Children: Will you eat Kale and Beets?

Little Sister and Little Man

“Not I,” says our Little Man.  “Me either!” replies Little Sister.

Trying to get my children to eat vegetables often makes me feel like Sam I Am from Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.  About one year ago, I was telling my friend about how the only vegetable my son would eat is Broccoli. French fries and Ketchup did not count in my book, if they did, those would be his favorites.  A Speech Pathologist, she suggested that simply exposing them to a variety of vegetables on the table might perk their interest.  I might even try setting something new on their plate and see if they’d just try it. It did not, after a week long trial.  But the suggestion proved itself later.

In September, I learned that it was vital for me to get them to eat vegetables. My daughter had constant constipation, and I had gone to every expert I could think of to help her. Finally, I found a Traditional Chinese Herbalist. The Herbalist, herself a mother of four, firmly told me I had to get Little Sister to get her greens. She also suggested some herbal supplements, and taught me how to do some massaging to reduce intestinal and gas pains. It is working.  My quest has since been to get more vegetables into both my Little Ones, 2 and 4 years old.

We have always had vegetables at lunch and dinner, and I personally feel best when I eat a salad several times a week. So, it’s not like we were total slackers.  But, my husband prefers meat and potatoes. He’s since joined my quest and is my support when I feel like banging my head against the wall. One day I even broke down in tears after Little Sister was napping, because I was so stumped and felt like a failing mother. I had already spent two years in a row with my children gardening in a friend’s yard, because I wanted fresh produce and had learned a while back that if you get your kids in the garden they are more likely to eat from it. Not so with the Little Man. He loved picking Sweet Peas, Blueberries and Kale, but would hand them over to Little Sister for consumption.  He’s just plain picky. Food can NOT touch on his plate, or it is ruined. He won’t eat. Little Sister is more adventurous but is just like Daddy and loves her meat and starches.

This week I was delighted when Little Sister tried steamed Celery and announced, “I like it, Mama!”  If you had told me in September that she’d even ask, “More Kale, Mama?” during dinner, I would not have believed you. So, how did these miracles happen? Persistence, Patience and Negotiation.

Rainbow Carrots
Rainbow Carrots

Persistence: For each child, we knew what vegetables they would eat, and made it a practice to serve a vegetable at every meal, or as a snack. Then, we introduced a new vegetable each week. That new veggie showed up on our plates, than theirs, then in various forms. My Mother In Law suggested simply cutting veggies up in different shapes, and I remembered a few things my Mom used on my little sister growing up; like, Carrot Chips (cutting large Juicing Carrots at a slant so they are similar in shape to a Potato Chip).  We kept trying until each child would simply try one bite of a new veggie. If they gave it three tries and didn’t like it, we’d move on. Both will eat Kale today.

Hunger Striker turned vegetable lover.

Patience and Negotiation: These go together because as some parents may already know, even at 2 years old, children are expert negotiators.  Their will power is enviable. We engaged in the negotiation process – serving vegetables and withholding the “meat treat” portion of a meal until they either tried the new vegetable or at the serving of vegetables we knew they liked. This tactic lasted about 2 months before they got the hang of trusting us most of the time, and obeying the simple request to try a vegetable or eat their vegetables on their plate.  When they ask for more vegetables, it’s like sweet, sweet victory.

We still find ourselves using creativity to introduce new vegetables. But, they are fewer and farther between as the weeks go by. We can now serve portions of everything for each meal and don’t withhold meat or other “treats” that we know they like to eat. They get it. The Little Man will now eat 3 types of vegetables. Little Sister will eat 7. It’s a work in progress.

Do you have kids who eat their veggies? If so, what works for you? I’m always eager to learn more.

p.s. I’ve read a few books on sneaking veggies into your diet, and others on nutrition finding a few nuggets in each. Stay tuned for reviews of them.

8 thoughts on “Children: Will you eat Kale and Beets?”

  1. Holli – I absolutely love and appreciate this post, as not only am I trying to make it more of a habit to eat my veggies (And I don’t know why I don’t more often. I haven’t met a veggie I didn’t like.) but am really working on getting the kids to do so, too. Molly is slightly more adventurous, and I honestly think a lot of it has to do with how much time she’s spent with her Aunt Mary and gardening at Kathy’s, too, from the time she was an infant. Max, on the other hand, would be happy living on meat and starches. Fruit is an non-issue, since they both love it. When we return from Beijing, I really want to work on getting our yard into a state where we can have a garden for the kids to take care of, and then I want to have them help in prep (something I’ve been allowing Max to do a lot more, lately, and he really loves helping mama in the kitchen) I honestly believe that can make a difference, in addition to the patience and persistence. It’s so easy to get frustrated and throw your hands up in defeat, but when you think about the reasons behind sticking with it, you just have to carry on and stay strong.

