Struggling to make veggies a part of your kids’ meals? Here’s what to remember so you can reduce stress during meal times.
It seems like age-old wisdom that says, “Eat your vegetables!”, but what do you when your child doesn’t like eating vegetables? For many parents, vegetables feel like a source of conflict at the dinner table between them and their children.
Are you constantly struggling to find ways to offer vegetables that your kids will actually eat? Do you feel worried that your child’s health will suffer because they eat so few vegetables?
You are not alone.
After all, kids and vegetables can be a tricky combination. As parents, we inherently believe that our children will be better off and healthier if we can just get them to eat their veggies. On the other hand, vegetables can be really difficult for kids to eat and enjoy. Many kids will be reluctant to eat vegetables, no matter how they are probed, pushed, or bribed. That’s because eating vegetables can feel like a chore for your child, and getting your kid to try “just one bite” of any veggies on their plate can feel like a nightmare for you.
One thing that may be helpful to know that we are born with preferences for sweeter tastes.
If you think about it, a baby’s first food is breast milk, which has naturally occurring sugars, including lactose, which is beneficial for infant growth and development. Vegetables can be more difficult for children to get accustomed to, as they tend to have more bitter, sour, and complex flavors. Children are learning to eat different foods, and getting familiar with eating vegetables is no different than developing a new skill, like riding a bike. It takes practice in a low-pressure environment, patience, and nurturing.
That brings us to the next point: what is the big deal with vegetables anyway? There is an overemphasis on getting a child to eat vegetables. It’s commonly lectured by healthcare professionals to well-meaning family members, and parents may feel like getting a child to eat veggies it the ultimate gateway to health.
The truth is, your child can get the nutrition they need to grow and thrive without hyper-focusing on vegetables.
In actuality, vegetables and fruits have similar nutrient profiles, and your child is more likely to get the nutrition they need by having access to a variety of different foods, not just vegetables.
A child’s health is not singularly defined by how many servings of vegetables they eat. While vegetables can provide important nutrients to a growing child, stressing about whether your child’s vegetable intake is adequate or not will only make eating harder for you both.
So how can you help your child eat more vegetables and actually enjoy them?
1. MAKE VEGETABLES TASTE DELICIOUS
Vegetables don’t have to be boring or flavorless. Don’t be afraid to add seasonings, herbs, and spices. Serve your child something that tastes good to you and that you would also enjoy.
2. PAIR VEGETABLES WITH FAMILIAR FOODS
Serving vegetables alongside foods that your child is familiar and comfortable with will make them more likely to try them. Having too many foods that are new or unfamiliar can be intimidating for a child.
3. KEEP THE PRESSURE LOW
The more a child is pushed to do something, the less likely they will want to do it – it’s just human nature. This is where you have full permission to stop nagging, bribing, coercing or negotiating with your child when it comes to eating. Remember: Parents provide, child decides.
4. TRY TO LIMIT POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT
Many parents feel obligated to reward or punish a child based on their vegetable intake – but this can be counterproductive. These feeding strategies can actually teach a child that they cannot trust their own bodies to guide their food decisions or that certain foods have to be earned. This makes food more chaotic for a child and sets the stage for problematic eating behaviors down the road.
5. KEEP TRYING AND REINTRODUCING
We’ve all heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again”. Research has shown that a child needs as many as 8-15 exposures to a particular food before they might gain acceptance of that food. Keep trying to introduce new foods, like vegetables, in a low-pressure environment to help increase acceptance and consumption.
6. INVOLVE YOUR KIDS IN THE KITCHEN
Research has also found that hands-on approaches, such as cooking and gardening, may encourage greater vegetable consumption in children. When a child is allowed to be part of the planning and the preparation and can see how a food is grown or prepared, this may positively support their own eating behaviors.
7. LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Ultimately, children learn by example, and in order to raise a child to eat well, you may have to work on your own eating habits. In a compassionate and gentle way, take an honest look at how you eat and your own relationship with food. Do you enjoy a variety of foods? Do you trust yourself when it comes to your own health and your body? If you’re feeling stuck with your own approach to food and health, it is critical to get the help you need for yourself first.
Don’t let vegetables at the dinner table become a battleground, and make it about joy and togetherness again.
Adapted from the original article.
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Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Board Certified Lactation Consultant, & mama of 5. With a virtual nutrition practice, Crystal helps overwhelmed mamas nurture a peaceful relationship with food & their bodies, end the battles at the dinner table and transform their kitchens to place of peace & joy.