How to get kids excited about cooking with and eating fruits and veggies
Turn your kids loose on a fun Kitchen Quest + 9 other creative ideas to try
Like most parents, I can share a tale or two of preparing a nutritious meal only to have my child refuse to take a bite when it’s served. But don’t be discouraged! This scenario is in fact quite normal.
Kids are often unsure about “new” foods. They can find it a little scary to just pop a food they’ve never tried before into their mouths. And actually, foods do taste different for children than they do for adults. As kids, we accept sweet and salty foods faster than we accept bitter tastes. But our tastes evolve as we get older – and that means that even if some veggies are not favorites at first, your child’s preference for them can change.
Is it possible, however, to jump-start your child’s willingness to try less-sweet and less-salty foods like veggies? I say absolutely yes.
I’ve found what works best is getting kids familiar with veggies long before they ever hit their plates. I have a handful of fun suggestions for how to do this that I’ll get to in a moment. But also know that it’s key to keep offering veggies to your child to retry – and to change up the way you offer them. Make sure to give plenty of encouragement with every sign of progress your child makes. And always be careful not to pressure your child into eating something they don’t want to. If you can spark your child’s curiosity and make trying new foods fun, mealtime will become a positive family time!
Here are my top 10 ways for getting your kids to become adventurous with veggies
Pick out a few that you can see your family trying, and give them a whirl!
Plant a seed – literally!
Children love to see things grow. Plant seeds outside or in a planter, or buy young plants. Have your child water and feed them. They’ll be excited to pick, taste and plan meals around their harvest! Fast-growing, kid-friendly options include lettuce, snap peas and cherry tomatoes.
Make a shopping list.
Get your kids engaged before you enter the produce aisle. Have them make a shopping list using words or pictures (depending on age) of the fruits and veggies they’d like to buy for the week. When you head to the store, bring their shopping list with and have your kids pick out and check off the items.
Go on a farm-to-table field trip.
Picking ingredients right from the plants they grow on is another activity that can get your kids excited about their dinner. Check out one of the many farms around the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin where you can pick your own apples, cherries, green beans, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, summer squash, sweet corn, peas, pumpkins, cabbage, tomatoes and more. Find an option near you at localharvest.org.
Find a farmers market.
If you can’t get to the farm itself, head to a farmers market instead. Here, kids can pick out what looks good to them, learn about growing seasons and get excited about the food they eat by talking with the people who grow it. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have large farmers markets. Many suburbs and cities feature smaller markets, too.
Engage and appeal to the five senses.
Part of the adventure of trying and creating new dishes and foods is using all of the senses. Before your child even goes to take a bite of a new fruit or veggie, have them look at it, touch it and smell it. Talk about their observations – like how green, bumpy broccoli looks like a tree. Or, that squishy, round grapes are small and purple-y. Then, when your child is ready, they can taste the food.
Experiment with cooking methods.
Just like adults, kids may not like veggies prepared in a certain way, like raw or steamed broccoli. But they may find they love it roasted or drizzled with melted cheese. The trick is to keep giving them chances to retry foods, and to find new flavors and textures that tickle their taste buds.
Send your kids on a Kitchen Quest.
Kids love getting in the kitchen to try out equipment and practice chef skills. When they help make the meal, they’re more likely to try it and enjoy it. Some safe, age-appropriate ways you can involve your kids include:
Age Suitable kitchen skills Little chefs
(2 to 5 years old)
Cutting with a dull knife
(6 to 8 years old)
Using a juicer
Using a garlic press
Cutting with small knives (But first! Watch our 1-minute knife safety video)
Master junior chefs
(9 to 12 years old)
Using a blender
Cooking on the stovetop
Putting food in the oven, and taking it out
Checking temperatures with a thermometer
Cutting with large knives (But first! Watch our 1-minute knife safety video)
As the adult and supervising chef, it’s your job to always:
- Make sure all hands get washed – including yours!
- Help kids get ready for each task – and keep close watch they work on it.
- Answer questions and provide encouragement.
The sky is the limit when it comes to Kitchen Quests. The latest edition of our PowerUp family magazine has some ideas to start with. And it’s packed with tons of family-friendly recipes, too. More recipes are also available at powerup4kids.org.
Set their eyes on a prize.
If your kids are excited about testing their skills in the kitchen, tell them about our PowerUp Recipe Contest. Then, challenge them to come up with their own recipe featuring fruits or veggies as the main ingredient. They could win the title of Power Chef and awesome PowerUp cooking gear! Recipes are due by June 30, 2018.
Here’s a slideshow of last year’s winners:
Sign up for a cooking class.
Has your family been mesmerized by watching Master Chef Junior on TV? There are local cooking classes where your child can feel like a pro, too! PowerUp partners in Stillwater and Amery offer a variety of options. Check out some of the cooking classes that are currently open and sign up!
Be a role model.
It may not always seem like it, but your kids want to be like you. So, let them catch you snacking on fruits and veggies. It will make them more likely to try tasting and eating these foods, too!
About Stephanie Kovarik, RDN, LD
Stephanie Kovarik is a licensed registered dietitian nutritionist. She is the program coordinator for PowerUp in the St. Croix Valley, which is a community-wide health initiative to make eating better and moving more easy and fun for kids and families. Stephanie has been part of the HealthPartners family since 2000. She previously worked in Health Promotion, where she provided health coaching and helped develop health and well-being programs that focused on nutrition, heart health, diabetes, weight management and more. Stephanie earned her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of North Dakota. She enjoys partnering with families, schools, clinicians and local organizations to build healthier communities. And in her free time, she enjoys being active outdoors, traveling and cheering on her son and daughter in their many activities.