Such a complex issue
. The problem is that no two children are alike. All of my kids love all kinds of food, and have since a very young age (I remember my wife scolding me for giving them tastes of foods before they were even old enough to eat solid food
) PAG's Grandfather fed her jalapeno potato chips from his knee when she was barely able to walk. But I know that my youngest sister used to hide cooked peas under her plate. She was very sneaky about it and wouldn't get caught until we cleaned the dining room dishes after supper.
What worked for me may not work for you. But there are ways to encourage children to eat healthy. One, as Andy pointed out, is to cook good food. It should be seasoned properly, and not bland. Boiled carrots are edible, but just barely. Steamed carrots, cooked until they have just a hint of crunch left, and dressed with a little butter and honey are simply delicious. Most veggies are better when steamed, or cooked in a little olive oil. Don't cook them until they are soft. The texture is off-puting to most people, kids included. Don't be afraid to add flavorful sauces, such as mornay, alfredo, hollendaise, or a good compound butter. These sauces are easier to prepare than one would think.
Another encouraging method is to include the children in the cooking process. Let them help put the beans in the steamer (away from the hot stove, of course), or the sliced carrots into a bowl so that you can put them in the pot. Let them snitch a bit of the uncooked veggies with you, making it seem that you are having a secret treat, just you and them.
Choose colorful veggies. Don't be afraid to try things like asparagus, or artichokes. And make eating a fun and enjoyable time. For instance, slice the pointy ends off of artichoke leaves, trim the stem, and steam the artichokes until tender. Put a bit of mayo, or melted butter with a hind of lemon into ramekins. Pull the leaves off one at a time, dipping the base, and then using your teeth to scrape the yummy flesh from the leaf base. Make a big deal of it. Act as if you were doing something extravagant and indulgent.
Hannah/Barbara (sp) used to have this cartoon character that was a dog who hung around with the horse - Quickdraw McGraw. When a doggie biscuit was thrown to this dog, he'd wrap his arms around himself as if he was hugging someone. He would start happily moaning, with something like "Hmmm, hmmmm, hmmmmmmm, hmmm," With each moan expressing ecstasy. He had a smile on his face. And with the last moan, he would fly several feet into the air, then slowly drift back down, postured as if he were lying on his back, saying simply, ahhhh. You could tell that he loved his dog biscuits.
I do the same thing as that silly dog dies, with Sprout's daughters, when I'm sharing a casual meal with them. They love it, and mimic it, and eat there food, understanding that it's something delicious, whether they've eaten it before or not.
I've made meatloaf in the shape of a volcano, with a crater at the top. I fill the crater with "lava", which is either a marinara, or enchilada sauce, and let it drip down the "mountain side". The meatloaf is cooked on a jelly-roll sheet. When done, I remove the excess juice to a pot for gravy. Then, I spread refried black beans over the pan to resemble the ground. I then place broccoli flowerettes into this landscape to resemble trees. Kids like to eat trees.
A pita pocket filled with slices of beef, avacado, bean sprouts and mayo can be a kid pleaser. Just tell pretend with them that the bean sprouts are worms, and that you are all wart hogs from the animated movie, "The Lion King". Take a bite of the sandwich and say, "Slimy, but satisfying." You think they'll copy you?
At dinner, be more formal. Engage everyone in conversation, including the young'ens. And let them converse, tell their own stories about their day.
Children love to mimick their parents, and older siblings. So it's essential that you set the example, and create an atmosphere of enjoyment during the meal. Give the children the positive attention they crave. Make them happy to be with you. It will pay off in more ways than just getting them to eat their veggies.
There is a time to every purpose under Heaven. And part of that time is to be spent enjoying a healthy meal with kids.
Seeeeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North