10 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Colorfully

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

There are many parenting paradigms that really needed to be examined with fresh eyes and approached in a totally different way. Case in point? Our obsession with getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

It can be tempting to approach the end of some seasons — the holidays, lax summer seasons, or even vacation — with an inclination to get our families, especially young kids, to eat better. While our intentions are good (we want kids to get more hydration, nutrition, or even just try new foods!), our intense focus on eating more vegetables often misses the most fun point.

If we engage our kids in the color on their plates, we can get them to try new foods, eat more fruits and veggies, and actually enjoy doing it. Here are 10 of the easiest ways to get your kids to eat more colorfully.

1. Make sure the vegetables actually taste good.

This might sound obvious, but seasoning vegetables and fruits so that they taste good enough to eat is the first step in getting kids excited about new foods. Sprinkle raw vegetables with salt and dried herbs. Fresh fruit loves warm spices like cinnamon and cardamom. We’ll get into this a little more later, but a drizzle of olive oil or yogurt can actually cut bitterness in some vegetables and make them taste even better.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Try different shapes, textures, and seasonings.

My daughter loves raw peeled carrots, but my younger son would rather have them grated or roasted. If they don’t love kale the first time you make it into chips, try a lemony kale salad. Remember that it can take between seven and 12 exposures for a kid to be comfortable with a new food.

3. Make it play, not pressure.

I love this idea from dietitian (and mom!) Jennifer from Kids.Eat.In.Color: Don’t talk about what a new fruit or vegetable is, but instead describe its shape, color, or even its distinct characteristics. In this instance, cherry tomatoes become “moon squirters” for their unique ability to squish out juicy seeds.

4. Take inspiration from their favorite restaurants.

Many before me have offered the well-meaning advice that we should take our kids to the farmers market, the grocery store, or plant a garden to get them to like more vegetables. That can work, but for something a little lower lift, I also opt for just talking about what they like about their favorite restaurant foods — and then adapt those ideas at home. So, they really just love crinkle fries? Buy a crinkle cutter and try new foods in a fun way.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

5. Don’t be sneaky!

Don’t forever ruin pancakes by trying to sneak in spinach. (Although if you can get it in a green smoothie, please do!) Be honest about when vegetables are major components of recipes so that kids can gain confidence in a new food when it is served in a way they actually enjoy.

6. Serve vegetables when they are hungriest.

Steam edamame at 5:15 when they are melting into a hangry mess on the kitchen floor and watch them gobble it up. Serve jicama slices with their favorite spice mix or dip. Even a plate of vegetable odds and ends (last night’s rejected vegetable side, for example) is more appealing when kids are really hungry.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

7. Add dips and eliminate bitterness.

Carrots and ranch, hummus and broccoli, kale and olive oil. There is a scientific reason these pairings work: Fat acts as a carrier for flavor and mitigates some bitter flavors, making greens more appealing.

8. Sing, read, and talk about vegetables, but not at the table.

As a family, we’re currently obsessed with the musical learning YouTuber Kids Learning Tube — and the Eat Your Rainbow song really inspired this list. Watching together one night, we got into a discussion about our favorite produce from each section. This one song led to us buying a new purple vegetable (eggplant) to try in the same week. This form of repeated exposure — with the follow-up to actually try it — makes it more exciting to try new things. (Even if they didn’t like the eggplant this time.)

9. Serve them family-style.

Putting platters of fruits and vegetables at the table, instead of dishing some onto each little diner’s plate, gives them control over which vegetables they try and how much they eat. You can try serving an actual rainbow display of vegetables or fun shapes and encourage them to eat their favorite color or shape.

10. Eat your own vegetables too.

As obvious as seasoning the vegetables so they taste good, but likely more important, you need to set an example for your kids by enjoying (not just blindly eating the required servings) new fruits and vegetables. Get excited about what is in season or something you’ve never tried.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)