For the next three months, we'll provide challenges for you to try at home. By the end of the summer, your kids should be eating more vegetables and more variety. Come on, you can do it!
Rethink Your Drink
Limit each family member to a single sweetened beverage daily or one every few days, depending on what you're drinking now. Fruit punch, lemonade, and soda fuel your kid's preference for sweet tastes, making veggies a harder sell. "Let your kids pick out a cup that's only for water," suggests Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of Slim by Design and director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University.
Start with the Good Stuff
Start every dinner with a veggie platter or a salad. "If you put a starch, a protein, and a veggie on your kid's dinner plate, our research shows that she'll almost always go to the starch first," says Dr. Wansink. "When the broccoli is all that's left on her plate, she'll be pretty full." To prevent that, bring out a veggie-filled tray or a big bowl of salad for everyone to munch on while dinner is still cooking. It doesn't have to be fancy: Baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, bell-pepper strips, and a little bit of hummus for dipping are a hit in Dr. Wansink's house.
For a week, offer nothing but fruits and vegetables at snacktime. Get your child out of the habit of munching crackers or granola bars in between meals. Adjust your shopping list to include more produce -- and keep it cut up on a low shelf in the fridge so your child has easy access.
Start The Day Right
"Research shows that almost 80 percent of vegetables are eaten at dinnertime, yet only 27 percent of dinners contain a full serving of veggies for every member of the family," explains Dr. Wansink. "And children need more than one serving anyway." For easy breakfast recipes that include a hefty amount of veggies, such as pumpkin pancakes and asparagus frittata, go to parents.com/veggie-challenge.
Slip carrot slivers into peanut butter-and- jelly sammies, butter lettuce on top of turkey and cheese, or roasted red peppers into grilled cheese. If you add up the "a little bit here, a little bit there" opportunities during the day, your child will end up with a couple of extra servings of vegetables every week.
Offer A Choice
Dr. Wansink's research shows that children eat about 20 percent more vegetables when you allow them to pick between two. You could prepare two veggies (that's standard in Dr. Wansink's house) or, before dinner, ask your child to choose one or the other. Try to vary the options so your kid doesn't end up picking carrots or green beans every night.
Be a Little Silly
Many children will eat carrots and corn, but other vegetables are a tougher sell, says Dr. Wansink. "When I want my girls to taste something new that we're having for dinner, I look up a goofy fact about it and then they get interested in trying it," he says. For example, you can tell them that broccoli is actually a flower, eggplant is related to potatoes, and onions will taste sweeter if you pinch your nose while eating them.
Utilize a Party, Picnic, or Buffet
Use the opportunity to gently steer your child toward something he's never tried before. You might say, "Aunt Michelle made the bacon-broccoli salad that your cousin likes so much. Let's taste a little, and see if it's really as delicious as your aunt says."
Once you discover a couple of new vegetables that your child thought tasted "okay" or at least "not bad," offer them every couple of days. The reason for persistence: It may take your child ten times or more to totally accept a new food.
Indy 500 Fruit Racers
Originally published in the June, July, and August 2015 issues of Parents magazine.