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When kids and veggies don't mix, here's what parents can do

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Getting your child interested in vegetables might feel like an uphill climb sometimes, especially if you have picky eaters at home.

To avoid having all your mealtimes feel like Battle of the Broccoli, use these six ideas to get more veggies into your kids' diet:

1. Lead by example. 

When it comes to food, your job as a parent is to decide what, where and when your children eat. It's your child's job to decide whether and how much they eat.

Respecting these roles can be difficult when you're worried your children aren't eating enough—or when they refuse to eat what you prepare. One thing you can do is to lead by example. In other words: make sure you eat a variety of vegetables yourself!

Resist the temptation to use dessert as a "reward" for eating their veggies, as this teaches your child that sweets are more valuable than nutritious foods. Additionally, you don't always have to prepare something else for your child if they refuse to eat what everyone else is having. It's okay for a child to skip a meal sometimes and feel hungry until it's time to eat again in a few hours. Their genuine hunger will likely increase the odds that they'll eat whatever you serve them next time. 

2. Use interesting shapes and presentations. 

Heighten the appeal of veggies by using special food cutters (or even your own skills with a regular kitchen knife) to cut them into interesting shapes, like stars, circles and triangles.

You can also explore interesting presentations or natural veggie substitutions, like "riced" cauliflower or "zoodles" (squash noodles).

3. Mix veggies into sauces, casseroles and other baked goods. 

Veggies—including zucchini, spinach, broccoli, carrots and pumpkin—are easy to mix into baked goods, including muffins, cakes and breads. This is a great tip if your child is picky and sensitive to certain food textures.

Minced, chopped or shredded veggies also add a nutritional punch to sauces, soups and even sides such as mashed potatoes.

4. Make smoothies.

A smoothie is a delicious and versatile way to get more veggies into your kids diet. Simply throw in things like spinach, cooked peas, carrots or beets into a blender along with your preferred fruits and milk or nut milk (or water). If the texture is not quite right or not smooth enough you can put it through a mesh strainer. Top it off with a crazy straw for some extra fun!

5. Let your kids help out in the kitchen. 

When kids get to help prepare and cook their own food, they get more exposure to different textures, smells and tastes. This helps them learn more about the family diet and hopefully can make them feel less picky at mealtime. 

Even very young toddlers can help out in the kitchen! Find age-appropriate tasks for your children to do (e.g., washing vs. peeling veggies) and offer plenty of positive reinforcement along the way. Associate your kitchen with a fun, inviting and healthy place in your home to spend quality time together. 

6. Try, try, try again and again.  

… but never force!  Teach your child it is okay to learn about and explore a new food. Let them know that it is up to them to decide when they are ready. 

Don't give up! It can take many presentations of a food before a child eats that food. It may even take years. There are likely some vegetables you eat now that you did not eat as a child.  

Do you have concerns about your child’s eating habits?

The pediatrics team at SIU Medicine has extensive experience supporting the mental and physical health of children and teens. If you're a local parent with concerns about your kid's health or eating behaviors, contact us today at 217-545-8000 to schedule an appointment. 

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