Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
6 Ways to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables
Fully 9 in 10 U.S. children need to eat more vegetables. For adults it is no better. As a cardiologist, I have observed that a person’s health is directly tied to how many vegetables they eat. In this article, I share six proven ways to effortlessly get children and adults to eat more vegetables.
1. Set an Example
Your children watch what you eat. Indeed, studies show that, to a large extent, how you eat is how they will eat for the rest of their lives. Any bad eating habits you have may be magnified with your children.
Basically, the message of this and countless other studies is that you have to “walk the talk.” If you don’t eat vegetables, then you can’t expect your children to eat vegetables either. As studies show that vegetables eaten during childhood prevent future heart disease and cancer, it is a parent’s responsibility to model healthy eating.
2. Serve Vegetables First
In a fascinating study, researchers from Texas A&M University studied the school lunch plates of 8,430 students to better understand why children choose to eat or avoid vegetables. Not surprisingly, they found that if vegetables had to compete on the plate with highly processed main entrees, like chicken nuggets, broccoli didn’t stand a chance. For broccoli to even have a fighting chance, it had to be paired with something healthier than the hyper palatable chicken nuggets.
The lessons from this study are clear. If you pair pizza with cauliflower on your kids’ plate, they likely will never touch the cauliflower.
The solution is to offer vegetables first. Before you bring out the main entree, serve everyone the salad or sautéed vegetables first. If there is no competition, children and adults alike will be much more likely to eat vegetables.
3. Make it a Game
In an interesting new study, researchers from Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor University, wanted to see if they could effortlessly boost vegetable intake of 400 children. To do so, they created a video game that had the main character ask the children to eat and record their vegetables. Indeed, this video game was so effective that 79% of the children were meeting the target number of vegetables and fruits every day within six months.
While you probably cannot create your own video game for your children to eat more vegetables, there is still much that you can do. Depending on the age of your children, you could make faces or their favorite superhero out of the vegetables on their plates. You could also use vegetable charts or let them use the camera on your phone to photograph the vegetables they eat.
The key is to be creative and find out what works for your kids. Turning vegetables into a game works for adults as well. For example, many nutrition tracking apps give you medals for eating vegetables.
4. Make it Convenient
Studies show that if vegetables are readily available, people naturally eat more. The key is to eliminate all barriers.
This is something that has worked well in our home. My wife, Jane, often makes a vegetable and fruit smoothie for our children in the morning. For ideas on what to include in a smoothie, here is a link.
Also, she typically puts out a vegetable and fruit tray several times a day for our children. We have found that if fresh veggies and fruits are readily available, our kids will eat them.
The same works for adults as well. Pack veggie snacks for work. Pack veggies for car rides. Basically, always have a readily available vegetable.
5. Offer a Variety of Vegetables
In an interesting study, researchers invited study participants to a meal. At this meal, half the people were offered only one vegetable choice with their pasta and the other group of people was offered three vegetable choices. Without even trying, the group that was offered three vegetable choices with their pasta ate nearly one more total serving of vegetables.
While this study was with adults, the same works for children as well. We have found that the more vegetable options we put out for our kids, the more they eat.
6. Get Kids Involved
Studies show that if children participate in growing, selecting, or cooking vegetables, they are more likely to eat them. One challenge of modern life is that children have no idea where food actually comes from.
If you want your children to effortlessly eat more vegetables, grow a garden. If a garden is not an option, go to farmer’s markets. Let your kids select the produce items. Also, involve your children in meal selection and preparation.
This is something that my wife does well. Our kids have enjoyed preparing a garden this year. They also love selecting and preparing meals with Jane. Anecdotally, we have seen an uptick in vegetables eaten when they are involved.
Take Home Message
Getting children to eat more vegetables can be a major challenge for parents. As a result, too many parents give up and just give kids the processed or fast foods that they will happily eat.
Adults aren’t much better. It is so much easier to just eat processed or fast foods than vegetables.
There is an easier way. These six proven strategies will help your family to eat healthier. These six proven strategies also require little to no willpower.
Eating healthier is as simple as environmental programming. If you make healthy eating the path of least resistance, kids and parents alike, will naturally and effortlessly eat better.
What has worked for you to get kids to eat more vegetables? Do you have any tips or tricks that help you to eat more vegetables?
Please leave your comments below. As always, I’ll do my best to answer any questions. Also, if you liked this article, please be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter or podcast.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.