How to Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables Without Forcing, Bribing or Tricking
It seems like age-old wisdom that says, “Eat your vegetables!”, but what do you when your child doesn’t like eating vegetables?
Do vegetables feel like a source of conflict at the dinner table for you and your 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?
Let me be the first to tell you that you are not alone. 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. On the other hand, vegetables can be really difficult for kids to eat and enjoy.
So what’s a mama got to do?
Let’s start with the facts.
Why Vegetables Can Be Hard For Kids to Eat
Many kids may be reluctant to eat vegetables, no matter how they are probed, pushed, or bribed.
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.
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, 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.
Do Kids Really Need Vegetables 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, 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 hyperfocusing 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. There are many other components that influence their health status, including:
Access to a variety of foods
Regular time to play
Emotional nurturing, and more
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? (Hint: It doesn’t involve any forcing, bribing, tricking or figuring out how to sneak in veggies into your child’s food). Check out these tried and true tips!
7 Tips for Helping Kids Like Vegetables
Make Vegetables Taste Delicious
Vegetables don’t have to be boring or flavorless. If your child is struggling with eating vegetables, take a different approach to how you are serving and preparing them. Don’t be afraid to add seasonings, herbs, and spices. Sautee your veggies with real butter or cook them with bacon or pancetta. Make a yummy salad with some added toppings, like dried fruit and nuts. Roast them, add them into other dishes, or let your kids dunk them in their favorite dips. Serve your child something that tastes good to you and that you would also enjoy.
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. 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.
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. 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 vegetables can actually cause them to dislike those foods.
Don’t Give Positive or Negative Reinforcement
Many 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)
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.
Keep Trying and Reintroducing
We’ve all heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again”. This absolutely applies to kids and vegetables. As parents, it’s easy to give up all hopes of our child trying and liking a vegetable when we see them reject it time and time again. So we give up and we stop trying. However, it may take a child repeated exposure to a vegetable to promote food acceptance.
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, but many parents are likely to give up trying at the earliest signs of rejection.
Bottom line: keep trying to introduce new foods, like vegetables, in a low-pressure environment to help increase acceptance and consumption.
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 and/or prepared, this may positively support their own eating behaviors. Give your child the opportunity to help prepare veggies and let them play a part in the kitchen.
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 become a battleground. If you need help raising a healthy eater, please connect with me today. Together, we’ll end the battles at the dinner table and transform your kitchen from a war zone to place of peace and joy.