How I Get My Kids to Eat Fruit and Vegetables

When my daughter, my firstborn, was born I followed every “mom rule” out there. I think it’s a rite of passage for every first-time parent to go a little overboard at first. We had a spreadsheet detailing her diaper business, if you catch my drift. We earned a gold medal in overboard.

So when my daughter ended up being a really well-rounded eater, I definitely thought it was due to my awesome parenting. How could it not be, right? Uh, sure. Go with that thought.

Then my son came along and all of the sudden I had a child that would not try new foods. What??? Peaches? Nope. Green beans? No again. Blueberries? Also, a no. Celery? Not on your life. It’s not just fruits and vegetables. He won’t even try cotton candy. Not that I blame him, but still… that one is pure sugar.

Sigh. My awesome parenting wasn’t working!! 

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My son is 4 1/2 now and he’s definitely better about the variety of foods he eats, but I’d still call him a picky eater. My daughter is still an eating champ. She will always try a new food and even if she doesn’t enjoy it she will say, “I’ll try it again later mom. Maybe my tastebuds will have changed by then.” I’m not even joking. She’s very rational and scientific about it.

A few months ago I was tired of fighting the “I’m starving” whining that would, like clockwork, start 30 minutes before dinner time. So, in a moment of sheer brilliance desperation, I decided if you can’t beat them, join them.

So, I cut up a bunch of fruit and veggies, plopped them on a plate and told the kids they could have “appetizers” before dinner. You would have thought I told them they could guzzle pop and eat sugar straight out of the sugar bowl. They were so excited to get to do an adult thing.

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Miraculously, I started seeing improvements in the quantity and variety of fruits and veggies that both kids were consuming. When my son could select his own food, he seemed much more apt to try something new. Hallelujah! This approach seemed in keeping with the advice from our pediatrician – keep putting healthy food in front of them and eventually they will try it.

This is an appetizer plate that I prepared for them last week. Tomatoes are on the no-eat list for both kids, but I’m still giving them opportunities to try them.

It should be noted that I’m not making any extra food with this approach. A normal dinner around here is some sort of meat and salad. This means that the only thing my kids might get on their actual dinner plate that night is meat. Since they’ve already filled up on fruit and vegetables, I don’t really mind and neither do they.

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Some other tips that I’ve found helpful with this approach:

1. Sticking a couple of toothpicks on the appetizer plate make eating the appetizers even more fun. Of course, my kids are also old enough to handle toothpicks.

2. Sometimes I mix things up and cut up some cheese to add to this plate.  Maybe some deli meat if we have it. Every once in awhile I’ll put some peanut butter on the celery if I think they need more protein that particular day.

3. Yogurt dips also keep things interesting. Last night I let them split a carton of yogurt and they dipped their fruit (and sometimes the carrots) in the peach yogurt.

4. Positioning the fruit into a face or other interesting shape makes the appetizer even more intriguing as they try to guess what the shape is or they laugh hysterically and tell me they are eating the snap pea “nose.”

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It’s been helpful for me to remember that these precious children, even when exposed to an identical environment, are still unique individuals with their own quirks and preferences. That means I have to adapt my parenting to meet them where they are. It’s not going to be a perfect process by any means. It’s trial and error and remembering not to sweat the small stuff. It means I am constantly on the lookout for tips, tricks and tools to add to my parenting tool belt.

Now, I’m sure my kids will eventually catch on to this appetizer trick! I hope by then they will have healthy eating habits in place and will truly enjoy eating fruits and veggies.

In the meantime, I’m going to smile and laugh right along with their silly antics…and happily make dinner in peace.

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