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Get kids to eat veggies without nagging or bribing


Struggling to get the children in your life to eagerly eat their veggies? Hoping to promote a love of healthy foods in your kids?

Some parents resort to punishment when kids refuse to eat fruits or vegetables. Others bribe their children with treats. But there are plenty of better ways to encourage kids to nurture their bodies with fruits and veggies.

Below are 36 ways to help kids learn to love fruits and vegetables.

1. Serve water or milk, not juice or soda, with veggies. Preschoolers ate more carrots and red peppers when they were given water rather than a sweetened beverage, according to research in the journal Appetite. The neutral-tasting beverages enhance veggies’ flavor.

2. Smile. Kids ages 5 to 8 were much more likely to eat vegetables they’d previously disliked when they saw an adult smile while eating those veggies, according to a British study.

3. Eat as a family. Kids who ate meals with parents ate extra more fruits and veggies daily, in one study.

4. Serve veggies in bite-size pieces. Eight-year-olds ate an extra serving a day when their parents cut up the veggies in a British study.

5. Keep the faith. The most sensitive children try a food dozens of times before they enjoy it.

6. Praise but don’t nag. Praising kindergarten-age kids for taking one bite of a new veggie made them more likely to accept veggies, according to a British study. But forcing made kids less likely to eat, according to research at the College of William and Mary.

7. Read aloud. After reading storybooks about fruits and veggies, 4- to 8-year-old children were more likely to try them, according to a study at the College of William and Mary.

8. Try these picture books: “How Did That Get In My Lunchbox?” by Chris Butterworth; “ I Can Eat A Rainbow” by Annabel Karmel; and “Oh No, Monster Tomato!” by Jim Helmore.

9. Shop together. Your kids are more likely to eat fruits and veggies they handled at the market.

10. Prep together. Even young children can help wash fruits and veggies if you provide a step-stool to help them reach

the sink.

11. Cook together. For ideas, read “Cook School” by Amanda Grant.

12. Supervise your child’s use of child-safe tools like a pizza cutter with a plastic cutting edge, and special knives that slice fruit but not fingers. Try your local kitchen-supply store or

13. Play Veggie Clue. Put a broccoli floret in a brown paper bag. Let your small child touch and smell the food before guessing the identity. Repeat with mushrooms, carrots, string beans, etc.

14. Snack on freeze-dried apples, bananas, mangos and strawberries.

15. Microwave frozen cherries and use to top vanilla ice cream.

16. Take the Apple Challenge. Blindfold your children and have them taste-test any three varieties of apples, such as thin slices of Granny Smith, Honey Crisp and Macintosh. What are their favorites?

17. Play with food occasionally. On a plate, arrange peas in the shape of a smiley face.

18. Serve a rainbow salad plate: rows of red cherry tomatoes, orange carrot sticks, yellow sweet peppers, green celery, blueberries, and purple grapes.

19. Use cookie cutters to cut cucumber slices into stars and watermelon slices into hearts.

20. Market your menu. Kids ate twice as many veggies when they were given snazzy names like “Power Punch Broccoli,” “X–ray Vision Carrots,” and “Silly Dilly Green Beans,” according to a study by researcher Brian Wansink.

21. Rebrand fruits. Put Elmo or other stickers on apples, and kids eat more, according to Wansink.

22. Special Smoothies. Help your child shop for a colorful cup with a lid and built-in straw. Serve smoothies made in your blender such as: a banana-split smoothie (bananas, milk and chocolate–hazelnut spread); Mega Martian (banana, avocado and milk) or Pinkalicious (frozen strawberries and vanilla yogurt.)

23. Let them eat pizza. Slice French bread lengthwise and allow your kids to top their own section with tomato sauce, shredded part-skim mozzarella, sliced mushrooms and chopped bell peppers. An adult can broil the pizzas.

24. Have a taco bar. Season lean ground beef or turkey and let the kids fill their own soft corn tortillas with their choice of chopped lettuce, tomato, avocado, pinto beans, cheese, and cilantro.

25. Less familiar veggies such as mushrooms, Lima beans and chopped spinach all taste great when simmered in spaghetti sauce.

26. Try adding tender steamed cauliflower bits to macaroni and cheese.

27. To entice picky kids to try strong-tasting kale or spinach, season the pot with a tablespoon of butter or crumbled bacon.

28. Add grated carrots or zucchini to turkey burgers or meatloaf.

29. Use veggie-rich sandwich spreads such as hummus and mild ajvar (red pepper spread.)

30. Grow a pizza or spaghetti garden with tomatoes, garlic, basil and oregano.

31. Write with fast-growing radishes. Write your child’s name in garden soil with a stick, and then sow radish seeds. Your child can watch his name sprout, and then eat sliced radishes in a salad.

32. Plant watermelon or pumpkin seeds. When the fruits first appear, scratch your child’s initial on the side of a fist-size fruit—the letter will expand with the fruit!

33. Keep fruits and veggies in mind with toys and games. Ikea makes the Duktig series with soft, stuffed baskets of toy fruits, veggies and even a salmon dinner.

34. Play Fruitominoes, dominoes with fruit-shaped dots.

35. Take Lois Ehlert’s picture book “Eating the Alphabet” to the market with your younger kids and use it to play I Spy. Award points each time they recognize a fruit or veggie.

36. Pick your own strawberries, apples and pumpkins at local farms.

Jennifer Motl is a registered  dietitian. Formerly of Fredericksburg, she now  lives in Wisconsin. She welcomes reader questions via her website,, or by email at