Many parents have taken to “sneaking” veggies and even some fruits into food to make sure that kids are getting more of the nutrition they need. While getting fruits and veggies this way is better than not getting them at all, parents really shouldn’t rely on camouflage as a permanent solution. Instead, it’s important to expose kids to fruits and veggies in their whole, raw forms and work on getting kids to embrace these forms. Sneaking nutrients in through smoothies, juices, or other forms of veggie subterfuge can help kids get much-needed nutrients, but doesn’t teach them the importance of including plenty of fresh produce in their diets, now and throughout their lives.
Since many toddlers choose to assert independence through refusing to eat many of the foods they’re given, especially new foods, exposing children to an assortment of whole fruits and veggies before the start of the terrible twos can help. If they already like it, they’re (somewhat) (okay, maybe just a little) less likely to decide they hate it later on. For kids who do refuse to even try a new food, experts suggest that one key is to keep trying. While many parents will give up on introducing a new food after a few tries, some experts believe that it can take 8 to 15 tries to convince a child to try something new. Since refusing to eat is often more about power than the food itself, getting your child to try something new is often a matter of simply outlasting him in a battle of wills.
It’s also important to try presenting “offensive” veggies and fruits in different ways. Kids who turn their noses up at cooked spinach might feel differently about raw spinach, especially milder-flavored baby spinach. Some kids won’t go for raw carrots, but don’t mind them steamed. While drowning veggies in cheese or other sauces shouldn’t be a first choice, it also shouldn’t be thrown out altogether as an option. You can always work on slowly decreasing the amount of cheese or sauce over the course of some time.
If it’s at all possible for you to have a small vegetable garden, you’ll find another great way to get kids interested in vegetables. Many children are much more anxious, or at least willing, to try fresh produce that they had a hand in growing and picking. This also gives you a chance to teach them about growing cycles and what it takes to get food on the table. Since kids love learning new things, try teaching them about the vegetables and fruits you’re eating. Explain why they’re healthy and why it’s important for us to have healthy, well-balanced diets. Spend a few minutes online learning where different vegetables originated and what makes them special. Again, as with gardening, getting a child to feel “invested” in his veggies can make him less likely to turn his nose up.
In short, helping your child to learn, understand, and appreciate the value, nutrition, texture, and flavor of various vegetables and fruits is one of the keys to helping him adopt healthy eating habits for the long haul. This doesn’t mean that you have to abandon the camouflage of smoothies, juices, and popsicles. It just means that you shouldn’t rely solely on such subterfuge.