Stacey Antine: How to Get Kids to Eat Their Veggies

To culminate a month of posts on healthy eating as part of National Nutrition Month, I am so excited to welcome wise words from Stacey Antine. Stacey is a registered dietician, founder of Health Barn USA, and author of the wonderful book, Appetite for Life, among her many other impressive credentials. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and suggestions with us today and for helping children lead healthier lives — everyday.

I was so excited when Melinda invited me to guest blog for March, National Nutrition Month, about my favorite topic:  how to get kids to eat their veggies!  I’ve been empowering kids to eat healthier since 2005 when I first started HealthBarn USA and eight years later, I’m confident that my approach works and that’s why I wrote Appetite for Life.  I always feel badly for those crunchy, delicious veggies that just can’t compete for kids’ attention with packaged processed foods with fancy packaging!  That’s why the most important thing you can do is to get out of the center aisles of the supermarket and start a garden or visit your local farmers market where veggies are king!  Here are my top tips:

1. Composting is Cool.  Kids love nature and taking care of it because it’s near and dear to their hearts.  When you teach them what items make healthy compost (veggie and fruit scraps, newspaper, egg shells, tea bags, grass clippings) and what items don’t (Doritos, Lunchables, fruit roll-ups), they get an immediate picture and connection between what they eat and what they feed the earth.  Junk food makes junk compost and that’s a very powerful message.

2. Get Kids Chopping!  Kids love to participate in the cooking process and there is nothing better than a plastic knife (perfect for little ones), a cutting board and veggies to chop to get them interested and perhaps even nibbling.  We are chopping red peppers this week at HealthBarn USA and kids are excited to try them!

3. Be an Expert Taste Tester:  Transform your kids into expert taste testers and watch them rise to the occasion to give their opinions on the foods they try.  To be an expert, they have to chew and swallow, no licking, smelling or staring at it allowed!

4. No Yucks Allowed:  Yuck is a bad word at the HealthBarn USA, instead we use our thumbs to “voice” an opinion.  Thumbs up if they like it, thumbs to the side if they are not sure and thumbs down if they don’t like.  Importantly, if they don’t like it, they don’t have to eat the rest as long as they tried it.

5. Follow Through with Their Requests:  Kids have opinions and recipes they are excited to cook and try.  Many times parents will say to me that they haven’t made the recipe yet or didn’t have time to get the ingredients, so let’s put their request at the top of the busy to-do-list.

6. Don’t Start with a Veggie Recipe:  I always tell parents with picky eaters to start with recipes that their kids like even if it’s a better-for-you cookie or pretzel to build the fun factor into the experience.  My Fudgy Brownie Bites and Soft Pretzel recipes (included below) are good starters into the adventure of healthy eating.

I just want to add that recently while I’m doing HealthBarn USA school assemblies I ask students to raise their hands if they get 8-10 hours of sleep.  To my surprise (and the principals, too) only 30% of students raise their hands and it’s mostly the younger kids.

When kids don’t get a good night sleep, they tend to be major carbohydrate eaters to get the instant energy they need to able to handle their day.  But, this just creates a challenging cycle of quick energy followed by lows that affect mood and learning.   So, check your child’s sleep routine to make sure it’s on track and if it’s not, give it a fix and you may be surprised to see them eating healthier without much effort.

Stacey Antine, MS, RD was recognized as a top 10 dietitian across the country for her work with HealthBarn USA in the current issue of Today’s Dietitian magazine.  She travels around the country doing HealthBarn USA’s “Try it, You’ll Like it” school assembly, read more about her recent visit to Reading PA for 900+ students in the Reading Eagle.  She is also a co-host of the Family Food Experts Internet Radio Show the first Wednesdays of the month always coving a variety of food and nutrition topics.

Melinda Hinson