    I keep meaning to start buying kale, since so many people have been singing its praises in the last year. What are your favorite ways to prepare it? I’ve heard kale chips can be a tasty snack, and a friend who works at has mentioned a kale soup he makes.

    1. Glad to hear it – and grateful I’m not the only one with this struggle!
      Fruit: same here. No problems enjoying nature’s sugar:)
      Kale: Honestly, they like it simply steamed with olive oil drizzled on it and some salt. I’ve tried it in soups, and Iris likes that, but Cooper does not. We’ve made Kale Chips and they are really addictive. I think we ate through one batch. One concern I have about that is that they are pretty well cooked, and I don’t know if we’re really getting the nutrients out of them at that point. But, I have done a little reading about low heat drying which is theoretically leaving it in a “raw” state. I don’t have a dehydrator, but have family I can borrow from…so, I’ll let you know what more I learn. I really like and because of all the reviews. I love Kale in salads and thrown in with pasta too.

      Thank you for your comment and “like”!

  2. Holli- Thank you for all of your info it helps a lot. My boyfriend and I never liked veggies as kids and he has four year old twin boys that don’t either. About six months ago I noticed that one of the boys hadn’t had a BM in a week. I started to keep track and told my boyfriend that we need to up the fiber and veggies; we also took him to see the Dr. who put him on Miralax once a day. I was concerned that this little one was having what I considered to be a big problem, kids shouldn’t get so constipated that they don’t go for over a week. Later we found out that he had a painful BM and he started to hold it because it hurt too much to go. So I went searching for ways to up our fiber and to hide some veggies not only from them but their father and me too. I started to use milled flax seed in everything, hamburgers, meatloaf, bread, stuffing, cookies and brownies. I found a cookbook that teaches you how to steam and puree veggies and hide them in all different ways. To make it easier I started using the pureed veggies in normal box foods like brownies, I omit the water and add 1/2 cup spinach or broccoli and 1/2 cup carrots or pumpkin. The kids LOVE them. I use the kid favorite macaroni and cheese and add 1/2 cup of butternut squash to it, they request it everyday but I need to come up with something different because the adults are tired of it.

    I have also taken your suggestion to get them to try new veggies at every meal. So, yes the broccoli is hidden in the stuffing, but they also have to try the steamed broccoli that is on their plate. I am going to make kale chips with them this weekend but I am a little worried about it causing them gas pains. When I was little I went to a friend’s house and ate an amazing Kale soup and loved it but I ended up home and in tears with horrible gas pains with in hours of eating it. I am thinking of trying it a little at a time so we all can get our bodies use to the new veggie. I also plan on trying your steamed kale with olive oil and salt and see if they will like that.

    Since I have upped the fiber and hidden veggies the constipation issues are gone!

    1. Hi Jen,

      You are amazing. Truly. I’m so impressed by anyone willing to get beyond the boxed fiber and put out the extra effort to improve health – especially for a child.

      Have you been using recipes from The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine, or Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld? They have different recipes based on the same idea of hiding foods like you have iif you are looking for more variations.

      As for Kale, I have heard that when used in soup it can cause gas, but sauteed, or steamed, we haven’t had a problem (Kale is related to the Broccoli family,and I have also learned that if you add some fat like Olive Oil, or something sour like Vinegar or Lemon Juice it releases the nutrients or helps the body digest it better). I’m sorry I don’t have the links handy right now.

      The only advice I have is to try cooking the vegetables at different “cooked” levels. For example, my 4y/o son likes Broccoli lightly steamed (like still slightly crisp) but not soft. So, if your boys don’t like steamed Kale, try it less “done” another time.

      We’ve enjoyed Kale chips – the problem is that with all that work, you end up eating the whole batch (a cookie sheet worth). And they are so sensitive that if you over do them, they get bitter. So, again, experiment and if you don’t like them the first time, try again changing the bake time.

      Also, as my friend, Karen pointed out, kids really need to try new foods up to 6 or more times before they actually like them. I read a confirmation of that in “Disease-Proof You Child, Feeding Kids Right,” by Joel Fuhrman, MD. It’s a great resource, but very vegetarian focused. I’m pro-vegetables, so I don’t mind this mindset, but know others might not be able to get past that to really appreciate all the information.

      Keep up the good work!
      Thanks for sharing your story, Holli

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