Whole Living Daily

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Veggies (Without Forcing, Lying, or Bribing)

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Get this: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that the diets of 78 percent of school-age children showed a need for improvement. Only 6 (6!) percent of children had a "good diet," while 16 percent had a "poor diet." These rates were similar across all income levels (Source: USDA and Food Marketing to Children and Youth Institute of Medicine report, Dec 2005).

Scary, right?

I spoke with Beth Bader, coauthor of The Cleaner Plate Club: More Than 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love recently on my daily radio show Whole Living about the challenges parents face in helping their kids to eat healthier. And "helping" can range from subtle suggestion and encouragement to kicking, screaming, lying, bribing, grounding--anything at all you can do to get those kids to eat something that doesn't come in a box or in a range of neon colors.

But (insert fresh food here) is...gross.

What's a parent to do? Beth and her co-author Ali Benjamin teamed up to write The Cleaner Plate Club (based on Ali's successful blog) to give parents and families a plan for coaxing your kids' diets back into the realm of real food. They cover the what, why, and how to eat healthier as a family (even the shopping part, for which Bader and Benjamin include a store map for avoiding trouble spots). Plus, a host of strategies for rethinking how your family eats and recipes that are kid-friendly...without being kid "food" (cheap stuff masquerading as edibles but really, when you think about it, is more like an edible marketing plan that overpromises and underdelivers.

What to Do (and NOT Do) To Get Kids to Eat Better

--Don't fight. It never works, says Bader. She cites that multiple studies show that when foods are restricted, kids want more of them, plain and simple. The opposite is true, too--when a kid is cajoled into eating a certain food, they tend to like those foods less than children who were not pressured.

--Don't lie. While some swear by this method ("That's not a turnip, honey, that's a potato"), Bader believes that honesty is the best policy. But the more you can mimic the texture of certain foods by choosing healthy options that blend well (yellow squash in with the mac 'n cheese), the more likely you'll get them to take those foods.

--Do cut up into bits. Because kids tend to have texture issues (which is why they may be repelled by a thick woody stalk on a piece of broccoli), it's worth cutting up veggies into small pieces so that they cook through and are easy to get down.

--Explore the produce aisle together. Bader says this is actually where she likes to start her food shopping because this is the one place where it can be fun and frugal to make impulsive purchases. It's a smorgasbord of health-boosting phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and great tastes. Let the kids try a new fruit or vegetable to try. And then try preparing that food a few different ways until you find one they love.

Bader was also kind enough to share a recipe that'll have your kids downing cauliflower by the fistful (can you imagine?)

Honey-Spice Roasted Cauliflower

Serves 4

(Bader was kind enough to share this recipe which I'm dying to try!)

When faced with more challenging vegetables, a bit of spice, a bit of sweet, and a whole lot of heat — that is, roasting — can make all the difference in winning over picky to pleased. This recipe offers the benefits of both steaming and roasting. For larger heads of cauliflower, make a double batch of the spice rub and cut the head in half before roasting.

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 grinds black pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 small head cauliflower

1/4 cup water

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Whisk together the honey, oil, cumin, salt, black pepper, cayenne, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Rub the mixture over the cauliflower.

3. Place the cauliflower in a baking dish. Pour the water into the dish.

4. Roast the cauliflower for 15 minutes, then turn it over and roast for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until it is golden brown.

5. Cut into florets or slices, and serve.

(Check out Bader and Benjamin's at cleanerplateclub.com)

Terri Trespicio is senior features editor at Whole Living magazine and the host of "Whole Living" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, which airs every day at 10a East / 7a West on Sirius 112 / XM 157. Follow her on twitter @TerriT or subscribe to her videos on youtube at TerriT73.

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Comments (5)

  • Some great tips here...I will be checking out this blog for sure!

  • I'm actually surprised the percent of kids with poor diets isn't higher. It is somthing I struggle with everyday in my own house and it is truly a disheartening fight most days. I'm looking forward to checking out this book and blog~ thanks!

  • @Kristen, what types of things do struggle with the most with your kids? Is there something specific I could help with?

    Thank you all for the nice comments!

  • I've bought this book and I have to say, my family and I have really enjoyed the recipes we've tried. I appreciate Beth and Ali's practical suggestions and healthy and fun recipes!

  • I wish someone could tell me how to feed a child on the spectrum. None of the suggestions Ive ever seen have worked! My kid is just a whole other ball game. He will not eat rather than eat anything on his extremely long dislike list. He is already underweight so I cant hold out forever!

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