Kids and parents have fought around the dinner table for years. But there really is a magic formula to getting kids to eat their veggies.
It’s difficult to say this. I know that once you read these words you won’t be able to unread them and that’s actually a good thing.
For years, children and parents have come to war around the dining table. The parents often longing for their children to eat more fruits and vegetables, and kids petitioning for more sweets and sugary snacks. You’ve looked at other parents feeding their children carrots and hummus at snack time and thought:
“She’s so lucky. My kids would never eat that”. Just how do you get kids to eat their veggies?
And you know what, you’re right. You’re not right about the “luck” part. But, if you don’t change the course right now, “You’re kids will never eat that”. You see what you call “luck”, is really strong will and years creating healthy habits. The part we don’t often see.
That strong will is the same will you used to teach the children their ABC’s, to say “please and thank you” and no matter how long it took…to learn to swim.
It’s the drive you use when we stay up late with our kids because they “don’t get math”. It’s the follow through you use when you drive them to gymnastics or piano practice every week for years and years on end. And then, even when they “lose”, you never let them quit.
So it’s not “luck” is it?
Here’s the Truth
The real reason your child won’t eat their veggies is because of you. I mean, let’s face it. They’re our children right? For a large portion of their lives we feed them, clothe them and society say’s that we are legally responsible until they are eighteen.
As a matter of fact, at least for the first 16 years of their lives, we drive them everywhere they want to go and most times the only money they have is money earned through our hard work. But is eating vegetables and making healthier decisions important to you? Is it a priority? Because if it’s a priority to you, it’s a priority to your children.
The kids have to brush their teeth every morning when they wake up and that’s non-negotiable. But how about those carrots on the plate?
It’s Not Part of an Everyday Routine
Habits are built from continuous repetition in any task or behavior over a period of time. Merrium-Webster defines a habit as, “A behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows it’s self in regularity”.
Are vegetables a consistent part of at least 2 meals a day? Or do you just tack them on at the end with a “by the way” approach? Just as using social etiquette words like “please” and “thank you” have become part of an everyday routine, kids need to be exposed to vegetables every single day for that habit to stick.
No One Told Them Why
You’ve nagged the kids over and over again, telling them that they should eat their vegetables but do they know why? The why is not, “because I said so”.
We eat fruits and vegetable because the best food for our body comes from plant sources. Our bodies need those nutrients from plants to function their best so they don’t have to work as hard to get the fuel they need. When people don’t give their bodies the right fuel, they get sick.
We miss school, social outings, time with friends and other activities that we enjoy.
If you have young children, here’s a short little video to help them understand why they should eat their vegetables.
You Have a Do As I Say, Not as I Do Approach
Here’s the question. Do you eat your vegetables?
I’m not talking about having a salad loaded with croutons, cheese and lots of creamy delicious dressing. I mean vegetables in a whole, mostly unadulterated state. If you don’t then, you are unintentionally teaching your children that vegetables are only good when they have lots of stuff on them. Bathing carrots in honey will get your kids to eats carrots but, so will dipping them in frosting.
And when the carrots are served as part of a pot roast, what happen’s then? Not only do you have to eat your vegetables but daddy and grandma have to set good examples too. And I get it, you can’t control what every one eats but, that’s why there are several steps to this process. So stop mumbling those excuses and let’s move on to the next step.
This is the Worst Part
They Weren’t Taught to Like Them
It’s the biggest bait and switch known to mankind. As newborn babies, we feed our children formula and/or hopefully breastmilk so that they can get the nutrients they need. Both of which are innately sweet. Then we start adding some type of cereal to their meals, and the sugar overload continues.
When it’s time to wean, the children hopefully get introduced to an array of vegetables and they gravitate to the sweeter ones.
Choosing by bellowing cries… carrots over broccoli and sweet potatoes over rutabagas. In our sleep deprived state, we give them more of what they like and at their first birthday party we are shoving sweets down their throats.
The truth is kids’ palettes are different than adults, and appreciating vegetables is mostly an acquired taste. The idea that, “my kids just don’t like vegetables”, is ludicrous. You have to teach children to like or at best tolerate vegetables.
Have you ever seen a child spit out a cupcake after trying it for the first time?
That’s because children are born with sweet palettes. So if you want your children to like not necessarily love vegetables, you have to teach them.
This is Interesting
Children Get Rewarded for Not Eating their Vegetables
I already know what you’re thinking.
“I don’t reward my kids for not eating their vegetables. Actually. I reward them for eating them.”
Here’s how we reward our kids for behavior that you don’t like without not even realizing it. Every time you focus all your attention away from the child that is eating, to focus on the child that is barely making a dent on his or her plate.
You reward the behavior.
Every time you say to friends and family (in front of the children), “She is just a picky eater“.
“He just doesn’t like broccoli”.
You reward the behavior.
Every time you ask, “Jake, if I give you some green beans, will you eat them?”.
You reward the behavior.
Here’s the Most Important Part
You Gave Up Way Too Soon
The truth is, offering broccoli 5, 10 or even 20 times may not make your child a convert. So introduce and re-introduce over and over again. As long as your child is not allergic or intolerant toward vegetables, you’ve got to keep at it. The end reward is way greater than the discomfort you feel now.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of preparing a vegetable a different way or serving it alongside something else. The old adage that it takes 21 days to build a habit is not going to work here. You are shaping the taste buds of these little people to appreciate and even respect vegetables and real food for what it is.
Don’t worry. Your kids will still be kids in the end.
They will still appreciate a scoop of double chocolate ice cream for dessert. And will probably still opt for pizza instead of a salad for dinner. But, they will learn enough about their bodies to realize how different they feel when they’ve overindulged on the wrong types of foods.
It will surprise you when they learn to moderate themselves when they’ve had enough.
When I proactively slice a piece of pumpkin pie for the five year old after dinner and she says, "I don't want any pie…
And along the way, if they’ve fallen off course after leaving home and an adult wearing a white coat tells them they have to change their ways…
It won’t be foreign.
It will be normal.
Because that’s how mom taught them to eat all along.
Want to read more on this topic? Read my tips on “How to Get Your Picky Eater to Eat“.