It seems like age-old wisdom saying "Eat your vegetables," but what do you when your child really doesn't like eating vegetables? If veggies feel like a source of conflict at the dinner table or you're worried about your child's health, you're not alone, mama. Most importantly, you are not failing as a mama if your child isn't eating their vegetables . Kids and vegetables can be a tricky combination. As mothers, we inherently believe that our children will be better off and healthier if we can just get them to eat their veggies. However, they can be really difficult for kids to eat and enjoy.
Why vegetables can be hard for kids to eatMany kids may be reluctant to eat vegetables , no matter how they are probed, pushed or bribed. Eating veggies 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. It 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. 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.
Do kids really need veggies to be healthy?So what is the big deal with vegetables anyway? Why the overemphasis on getting a child to eat vegetables? This is something that is commonly lectured by healthcare professionals to well-meaning family members, but the truth is your child can get the nutrition they need to grow and thrive without hyper-focusing on vegetables alone. Vegetables and fruits have similar nutrient profiles so your child is more likely to get the nutrition they need by having access to a variety of different foods. The bottom line: A child's health is not singularly defined by how many servings of veggies they eat. There are many other components that influence their health status, including:
- Access to a variety of foods
- Adequate healthcare
- Regular time to play
- Emotional nurturing, and more
7 tips for helping kids enjoy veggies
1. Make them taste deliciousVegetables don't have to be boring or flavorless. If your child is struggling with eating them, take a different approach to how you serve and prepare them. Don't be afraid to add seasonings, herbs and spices. Sautee with real butter or cook them with bacon or pancetta. Make a yummy salad with some added toppings, like dried fruit and nuts. Serve your child something that tastes good to you and that you would also enjoy.
2. Pair with familiar foodsServing veggies 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. When planning out meals for your family, keep this in mind: a neutral food component along with something that might be a little harder to eat, like a vegetable, can make it easier for your child.
3. Keep the pressure lowThe more a child is pushed to do something, the less likely they will want to do it. This is where you have full permission to stop bribing, coercing or negotiating with your child when it comes to eating. Remember: Parents provide, child decides . It's your job to determine what food is served. It's your child's job to decide whether or not they want to eat what you have served and how much. If eating vegetables is a non-issue, your child will feel more relaxed to try different foods that are served. Pressuring a child to eat certain foods can actually cause them to dislike those foods.
4. Don’t give positive or negative reinforcementMany parents feel obligated to reward or punish a child based on their vegetable intake, but this can be counterproductive. For example, telling a child:
- "You won't get any dessert tonight if you don't take a least one bite of your broccoli." (Negative reinforcement)
- "Good job eating all your vegetables! Now you can have dessert." (Positive reinforcement)