Getting Kids to Eat More Fruits and Veggies: Stay the Course or Change Direction?

David Grotto, RDN, discusses that there is no room for throwing in the towel when it comes to getting veggies on the plate; it’s all about the approach.


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Being a nutrition expert doesn’t always matter when it comes to getting my kids to eat healthier. This is especially true for foods that may taste funny, have a weird mouth-feel or  include something that my daughters’ friends would not be caught dead eating. Kids’ preferences for foods seem to change like the wind, so the question is – should you change your approach in how to get them to eat healthier? Here are some of my favorite tips to get veggies on the plate for the entire family.

Stay the course and reinforce. Set up your home environment for success – abandoning ship is NOT an option. Have fruits and vegetables available in abundance but in ready-to-eat forms. Wash fruits and veggies and have them cut up and ready-to-go and in plain site. My kids really like these after school snacks:

  • Celery, pepper and jicama strips cut in 4” pieces served with a fat-free cream cheese dip or salsa.
  • Cucumber slices and low fat sour cream mixed with onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper served on cocktail rye bread.
  • Mix berries in a bowl with a tablespoon each of honey and balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Change Direction by Using a Sneak Attack. Until about five years ago, my teenage daughters never knew that salmon wasn’t another variety of chicken. I remember one of my daughters exclaiming, “I love this chicken and could eat it every day” after taste-testing a grilled salmon smothered in cherry salsa recipe for my first book. My wife and I turned to each other and said to her, “Glad you like it!” I’m happy to say, seven years later, my kids aren’t in counseling sessions for the emotional scars left behind from our non-disclosure of that fateful meal. But many parents feel guilty if they try to “hide” healthy foods in dishes that their kids enjoy.

In the *American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD, from Penn State University, conducted a study with 3-5 year olds where vegetables were hidden in entrees served to them. She found that overall vegetable consumption increased by 50% though hiding vegetables in the entrees though did not affect the amount of vegetable side dishes consumed.  Sneaking in veggies that your kids aren’t particularly fond of isn’t “throwing in the towel”. You may find in time that their tastes change and they will welcome those once hidden vegetables back to being in the spotlight where they belong. But for now, just get them in! Continue to celebrate the ones they do love but arm yourself with these techniques to help them bridge the gap between healthy recommendations and consumption.

  • Swap out ½ ground beef for chopped mushrooms in their favorite burger, taco and meatloaf recipes.
  • Puree left over vegetables and freeze them. Add fresh or frozen pureed spinach to taco meat or brownie mix. Add pureed carrots, sweet potato or butternut squash to macaroni and cheese; smoothies and spaghetti sauce.
  • Don’t feel like pureeing vegetables? Use jarred baby food or shelf stable vegetable purees that are now in the marketplace.

What do you think about sneaking in veggies? Do you have any other ideas for getting kids to eat more fruits and veggies? Let’s hear about them!

*Spill MK, Birch LL, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. “Hiding vegetables to reduce energy density: an effective strategy to increase children’s vegetable intake and reduce energy intake.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep; 94(3):735-41.


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