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Guess what the most common vegetable on American toddlers’ plates is? If you guessed potatoes, in the form of French fries, you’re right. But the news gets worse. More than a quarter (27 percent) of young children don’t eat even a single serving of vegetables on any given day., As the health-conscious mama of a picky five-year-old, I can tell you that sadly, my child sometimes falls into this category.
I’m not giving up though! Why? Because it’s important to establish good eating habits early. Not only does it benefit kids’ current health, but lifelong dietary preferences can become set as early as two years of age.
So, we can all agree kids need to eat more vegetables. But putting a nice healthy pile of steamed veggies on their plates doesn’t exactly elicit the same enthusiasm as serving them a piece of chocolate cake. Some kids are notoriously finicky, and others are more adventurous, or so you think until they start to cycle through a bewildering series of phases. (“But you loved spinach last month!”)
Like many parents, I’ve struggled to get my girl to eat her veggies. Here are some of my tried-and-true methods.
Making vegetables crunchy increases their appeal to lots of kids. (There’s a biological reason for this: Humans are programmed to associate crunchiness with freshness. Think of a carrot freshly bought from the farmer’s market versus a limp one that’s been sitting in your fridge for two weeks.) Kale chips are a great way to go from yucky to yummy in a half hour.
How to make: Tear kale into bite-sized pieces, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes. You can experiment with different flavors. Try dusting them with nutritional yeast for a cheesy taste or get creative with different spice blends.
My daughter will have nothing to do with steamed broccoli tossed with butter, but throw it in the oven and she won’t let me or her Dad have any. Roasting broccoli not only gives broccoli crunchiness, it also brings out its natural sweetness.
How to make: Chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and cook at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Other vegetables that roast well include beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and parsnips. As with kale chips, experiment with different toppings. You can even make a family game out of rating the different flavors.
Sometimes the key to getting kids to eat vegetables is melted cheese. This British comfort food is a simple casserole, featuring, you guessed it, cauliflower and cheese. It’s a healthier alternative to mac and cheese, but kids — including my fussy daughter — almost universally love it.
How to make:
- One large cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets
- 2 cups whole milk or milk of your choice
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 ½ T butter
- 3 ½ ounces sharp cheddar, grated or vegan cheese
- 2-3 T breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 400 to 425 degrees.
- Boil the cauliflower for 5 minutes, drain it, pat dry with paper towels, and place in an ovenproof dish.
- Place flour, butter, and milk in saucepan and whisk as butter melts. Keep whisking for two minutes, until the sauce thickens.
- Turn off heat, add most of the cheese, and pour over cauliflower.
- Sprinkle breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese over the top.
- Bake for 20 minutes, until it bubbles.
How do you get your kid to eat more vegetables?
 Study finds French fries are No. 1 veggie consumed by American toddlers. IFT. 2018 Sep 4. http://www.ift.org/Food-Technology/Daily-News/2018/September/04/study-finds-french-fries-are-number-1-veggie-consumed-by-american-toddlers.aspx
 Roess AA, et al. Food consumption patterns of infants and toddlers: findings from the Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS) 2016. J Nutr. 2018 Sep;148(Suppl 3):1525S-35S.