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 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

Favorite Bedtime Books

I recently joined the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators and my first few meetings have me thinking about my favorite bedtime books. I have a quite a few. In fact many of my favorite bedtime books have no words! But instead of making a list of which books I love, I am actually going to discuss a style of book that I don’t really care for from the perspective of a parent at bedtime: the list book.

I don’t mind these books during middle of the day quiet time, car trips, in waiting rooms, etc. But I do mind their lack of plot, story arc, characters, and most importantly the lack of an ending. At bedtime, I need stories to end. That’s one main reason the Can You See What I See and Where’s Waldo books – while fun!- are not approved bedtime reading, at least with me.

Reasonable Bedtime Book

a good bedtime book

An example of a good list book

Some list books are great. For example, Richard Scarry produces the absolute best and manages to incorporate a gentle, funny storyline that guides readers through his adorably illustrated pages.

Here’s an inside spread from The Best Word Book Ever. I love breakfast, so I chose this particular page showing Kenny Bear waking up and enjoying a hearty meal to start the day. Delightful!

Scarry’s other books, especially Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, do a nice job of combining huge lists of recognizable objects and easy words for children to learn with an entertaining and light-hearted storyline. If I were so inclined to write a list book, this would be the style I’d choose.

Ridiculous Bedtime Books

Here are two examples of list books that drive me crazy:

children's bedtime book about cars

Don’t touch the flaps.

not my favorite bedtime book about cars

Sparkle no substance.

In the first book by Fisher-Price, we get to see toys in action in a little town. There’s barely any text but there are lots of flaps to lift, pull and tear. My kids do rip the flaps and then cry and beg me to repair them but later they pick at the tape and tear them again. Also, struggling to open the flaps prolongs the agony of reading this list book at bedtime. (And I absolutely cannot help my child lift the flaps or they freak out because they want to do it themselves!!)

The second book is irritating to me from the perspective of an aspiring writer. Some publishing company out there (more than one, truthfully) churns out these books and sells them to kids and grandparents who can’t resist the sparkle and cashes checks. While many writers I know work hard to get their excellent writing  recognized. And writers like me wonder if there is any hope for a good storybook in today’s market.

My favorite bedtime books don’t just keep kids busy and they don’t push learning shapes, colors and numbers on kids – but there is a place for those kinds of books. Just not at bedtime.

Truly, my favorite bedtime books capture the imagination but also speak to what a child really knows and feels in their world. It’s an art and it’s magic and it sends them off to sleep and dream, while I head off to write and dream!

Are there books you absolutely won’t read to your child at bedtime?

 

 

 

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.

 

Picky Eaters by Nature?

Is your child genetically a picky eater?

At the Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh on March 22 and 23, I talked with a lot of parents about their little picky eaters and how My Food Notebook worked for us. We discussed many strategies that help kids try new foods and a big one that came up often was that parents need to try new foods, too!

Do as I do!

Do as I do!

Recent research from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill conducted by Myles Faith, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, reports that genes make some kids more fearful of new foods.

I’m willing to bet many parents will read a headline on this research, maybe skim a few lines and say, “Oh well, my kid is genetically picky” and think they are off the hook on getting their child to try new foods and eat healthy.

But Faith’s research also shows “Some children are more genetically susceptible than others to avoid new foods. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t change their behaviors and become a little less picky.”

You know what one of the most meaningful ways these food neophobes can learn to try new things? When their parents also try new things.

The debate over nature versus nurture is old, and false. Whatever our genes predispose us to be or to do is important but certainly does not decide our fate, because we (and our genes) do not exist in a vacuum. We exist in families and society that offers a large variety of nurturing, some good and some bad. In this case, even if your child’s genes make them more fearful of new foods, their environment, and what they see their parents doing, can help them learn to try.

There are lots of other ways to help picky eaters and I’ll be sharing more in coming posts!

Classroom Workshops featuring The Bumpy, Grumpy Road

DSCN0311I love visiting schools and sharing The Bumpy, Grumpy Road with kids. They all understand exactly the challenges that the main character Dylan faces – siblings who borrow their toys, sibling who don’t listen. And they all struggle with how to handle those challenges.

I recently spoke with a parent who shared that she wants to give her children good advice on handling the rough patches in life but isn’t sure how to tell them in words they can understand.

The Bumpy, Grumpy Road shows kids that life’s challenges are better handled with positive words and calm feelings. My classroom workshops give them a chance to tell their own story of challenges and solutions.

Does your child struggle with grumpiness or frustration? Is your child’s classroom looking for a great program to discuss the tough times kids face and how to handle them? I’m happy to visit and share The Bumpy, Grumpy Road and simple activities to encourage positive behavior! 

