I was a picky eater as a child and vegetables were the enemy. I was that kid who gagged when asked to eat something I didn’t like. My parents didn’t push the issue: lettuce, onions, tomatoes. Anything green. You name it, I rejected it and they let me by.
I was fortunate to live in a home where we ate healthy despite my aversions, so I didn’t encounter many of the challenges young children can with processed foods and chronic health challenges, but it took years for me to appreciate vegetables – all kinds of them – and then to be able to introduce my own kids to vegetables with a sincere love for them.
As parents, we know our kids should eat healthy foods and we’re willing to do headstands to make that happen. By headstands, of course, I mean gussying up vegetables, hiding them in other things (“Secretly healthy!”), and cajoling our kids to eat their veggies with incentives like desserts or more of what they want on their plates.
Truth is, though, the research says we shouldn’t do it. Fool our kids, that is. This recent piece from NPR says it plainly: the key to getting your kids to eat their veggies – and healthy foods in general – is not to rely on disappearing acts or parlor tricks, but persistence. Just as we want our children to develop resilience and persistence, we have to demonstrate it as parents, particularly when it comes to healthy eating.
How do we do that with vegetables and children who are picky? Here are some things that we try in our house and that (luckily!) find support among some good practices out there:
- Add more color: diversify your veggies so your children see all shapes, colors and versions.
- Add some flair: a little salt or dip isn’t bad, but keep the vegetables as simple and raw as you can.
- Provide multiple showings: like a great album that deserves multiple listens, veggies need to be on a plate more than once. They’ll be rejected, complained about, spurned. But it takes repetition, commitment, and “tries” from your child. Don’t give up!
- 1-2-3 “No Thank You”: regardless of their immediate interest in eating a particular veggie or food, we ask our kids to take three bites. Often, when they try it, they like it. If they don’t, at least they know (for now).
- Get your kids involved: having veggies served to them vs. growing, harvesting, cleaning, and preparing them are two very different things. Let your kids be involved with prepping the veggies. You might find they’re more interested in eating something they help make!
Our goal as parents is to help our children make healthy choices. By offering them healthy alternatives and not glossing those alternatives over, fooling our kids into eating veggies, or pretending spinach isn’t really spinach, we’re doing a disservice to them as they grow.
So let your veggies out from underneath muffin batter! Liberate your veggies from indistinguishable casseroles. Doing that will help your children see veggies for what they are: good healthy food prepared or presented by parents who care about their health and well-being.
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