Sitting at the dinner table with my three youngest children, the realization hits me that my idealistic view of what our evening meal time should look like is not matching up to my reality.
There’s the child who can’t seem to eat and sit down at the same time, but rather prefers to take bites in between periods of running around the house.
There’s another one next to me who seems to be shoveling more food onto the chair upholstery than into her mouth (yes, the upholstery I just had professionally cleaned).
And then there’s the child across from me who seems to have developed a preference for inhaling food over the slow, mindful process of chewing I have instructed him in.
Clearly I have failed at properly training these offspring of mine.
This is not fun. This is hectic and messy and downright frustrating.
I wonder why I choose to go through the trouble, night after night, to create these nourishing meals.
And then I heard it. “Mom! I LOVE these sweet potatoes!”
I’m shocked to see that my son has not only finished his roasted sweet potatoes, but he’s reaching for seconds. I don’t know if it’s because I finally achieved the right ratio of maple butter to potato or the fact that I just kept giving them to him despite the fight, but somehow it happened.
My boy, my most picky eater, fell in love with sweet potatoes. Suddenly I don’t care quite so much that he’s standing up and eating. Since then, I’ve heard similar declarations of love by my littles for foods so surprising as brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets and even green beans.
In fact, one evening I had to break up a mealtime fight between two children who were battling over who got to eat the last of the green beans!
It is rare that a battle between siblings could warm my heart such as this one did.
So what’s the trick?
How do we encourage our children to fall in love with vegetables?
1) Teach children why. Good information empowers our kids to make good choices far beyond the time when mom and dad are filling their plates for them.
Why do we eat vegetables? “Because they’re good for you!” and “Because I said so!” just don’t seem to cut it with kids. With a health coach for a mother, dinner time is learning time for my kids. We have conversations about which vegetables have the most calcium and why calcium is important. We recently started having conversations about foods that are beneficial for eye health.
2) Include kids in the process. Participation gives them a sense of ownership.
From selecting and purchasing vegetables to preparing and eating them, kids appreciate being included in the process. Kids enjoy learning about where their food comes from and how it was grown. This is where having a small garden, even if only a few pots, can be invaluable. Try presenting the wide variety of veggies we receive in our AHO boxes and provide the opportunity to choose which ones to have for dinner. Now these vegetables aren’t being forced on our kids, but instead they have CHOSEN them. The next step is to include our kids in the preparation process. You might be surprised at how excited they are to eat their veggies come dinner time.
3) Provide healthy options.
Let’s face it. If children have a pantry full of every processed delight you can think of, carrot sticks are not going to be so appealing. My pantry is mostly empty as we’ve moved away from packaged foods over the years. But I have two huge fruit bowls on the counter and a fridge packed with vegetables. I caught my daughter devouring these organic tomatoes for a snack yesterday. I’d be lying if I told you that these tomatoes haven’t ever morphed from tasty snack to squishy mess in the hallway…but let’s focus on the positives, shall we? I have wood floors for a reason.
While our evening meals may be no less messy or hectic or frustrating, I’ve come to cherish these times with fresh perspective. As I continue to pour my heart into each meal, at the end of the day I consider myself blessed because, well-mannered or not, my children are falling in love with vegetables.
There are not many accomplishments in my life I consider greater than making this daily investment into my children’s health.
And they are well worth every bit of the mess.
I have more tips to come soon that I hope will help your children, or other loved ones, fall in love with vegetables!