Sarah Remmer: The Non-Diet Dietitian


Want Your Kids to Eat More Veggies? Do This!

Now there's research to back up why our evening veggie ritual really works!

getting kids to eat more vegetables

It's like clockwork- every evening when I start preparing dinner, my kids run into the kitchen hungry and whiny. Requests for snacks are rampant and there are little fingers dabbling in dinner ingredients all over the place. Not only does this make it harder for me to prepare dinner, but it is also a patience tester (big time!). 

When dinner is finally served, like most young kids, they rarely eat a good portion of veggies. The more appealing fare (the entree, starchy sides etc.) is almost always gobbled up, leaving the greens and oranges untouched for the most part. Not only is this frustrating for my husband and I, but it also creates food waste and spawns mealtime battles. Although I try to salvage leftover veggies from my kids' plates, most of them are too grimy and slimy by the time dinner is over to justify saving them. 

A while back, I discovered a magical solution. So simple, yet so effective, and it works like a charm. 

Every evening, before dinner, I put out a veggie tray with dip (I rotate between various hummus, Ranch dip or Caesar dip) or individual raw veggie bowls with a dollop of dip. I include at least three different vegetables of different colours, and sometimes switch up how I cut them. And I say nothing and simply leave them out on the table or on the island. Before I know it, my kids are quietly munching away.  Every. Time.

This trick keeps my kids busy while I prepare dinner, it takes the "hunger edge" off for them, and it lessens the pressure for everyone to consume enough veggies at mealtime.

It's a win-win-win. 

In the Fall and Winter, I often switch out raw veggies for vegetable soup, such as butternut squash, or a bowl of leftover roasted veggies from the night before (usually with some sort of dip). 

I've always assumed that this trick worked because there wasn't any other foods for the veggies to compete with. After all, we know that kids are biologically driven to eat more carb-based (starchy, sweet) foods because they signal "energy-rich", and are often turned off by bitter-tasting vegetables (because in historical times, bitter often indicated "toxic" or poisonous). This is likely why kids often reject veggies and devour starchy foods at mealtimes. 

And now there is research to back up my assumption: 

Recent data out of Texas A&M University shows that there is an interesting reason why kids (elementary school age) often choose not to eat their veggies at mealtime, thus producing more vegetable food waste afterwards. After analyzing plate waste data from nearly 8,500 students, they found that there's at least one variable that tends to affect whether kids eat their greens (ie. broccoli, spinach or green beans) more than anything: What the veggies are paired with.

They found that when veggies sit next to other more appealing foods - let's say hamburgers or chicken nuggets - they are wasted more (and the entree is considered more appealing)  than if vegetables sit next to less appealing foods such as "steak fingers" or "deli sliders," wherein more of the veggies are eaten. Clearly,  plate food waste is related to food pairings, which makes sense.

Young kids also aren't able to grasp the concept of "nutrition" very well. Adults may choose to eat their veggies first, or at least make a point of eating their veggies because they want to improve their nutrition or manage their weight. Not so with kids. When parents try to coax their kids into eating more veggies for the sake of nutrition or health, kids often become even more turned off than before. They often translate this pressure into "these veggies must be even grosser than I thought--why is it such a big deal that I eat them?!" Kids eat for two reasons: 1) they are physically hungry and 2) because a food is appealing to them. 

When veggies don't have to compete with other "yummier" foods, and when there's no pressure from parents to eat them, they become more desirable and tend to be eaten more. And this is likely why my kids gobble up their veggies when served before dinner - they aren't competing with any other foods! 

I will continue with my ritual of serving veggies before dinner because it's so easy and works so well. Do you do this too? How does it work for you and your kids? 

 RELATED: If this was helpful, you may also like:3 Picky Eater Strategies That WORK or The #1 Mistake Parents Make When it Comes to Feeding Kids 

I post free daily tips, tricks and advice for parents of picky eaters over on my Facebook page. Feel free to check it out!