 

Contest! Win a Free Copy of My Food Notebook

I shouldn't be that surprised he loves ramen

I shouldn’t be that surprised he loves ramen

About a month ago, a great blog hosted a giveaway contest of My Food Notebook. Gina, the voice behind Totally Full of It, was looking for creative ways parents handle their picky eaters. I’m so grateful for her support and was happy to partner with her! If you visit her blog, I highly recommend this hilarious video of her little guy laughing hysterically and my kids loved this Imagination Moves video she shared.

I wanted to spread the love (it is February) and give away 2 free copies of My Food Notebook. To be entered to win your copy, make a comment below about a food you are surprised your picky eater loves. In our house, I’m always surprised my picky eater loves smoked salmon. Definitely not something I would have ever guessed!

Tell me the most surprising food your picky eater loves by February 28, 2013 and you’re entered to win a free copy of My Food Notebook!

 

Grumpy Kid? Angry Kid? You’re Not Alone

I’m a mom of a grumpy kid. Like other moms, I was looking for ways to help my grumpy kid not be so grumpy. In the search for a way to help understand that he could choose to be grumpy or choose to be happy during his days, I told him a little story.

What started as a story just for my son Dylan turned into the children’s book The Bumpy Grumpy Road. And now other moms are telling me it’s helping their grumpy kids, too.

After I wrote it and read it to Dylan, I mentioned the story to a few close friends. They shared it with their kids and told me the idea helped them, too. So, I wrote an essay about our family’s struggle and slow road to success and sent it to one of my favorite magazines,Family Fun It was a delight to learn they also enjoyed the story and published it in their April 2012 issue.

Not long after the issue came out, I received notes from other moms who said reading my essay felt like they were reading about their own families. I received emails, Facebook messages, even a handwritten note from a mom!  It was a relief  for all of us to know we’re not alone, and that’s something I try to remind my own children – they are never alone when they feel sad, angry or frustrated. We’re always there to help them find their way back to the smooth, fast road.

“Steering Clear of Grumpiness” (page 1)
“Steering Clear of Grumpiness” (page 2)

Grumpy Kids? Not these Kindergarteners!

This post originally appeared in June 2012. 

Kindergarten Thank You Notes

At the end of May, I read The Bumpy, Grumpy Road to two kindergarten classes here in Pittsburgh. At first they laughed with delight when they saw Dylan, a little boy, driving a car. They were impressed! But then Dylan started to use grumpy words. In each of the classes, a child called out, “The sky is getting darker!” They were worried for Dylan. One girl even shook her head when Dylan shouted at his brothers.

I continued reading and we got to the page where Dylan sees the first sign. In each of the classes again, a child called out “That stop sign says “Sorry!” They watched with relief and amazement as the sky brightened and the road got smoother with every good choice Dylan made. At the end, they were beaming and laughing again.

Those children traveled the bumpy road with Dylan and sped down the smooth one with him when he learned that he can choose his words and attitude.

I love the fact that not only did I get to share my book with two wonderful classrooms, but that one class of children decided to make their own books! These thank you notes are actually small booklets complete with author’s names and a few pages inside with words and illustrations! Is there a future writer in this class? Possibly!

These thank you notes are the first I received from children, but I hope not the last. Of course the best thank you came from Dylan the night I read him the story, and he cried and said “That’s me, Mommy. Sometimes I am on the bumpy road and don’t know how to get off.” I’ll never forget that moment and hopefully the children who heard this story will remember they, too, can choose which road to drive!

Review for “The Bumpy, Grumpy Road”

Is there anything nicer than a great review from a expert in the field of dealing with emotions? 

I’m lucky enough to be part of an amazing group of women as a contributor to  30 Second Mom. I found many other moms running their own businesses, writing books and dealing with grumpy kids! Dr. Christina Hibbert, a psychologist focusing on women’s health, postpartum health, and parenting issues. Her post on handling whining really hit home with me.  She was kind enough to review a copy of The Bumpy, Grumpy Road and sent me her thoughts:

The Bumpy, Grumpy Road is an adorable book that will help children of all ages learn to navigate feelings of anger, frustration, sibling rivalry, and plain old grumpiness. It not only entertains, it teaches practical skills children can apply to help them overcome their “big feelings” and find their way back to the “smooth path” of sharing, caring, and feeling happy again. I will read the book to my younger kids. I particularly loved your “signs”–what a great way to teach kids how to stop and change their behavior. A really great idea!”

Thanks Dr. Hibbert!