NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Kids and Veggies

Kids and Veggies

It’s a struggle almost every parent has experienced – “My child won’t eat any vegetables!”.  Children’s food habits are formed at an early age and research now shows early eating habits often carry over into adulthood. All of which makes it important for parents to introduce good eating habits in children when they are young. At the same time, a daily struggle over eating veggies is not something today’s busy parents want to add to their schedule. So how to mix kids and veggies?

Make it available – Washed, cut-up and bagged carrot sticks, celery pieces, broccoli florets are much more likely to be grabbed when kids open the frig than when a whole head of broccoli is facing them. Easy to grab, easy to go make for easy to eat.

Be a role model. By far the best predictor of a child’s eating behavior is the eating patterns of her parents. If vegetables and healthy foods are relegated to an afterthought in your household, it’s tough to expect your kids to take to them. If you as a parent are eating popcorn, kids want popcorn.  If you are eating a cookie, kids want a cookie also.  The same holds true for veggies – dish up some veggies on your own plate and wait for the “me too ”s to start.

Stay positive. For example, it is okay to tell your child they need to taste a vegetable before they decide they do not like it. Using strategies such as punishment, threats, force, or even offering the child a reward have been shown to be unsuccessful ways of teaching children to eat vegetables. Many parents tend to throw in the towel after the child refuses a vegetable the first time. Children generally have a fear of new foods. It may take about 8 to 10 tries with a vegetable before your child is ready to taste it. In addition, it may take a lot more tasting before your child gets to the point where he or she likes the vegetable.

Be creative and flexible. Offer children vegetables in different forms (cooked, raw, and mixed with other foods) before you give up. Children vary in how much they eat and what they like. Each child is an individual. Keep in mind that vegetable servings for children are smaller than vegetable servings for adults. A general guideline is one tablespoon of vegetable for each year of life.

Get them involved. Children are more invested in a meal if they help with its preparation. Taking your kids with you to the farmers market or grocery store and letting them pick one or two things to cook for dinner can make them far more excited to eat it later. Better yet, start a garden and teach them how to plant and harvest their own. Letting them clean carrots, snap beans, mix the dressing and set the table gives them a sense of pride and makes them more enthusiastic and cooperative at meal time.

Make food fun. Let children create funny faces or animals with cut up vegetables.  Let children help prepare vegetable recipes, they generally enjoy what they have made.  Allow kids to make their own salad. Put out small bowls of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, shredded leaf lettuce, raisins, fruit, and crunch noodles. They love the feeling of control that comes from doing it themselves.

Keep it real to them. Children don’t see the world as adults do, and as a result they have very different values. They could care less about health—most kids think they’re invincible—so telling them a food is healthy is unlikely to get you very far.  On the other hand, most children feel limited by their size and wish to be bigger and stronger. Explaining that broccoli “helps you grow” is therefore more effective than, “it’s healthy” or “because I said so.”

For a kid friendly, veggie recipe try Baked Sweet Potato Fries.


1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon paprika

8 sweet potatoes, sliced lengthwise into quarters


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, mix olive oil and paprika. Add potato sticks, and stir by hand to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 40 minutes in the preheated oven.


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