We know our kids need to eat more vegetables. We know we need to eat more vegetables. Then why is it so hard?
Why kids (and adults) don’t like vegetables
According to Healthline, researchers at the University of Kentucky believe a certain gene makes compounds in some vegetables taste particularly bitter to some people, so they avoid nutritious, heart-healthy vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
As an adult, you may recall being forced to eat your vegetables when you were a kid. Maybe you weren’t allowed to leave the kitchen table or have a desert before you cleaned everything on your plate. How did that make you feel? Did that cause you to hate the vegetables even more?
What message are you sending when you force your kids to eat vegetables
While pressuring your child to eat vegetables is usually done with the best of intentions, it can have unintended consequences.
Parents are often worried when their child eats very little, does not eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, or refuses a meal completely. For some, this worry can be significant, particularly if the child is not gaining weight well, or is losing weight. For others, uneaten meals can be a source of frustration.
Often parents find themselves using pressure, force or coercion to try and get their child to finish their meal.
This can take many forms:
- Pressure – “I want you to eat all of your carrots”
- Coaxing – “Just eat that little, tiny piece there”
- Emotional blackmail – “A good girl would eat their dinner after Mummy worked so hard cooking it”
- Use of rules – “Eat your age; three potatoes because you are three years old”
- Bribery – “If you eat everything on your plate then you can leave the table”
- Punishments – “You can’t go and play outside unless you finish your spaghetti”
- Force-feeding – physically putting food into the child’s mouth and forcing them to swallow
What If You Didn’t Force Vegetables on Your Child
We get it – it’s that parental fear of “if I let my kid always choose what to eat off their plate, they will only eat chicken nuggets and mac & cheese.” But what if they didn’t and instead ate a variety of foods, including vegetables?
By forcing kids to eat their vegetables, a few messages are being sent:
- Food can be used as control over another person.
- Vegetables are something to be choked down and disliked. Too bad, eat them anyway.
- Being healthy is only about eating icky vegetables. It’s not about giving your body fuel or eating a variety of good tasting foods.
Tips to Encourage Kids Eating Vegetables
- Discover new fruits and vegetables together. Check out Imperfect Foods where you can customize a delivery box of fresh produce at a reduced cost. There is nothing like opening up a box and discovering new flavors!
- Modify how you talk about preparing vegetables. Instead of “what should we have as a vegetable tonight with dinner?” How about, “What flavors should we add to the broccoli/cauliflower/eggplant tonight?”
- Include your child in the preparation. Any age can help with the preparation: search for a new recipe online (my girls LOVE to google a recipe and then watch the video – it gets them inspired!), cut the stems off the vegetable, add the oil to a cool skillet, toss the vegetables with oil and salt and pour onto a baking sheet…
- Role model. What is your view of vegetables? Were you forced to eat them as a kid? Even though you may not outwardly say it – your view/ideas of food is vividly clear to your kids.
- Make mealtime pleasant, focusing on conversation and polite manners rather than how much or what is eaten.
- Ask their opinion on the taste. “What do you think of the way we prepared the asparagus tonight?” Let them voice their opinion and let it be. It is their opinion. If they don’t like it – fine. If they love it – fine.
- There is always tomorrow. If your child doesn’t like the vegetable being served that night, that is ok! “This is the vegetable we prepared tonight. It’s not great, but it’s ok. Tomorrow we can try something different! As we eat this tonight, let’s think about what we could do different tomorrow night.”
What has your experience with kids and vegetables been like?
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