – and no, this doesn’t take a lot of work! I grab some blueberries (perfectly frozen from our CSA box) or diced peaches, a splash of orange juice, some honey and scoop the yogurt into the blender and whip a super-easy smoothie. He drinks every drop. I shared this idea on my 30 Second Mom page!

I also change the yogurt into a frozen treat for a quick bedtime snack. I found this idea on Pinterest but I added my own snazzy twist: before I froze them I added rainbow sprinkles. My kids cannot resist rainbow sprinkles. When I presented yogurt dots they disappeared as quick as ice cream and were actually easier for him to scoop up. Have you ever noticed how tough it is for little kids to scoop into ice cream with plastic spoons?

Just because your picky eaters won’t eat food in one format doesn’t mean the food is off the menu. Blend it, freeze it, chop it, roast it – the key is to not give up!! (And when they try it, don’t forget to keep track in My Food Notebook!)

What food do you eat in one format but not in any other??

 

 

 

Gardens: Great Idea for Picky Eaters

Planting the seeds of healthy eating

Planting the seeds of healthy eating

Growing a Good Eater

Growing a Good Eater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even if you live in an apartment with no yard at all, you can grow food in containers and help your picky eater learn to try new foods.

I loved reading about a study from Australia that showed school children who participated in gardening and cooking classes were willing to try new foods and make healthier choices.

When I conducted a Lunch and Learn for Farm to Table, I shared this information and talked about the importance of helping our children grow food, choose food at the grocery store (and by that I mean fresh produce, not their favorite sugary boxed cereal) and prepare food at home. Each of these opportunities to encounter healthy whole foods turns something unknown into something familiar and increases the willingness of the child to try it. And as your child tries new food, don’t forget to help them keep track in My Food Notebook. Kids love sharing their opinions knowing their  input matters!

Here are the details of the study:

A group of investigators from the University of Melbourne and Deakin University recruited a total of 764 children in grades 3 to 6 and 562 parents participating in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. The program model is embedded in the school curriculum and includes 45 minutes per week in a garden class with a garden specialist and 90 minutes per week in the kitchen with a cooking specialist. The program is designed to give children knowledge and skills in environmentally sustainable gardening along with the skills to prepare and cook 3- or 4-course meals based on available fresh produce from the garden. Different dishes prepared each week included handmade pastry, bread and pasta, salads, curries, and desserts.

According to Lisa Gibbs, PhD, principle investigator, one of the major themes that emerged from the study was children eating and appreciating new foods. She said, “The program introduced children to new ingredients and tastes, and within a short time almost all children were prepared to at least try a new dish. Teachers at several schools also reported that they had seen a noticeable improvement in the nutritional quality of the food that children had been bringing to school for snacks and lunches since the program had been introduced.”

Petra Staiger, PhD, co-investigator from Deakin University added, “Data and class observations also suggested that the social environment of the class increased children’s willingness to try new foods. This included sitting down together to share and enjoy the meal that they had prepared, with encouragement to taste but no pressure to eat.”

From the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior