Cara J. Stevens @CaraJS

5 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

Do your kids push aside their veggies? Try these 5 tips to get your kids to eat their vegetables, and enjoy them, too!

Is your kid always reaching for a cookie or some chips when you'd rather that she grab some celery sticks? If the battle of wills at the dinner table has you contemplating giving up the healthy food fight, don't despair. Getting kids to up their veggie intake is easier than you think, and the benefits are well worth it. "Vegetables are high in fiber, low in calories and rich in nutrients like vitamins A, C and potassium," says author, nutritionist and wellness advocate Dr. Lisa Young. "Veggies are also packed with antioxidants that benefit the immune system, and they have fiber for energy and stabilizing blood sugar," she says, which is why kids need at least three servings a day, every day. Dr. Young suggests getting kids involved in food preparation and focusing on color and presentation to engage their enthusiasm and get them started on healthy eating habits at a young age. It's also a nice family activity.

Here are five ways to transition kids from processed food fanatics to healthy eaters:

  1. Break Out the Veggies First
    Dr. Joseph Price, an associate professor of economics at Brigham Young University who specializes in family economics, observed in a recent study that kids are not eating enough fruits and veggies. He's been researching ways to get kids to eat more fresh produce, and one of the most successful plans has more to do with timing than anything else. If you catch them when they're hungry, they'll eat what's on their plate. "Moving recess before lunch increased the amount of fruits and vegetables being consumed by 50 percent," he says.

    While you can't control recess, you can control what happens at home. "It would be great if every kid came home to a kitchen that had cut fruit and vegetables waiting for them," Professor Price suggests. Set a kitchen rule: an hour before supper, serve only veggies. If your kids are really hungry, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers with dip will satisfy. If they also eat vegetables with dinner, great. If not, they've already eaten their veggies.
  2. Try Theme Nights
    Start your own meat-free Monday! Embracing healthy habits on Mondays can help set a pattern of healthy behaviors for the week ahead. Theme nights -- Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Falafel Friday, for some ideas -- are the perfect opportunity to load up on veggies and encourage healthy eating. You could make bean and cheese tacos stuffed with veggies, pasta with lots of colorful vegetables, falafel wraps with hummus and dipping veggies -- the options are endless!
  3. Get the Kiddos Involved
    When you cook and eat together as a family, your children will be more excited to eat something they helped create, says Joe Criscuolo, a chef and owner of Meatball & Co. in Darien, Connecticut. "When kids cook, they're more likely to eat new foods," he says. For a simple meal, start with store-bought pizza dough, and have the kids add sauce, cheese and a variety of veggies.
  4. Experiment With New Vegetables
    You can mix up your family's normal veggie routine by eating seasonal veggies. "They taste better and are less expensive," says Criscuolo. Don't be afraid to experiment. Take your regular mashed potatoes, and swap out the potatoes for mashed cauliflower, yams, carrots or squash, substituting olive oil for butter. He also suggests roasting veggies to add flavor and sweetness. You can also add some fun to everyday veggies by adding a twist of color -- purple, white and yellow carrots; green, purple and orange heirloom tomatoes; and brightly colored mini-bell peppers. Roasted carrots, yams and parsnips are also a colorful alternative to fries.
  5. Eat Together
    "Families should eat together as often as possible and not let kids rush away as soon as they're done," Price says. "Having kids stay at the table a little longer to talk will make it so that the veggies don't have to compete with video games." Plus, when your kids see you starting with salad and piling on the veggies, they're more inclined to do the same.

    Kids need a little more encouragement? Try these Easy Ways to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables.

Cara Stevens is the mother of a 13-year-old and an 8-year-old who generally eat more fruits and vegetables than she does. She attributes her success to closing the kitchen for anything but vegetables at 5 p.m. every day.