Something happened last night that was just shy of a miracle.

My kids ate kale.

But they didn’t just eat it. They voluntarily ASKED if they could eat it. Then they gave it a thumb’s up and took a few more bites.

What the…??? How did this happen?? And will they ever do it again?

If you know me, you know I work really hard at getting my kids to eat (and like) their veggies. But I’m convinced that despite all my efforts, this was the result of a perfect kale storm.

The Night of the Perfect Kale Storm

Let me give you a bit of the back-story. Last week, we were at Target and decided to buy a potato masher. Oddly enough, I’ve never owned one, always having used a hand blender to whip my potatoes into submission. But since every Target trip seems to require at least one odd, unplanned purchase, the masher seemed like a low-cost, fun way to let my kids give me a helping hand.

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. On our menu: Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Chicken in Milk (crazy, but delicious), mashed potatoes and kale salad. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cooked a full bird, so I was feeling a little overwhelmed, especially with the kids underfoot, so my hubby gave me a break and took the kids to the park.

When it was time to mash the potatoes, they were still gone, so I forged ahead. When they finally returned, my son was devastated that I had the nerve to mash the potatoes without his expert-hand. So, feeling the guilt, I had to quickly come up with another task.

The only thing left to do was the kale salad, our other side dish for the night. But let’s be honest, it was really just going to be MY other side dish and then my lunch for the next few days.

So I hastily handed over the ginormous kale leaves and told my 4-year-old and 2-year-old to start tearing them into small pieces. Amazingly enough, they did a brilliant job at it and wanted another task.

I gave them a big bowl of water and told them to give the kale a bath. The loved it. They then spun the leaves dry and used my nifty chopping scissors to make the kale pieces even smaller.

Giving the kale a "bath."

Giving the kale a “bath.”

That’s when I heard a tiny voice say “Mama, can we try a piece?”

I nearly jumped out of my skin, but tried to play it cool with “Sure, every chef needs to taste their work.”

I then tossed on some of other favorites: shredded carrots, dried cranberries and pistachios — and what do you know? They ate it.

Kale salad with shredded carrots, dried cranberries and pistachios

Kale salad with shredded carrots, dried cranberries and pistachios

Let’s Reflect…

Clearly, a lot went into making the kale salad a success. They had been at the park and were hungry (read this post on why play before meals can make a big impact), I’d done my homework in introducing greens to them (using this favorite trick) and they were very involved in preparing the salad.

But here’s the other thing. I hadn’t pressured them at all. Heck, I was so busy basting my bird that I was barely paying attention to them. I’d bet that if I’d purposefully asked them to try the kale, they would have reacted very differently than they did.

The Big Lesson

I learned something else important that night: I’ve been underestimating my kids’ potential. Despite all my best efforts and intentions, I wasn’t planning on giving them any kale salad. And it’s not something I would have ever ordered for them off a restaurant menu. So how many other missed opportunities have their been?

I know I see it happen at play dates all the time. I’ll offer a child some carrots and the parent will quickly intervene and say something like “Oh, she NEVER eats carrots.” Missed opportunity?

So the next time you think your child would never, not ever, eat a certain food, maybe, just maybe you’ll have a perfect kale storm, too.

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  • Laura,
    For me this serves as a great reminder about two things:
    (1) try, try, and try again. My children’s daycare providers are always commenting on how my kids (4.5 and 2) are the most adventerous eaters, willing to try anything and generally liking everything. I think one of the secrets is that we do not have different meals for parents and kids at our house. The kids have what we’re having. And if they don’t eat it the first time, I don’t stress (that’s actually important reminder #3) and give it to them again. Then again. And then again. At some point, they just start eating it.

    (2) Getting kids involved in the process of cooking can have a dramatic impact on their willingness to try what they’ve just been preparing. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay too (remember reminder #3 from above!), because someday they will want to. My daughter (4.5 years) likes to help make pumpkin muffins, but she doesn’t always want to eat them. Totally okay with me.

    • Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN

      Thanks, Kiyah! I couldn’t agree more. In fact, without even realizing it, you just pretty much outlined 3 of our 4 Smart Strategies. In a nutshell:

      1. Eat well (offer lots of healthy variety)
      2. Have fun (don’t stress)
      3. Think small (strive for lots of small improvements)
      4. Try, try again.

      You are our poster child! 🙂

  • Huzzah! I love, love, love everything about this! I love the part about trying to play it cool. We’ve had a few breakthrough “nobody move too fast or say ANYTHING” moments lately as well. Raw kale is still a tough sell, but spinach salad, roasted seaweed snacks and kale or spinach, chiffonaded into just about everything (another tip we agree upon) are all thumbs up most of the time. Lilly’s also started to request, even BEG, for baby carrots. I give all credit to preschool snack time for that one. Definitely makes you feel like less of a failure on the nights when the turn up their nose at everything but a piece of bread. LOL.

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