When my kids came along I decided I was going to be the “different parent” and raise them on all the things I never ate as a kid growing up in the 60’s and 70’s. Raised in the age of Tang and Hungry Man TV dinners, my meals consisted of the usual American bill of fare, casseroles, meat and starch, cooked-to-death and covered in cheese vegetables, and bizarre variations on Hamburger Helper that to this day probably only slightly passes for food. Well, that was then and this is now.

Start shopping for produce early with your kids

One way we got our kids to eat veggies was to involve them in shopping for all the right stuff at an early age. Make sure you are taking them to the produce section of your local market or co-op and have them actively participate in the shopping process. I used to have my daughter pick out the best carrot or squash she saw and hold onto it until we got to the register. Then at check out, I made sure she handed it to the cashier and put it in a “special” bag for her. Sounds kinda corny I agree, but it worked like a charm. If it was something we would peel to prepare, we wrote her name on it with a marker and placed it on the counter when we got home. Then we HAD to cook it that night because she wanted to try it.

In my son’s case, we went with the weirder the better. Crooked yellow squash, beets, asparagus, anything with roots still showing, etc, were a hit. We found going to organic farmers markets were the best in his case because most of the produce still had some natural variations, and were less uniform in appearance than traditional supermarkets.

Cook as a Family and take the mystery out of what goes on in the kitchen

I remember the kitchen was a “no kids allowed” place when meals were being prepared, and most of the time I was chased out as soon as I set foot in the door. What came out of the kitchen was judged by me only when it hit the table. I never knew what was really in dinner until it was on my plate… and by then unless I recognized it I had to be sold on it.

Kids are inquisitive creatures that invariably want to know what’s going on at all times. If that’s the case, then why make the kitchen an off limits place when you are preparing meals. We always had our kids in the kitchen doing something to prepare meals when it was safe to do so. We always made it a point to prepare and cook what they picked out at the market first, and many times had them suggest ways to prepare and season it.

Our thought process was if they took an active part in the preparation, they already knew what was coming before it hit the table and were more likely to at least try it. In the end, nine times out of ten they liked it because they helped make it, and we added it to the “good to eat” list we had in the kitchen.

Scare tactics, intimidation and food shaming don’t work

“There are starving people in China that would be happy to have that!!” Man, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that one as a kid I’d already be retired. Sadly, your kids don’t respond to these types tactics and never will. It certainly never worked in my case.

No one responds to food pressure regardless of age, and pressing your kids to eat something that is unappealing for whatever reason usually back fires. Our method of tackling untouched food on plates was always centered on why they were not eating it. Then we would go back to the drawing board and figure out a better way to prepare it. For example, our preferred method of serving vegetables is steamed with extra virgin olive oil and a small amount of sea salt. We would always have the steamed vegetables at the table, and then put the olive oil and salt on at the table.

Again, notice the involvement even at the table, rather than adding the oil and salt in the kitchen. This pulls them into the process and makes them part of the meal at every stage.

Does this really work for me and my family?

Shopping with your kids and then going home and cooking with them may sound like 10 times more work than you’re used to, but in all honesty it’s not. Most parents these days are busy with an overloaded schedule, running kids to and from practice, lessons, appointments, etc. But getting them to eat a healthy diet that sets them up for a lifetime of healthy food choices is in my opinion well worth the hassle and extra effort. In our case getting them involved got them to take an interest in good food that was good for them.

Start small and simple and work your way out from there. It certainly took us a while to get our kids into the groove of shopping with us and helping in the kitchen. Experiment, keep an open mind and don’t stress about things working the first time.

In the end, some days are going to be better than others and you may have to pick your shopping and cooking battles on a daily basis. Remember, the goal is to get your kids to enjoy what they eat and establish a lifetime habit that will set them up for a long, happy and healthy future.

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