Before I was a doctor, I was a mom to three little children. I started medical school when my kids were 5, 3, and 10 months old, which—perhaps not coincidentally—is the same year I began seeing white hairs on my head. In order for survival (mine, not theirs), we had a few house rules: 1. Eat what you get, or you will have to wait to eat at the next meal. 2. You dirty a dish, you wash it. 3. “I’m your mom, not your short-order cook.” We had varying degrees of success with following these rules, but these guidelines made our transition to a plant-based diet much easier (which happened when my children were 18, 16, and 13). You see, when your kids are raised to understand that whatever’s on their plates is what they eat, it doesn’t take long before they learn that being picky and whiny is the equivalent of going to bed hungry. Thanks to these rules, my children have learned how to eat—and enjoy—a variety of foods. Combine being a mom with my profession as a doctor, and you learn a thing or two about getting young people to eat their vegetables. So, if you need strategies to get your kids to eat healthier food, try these helpful hints.
1. Be healthy and stealthy
Hiding greens in everything and anything is crucial for a parent, so if your child loves smoothies, add a few leaves of kale or spinach. Doing so will not change the flavor (and your children will be healthier for it), so don’t feel guilty about not giving your offspring full disclosure of the smoothie ingredients. Remember: this is the 21st century—Instagram has made unicorn foods a hot (and unhealthy) trend, and sometimes guerilla tactics are necessary.
2. Set the example
Parents, I am calling you out! You have to stop saying “eat your vegetables” when your plate is devoid of greens. Children are smart and perceptive, so if you want them to eat healthy, you’re going to have to start by being the example. Yes, you are going to have to eat your vegetables.
3. Dip it
No, I don’t mean tobacco dip—I mean hummus, nut butters, vegan salad dressings, or salsa into which your children can dip their fruit and vegetables. They will love it, and you will find they will eat a lot more if you give them the dipping option because the only thing better than a carrot is a carrot with a roasted red pepper dip.
4. Get kids involved
Last I checked, there are no child labor laws stating that children can’t help cook, set the table, or do the dishes. Furthermore, my day job as a doctor has taught me that children are closer to the ground, which is one reason why they’re perfect for helping you plant a garden. With this in mind, go online to find the prettiest fruit and vegetables, and head to your local nursery to purchase plants and/or seeds. Then get digging! If you don’t have the space for a garden, you can still get your kids involved by choosing recipes together and bringing your offspring to the grocery store. Ask them to compare two zucchinis for their advice on which one is ripe, or have them talk to the produce person for help picking out the perfect bundle of kale. Whatever you choose, getting children involved in meal preparation will increase the likelihood of a lifelong love affair with healthy foods!
5. Bribes bring bad vibes
Parents, repeat after me: bribery does not work! Rather than encouraging children to expand their palates, all bribery does is reinforce the whining and tantrums that occur when they want ice cream for dinner. If you tell a child he or she can have ice cream after they eat their vegetables, your kid will remember this bargaining tool of theirs, and use it to their advantage. So, instead of bribery, remind your children that they will eat what is on their plates, or wait until the next meal. Relax—they’ll be fine.
6. Tell silly vegetable jokes
When dealing with children, one thing I know to be true is that humor always works. Because of this, I have learned that nothing gets a child laughing like silly vegetable jokes. For instance, my kids loved, “What vegetables do sailors hate? Leeks.” Then there’s my personal favorite: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “Lettuce.” “Lettuce who?” “Lettuce us in and you’ll find out.”