Vegetables. Most of us will probably agree that they are an important part of a healthy balanced diet. However, getting the children in our lives interested and excited enough about them to actually take a bite of a new vegetable can feel like an incredible (and sometimes impossible) feat.

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In my 18 years as an early childhood educator and 7 years as a mother, I have seen first hand that getting children interested in vegetables goes so far beyond just putting them on their plate. It means making veggies a part of their life in many ways different ways. Why? Because children are learners and explorers. They absorb the world around them in many different ways and vegetables are no different. For many children to become comfortable and open to vegetables at the dinner table, they often need opportunities to explore them long before they ever reach their plate.

Here are 6 tired-and-true ways I have used to get my students and own daughter excited about veggies…

  1. Plant a garden.

It doesn’t have to be a big garden or even one that is outside, but just simply planting some kale or carrots in a bucket somewhere in your home might be enough to intrigue your little eater to take a bite of that veggie! Invite your child to help plant the garden and put them in charge of its care (kids loooovveeee watering plants). Observe the changes the plants go through with your child and watch it grow. As the plant grows, so will your child’s interest and excitement. After all, THEY cared for this plant and helped it flourish. They feel invested in it and are having a chance to see the power of their little actions (giving it water and making sure it had sun). By inviting children to be part of the growing process, they instantly become intrigued by the vegetable…and maybe enough to take a bite.

2. Invite kids to help plan meals.

Kids are accustomed to foods just showing up on the plate in front of them or in their lunch box…without much of a say in the what. If you child is extra selective about their foods and vegetables, invite them to help you plan what you are going to cook and/or pack. Tell them there has to be a vegetable, but they get to pick which one! And BOOM! Just like that, your child feels empowered (because who doesn’t crave and enjoy choice?) with vegetables and will be more excited about that veggie showing up at meal time. Why? Because they had a say. And when we have a say, something seems much more intriguing and exciting.

3. Take them to the farmers market or store with you.

Great! You have let your child(ren) pick a few meals and/or veggies for the week ahead. Now take them shopping with you! I know that grocery shopping with kids doesn’t sound like a fun time to many parent/caregivers, but its another simple way to get children invested in the food that they are eating! Invite them to go and pick out “the best bunch of carrots” or ask them if you should buy broccoli or cauliflower. Put the older ones in charge of putting the items in the cart and let the little ones hold a veggie while you shop.

4. Read them books about veggies.

I am a huge believer that books are a magical tool for introducing so many things to children…including vegetables. Books open the door for conversation and questions. Children get to see other people in similar situations as them and see how it played out. Books can make intimidating topics less scary and foreign items feel familiar. Reading books to your child is probably something you are already doing, so why not add in a few about vegetables to see if it helps the veggie drama at the dinner table? Looking for some veggie-loaded book recommendations? Check out 12 Wonderful Books for Kids about Vegetables

5. Play with your veggies

Yep, you heard that right. Play with your food. Let your child look at cauliflower with a magnifying glass and then take a floret and let him/her paint with it. Throw carrots and potatoes and broccoli in a sink of water or tub and let your little one play with them and explore if they sink or float. Let children explore veggies with the senses that go beyond just the sense of taste! Play makes new things more familiar (are you seeing a theme with these suggestions?) and familiar foods are more likely to be eaten!

6. Cook veggies WITH your kids

Guys, if you do nothing else off of this list….DO THIS ONE. Inviting your children into the kitchen with you can be an absolute game changer at meal time! Again (and I feel like I am starting to sound like a broken record), the name of the veggie-loving game is getting your children to feel excited and empowered by veggies being in their life and on their plate. If they have helped prepare that veggie, that pride and sense of accomplishment might be enough to propel them to take a bite. Looking for a recipe to start with? My Oatmeal Green Smoothie Muffins are always a veggie-loaded hit with the kids and easy enough to make with even the littlest of cooks!

I have seen it happen so many times with so many children, guys. Children who wouldn’t touch a vegetable with a 10-foot pole are all of a sudden taking bites of peppers, radishes and veggie-loaded recipes. Why? Because they were given the opportunity to be part of the process of putting that veggie in front of them. Veggies were no longer intimidating, scary, weird or a power struggle. They were not a source of pride, curiosity and accomplishment. So get those veggies into your children’s lives in all the possible ways.