When you ask your kids what they want for dinner, the answer probably won’t include green veggies.
But, as most parents know, fruit and vegetable intake during childhood not only helps support healthy growth and immunity, but research shows it also helps foster a preference for whole foods that continues into adulthood. So early and frequent exposure to fruits and vegetables helps support both short- and long-term health for kids.
Luckily, there are a few tricks that parents should keep in mind that will encourage kids to nosh on those veggies. (And maybe they’ll start to enjoy them, too!)
Here are six simple ways to get your kids to ditch the chips and grab those greens instead.
Get Them in the Kitchen
A tip from Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, of Shaw’s Simple Swaps: Give them an apron and request a helping hand in the kitchen.
Here’s why: Kids love to feel included in activities, and hands-on participation will help them enjoy what they’re doing and encourage a greater interest in the future. If they feel as though they had an impact (and a choice!) in creating the chef’s “meal du jour,” they’ll naturally want to eat their creations, green veggies and all.
Make Cooking Fun and Playful
Play a game of trivia or create a song or dance using a green veggie theme.
Come up with a series of fun trivia questions—for example, how many colors do peppers come in?—to make kids feel excited to learn more about what they’re cooking and to show off their brainy skills.
This way you’ll even make your time together educational. For example, explain the benefits while they’re chopping broccoli—that way they’ll understand why it’s part of the meal and be more willing to eat it up.
You can also treat green veggies as superheroes, which all kids love! Give your kids a list of superfood superpowers that will make them want to dig in.
Here are some examples. “This spinach is filled with tiny superheroes who help stop bad guys that can make you sick.” and “This soup helps make your superheroes stronger because X, Y, and Z.”
Make It a Dip
Remember those days when we’d dunk cookies into milk? Kids love foods that are fun to eat (and can be eaten with their hands!), so dips are a perfect way to sneak in a few extra greens.
Hummus, guacamole, salad dressings, pesto, and salsas are simple examples of dips that lend themselves well to the addition of green veggies. These snacks can be a great introduction to the taste of green vegetables, which kids may find bitter. But the more they eat them, the more palatable kids are likely to find them. Eventually, they may grow to naturally enjoy the vegetables themselves, even on their own, explains Robert Glatter, MD.
You can even cut the veggies into fun shapes and sizes to make figures, such as a broccoli head for a veggie character. Kids are visual, so it’s a great way to encourage them to get excited to fill their plates with veggies.
As for dips, try creamed broccoli, avocado, edamame, or Greek yogurt kale. Plus, they are all packed with protein, fiber, and other nutrients, too.
Blend Them in Smoothies
Green smoothies can sometimes create hesitation, but if veggies are blended with a few bright fruits, they can be pretty delicious.
Besides, kids love drinking from juice packs and sipping with straws, so it’s an easy way to “trick” them into slurping up a few servings of vegetables.
Now, if your kids are sometimes stubborn, you don’t have to mention those sneaky greens—they probably won’t realize and kids don’t need to know everything, right?
Hide Them in Comfort Foods
What child would think that a burger or mac and cheese has green veggies, right? Hide them in some seriously yummy comfort dishes where your kids won’t expect them, says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
Toss some greens into a meat patty for extra nutrients or go a step further and halve the meat portion by adding in mushrooms. Ground mushrooms can be combined with ground meat to make meat sauce, meatballs, meat loaf, or tacos.
If you have mac and cheese on the menu, stir in some pureed butternut squash or cauliflower to the cheese mixture – the colors and flavors will mix well – to still give a nutrient boost and add in some greens. Your kids won’t really taste the spinach, kale, or broccoli when it’s doused in some oozy, cheesy goodness.
Here’s an easy one: kids LOVE fries. Veggie or potato, a fry is a fry to them.
You can always make baked fries with asparagus, zucchini, or green beans. Or, if you want other veggies beyond green ones, you can choose sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, or even beets.
Pair them with a tasty dipping sauce, like a healthier, light ranch or Greek yogurt or a honey mustard, Harris-Pincus suggests.
When it comes to encouraging kids to eat more greens, don’t be discouraged if they don’t take to them right away. It may take a few tries before kids are willing to try something new and even more tries before they admit to liking them. The good news is that the more exposed they are to nutritious foods, the more they’ll gravitate toward them. Try to make the process fun and engaging!
What are your tips for getting kids to eat more greens? Please share below!