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Posted in Food and Recipes | January 2015

Eat your broccoli, please?!

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Ask any parent and they’ll likely have a story about a picky eater or two. It’s frustrating, but also perfectly normal for kids, just like adults, not to like every single thing on their plates. The bigger problem is kids who steadfastly refuse to try anything new, a term called “food neophobia.” With the average American child eating less than half the vegetables they need, according to a recent report published by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics , it’s important to try to conquer the “I hate peas” syndrome in your home.

A March 2014 article in the Toronto Star offered some practical types for parents, grandparents and caregivers dealing with picky eaters who have vegetable aversions:

  • The drink makes a difference. Instead of giving kids juice or soda, which are loaded with added sugar, pair meals with a glass of milk or water. The subtle, natural sweetness and delicate flavors of vegetables can be masked by a sugary drink, making the veggies less palatable to little eaters.
  • Don’t give up. One study suggests that it can take up to 15 tries to get a toddler to accept a new food. Just because he didn’t like it the first time, doesn’t mean he won’t eventually grow to enjoy it.
  • Don’t use pressure tactics. While you do want your kids to eat fresh, healthy vegetables, you don’t want them to associate veggies with negative emotions or experiences.
  • Use a disguise. As long as food tastes good, most kids will happily eat it up, so hiding vegetables is a good way to make sure you’re kids are getting enough of them. Bake with them zucchini bread and pumpkin bread are both sure to delight, or puree them into soups and sauces. Mommy’s Kitchen has a recipe for “Sneaky Spaghetti Sauce” fortified with pureed or shredded carrots, zucchini and celery.
  • Dip ‘em! If you serve vegetables with a dip—it can be as simple as a little dish of ketchup—kids are scientifically proven to eat more of them.
  • Make positive associations. Instead of offering a cookie or other sweet treat to a kid who’s had a bad day, offer a big plate of fresh, colorful vegetables with a fun dip. Associating vegetables with comfort and love will help raise their profile in a child’s mind.
  • Get your kids involved. If kids grow their own vegetables in a little backyard garden, they may be more interested in testing them out after the harvest. Let them choose the seeds they want to sow, and make them responsible for helping to tend the garden during the summer. Likewise, take kids shopping to pick out vegetables, and get them cooking in the kitchen so they become more invested in the meal on their plates.

If all else fails, be patient and wait it out. Tastes change, and often kids become less picky as they age. Maybe those carrots and peas will make a comeback one day.

For more help with picky eaters, visit the Mayo Clinic, and Picky Eating Central.

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