Getting kids to eat their vegetables can be a daily struggle for many families, with parents spending hours in the kitchen preparing healthy meals, only to have their kids refuse to try even one bite of any vegetable in sight. Instead of being a pleasant experience, mealtimes are spent trying to convince kids to open that clamped mouth and just eat their green beans. Does this sound familiar?
This can be extremely frustrating as a parent, and may result in you giving up on serving vegetables altogether. In the short-term, this may make mealtime less stressful, but it can contribute to long-term poor eating habits and a lifelong aversion to vegetables - something that could contribute to poor health in the future.
In order to improve your child's eating habits, it's important to understand the root of the problem. Here are some of the most likely causes behind their vegetable phobia:
Parents often think that they can persuade their child to eat vegetables. They beg. They plead. They try and convince them that beets taste like candy or that spinach will give them super powers. They force them to eat "just one bite" or refuse to let them leave the table until the vegetables are gone. Talk about pressure!
Often, something as simple as just relaxing at meals can make a huge difference in a child's attitude towards vegetables. Focus on spending time together as a family and catching up on the day instead of what and how much they are eating. In fact, food should be the last thing that is discussed as the dinner table.
It may take a bit of time, but once a child feels relaxed and the pressure is gone, they will start to explore and experiment with food on their own. Eventually, they will begin to accept some of the vegetables that they previously refused.
Remember as a kid when someone told you not to do something, it made you want to do it even more? Well, the opposite is true as well.
Think of it this way - kids feel a lack of control over most aspects of their life, but one thing they do have control over is what goes into their mouth. And they use this to their advantage. If you tell them they must eat their vegetables, they most certainly will not. Encouraging kids to try new foods is great, but forcing them to do so will likely have the opposite effect that it is intended to.
If you make sure to continuously serve them a variety of vegetables, multiple times a day and give them the option of whether they eat them or not, they will slowly start to ease up. In fact, you will be surprised at how quickly their attitude will change once the satisfaction of a power struggle is removed.
How many adults actually crave plain steamed or overcooked vegetables? Sure, we tolerate them but we're not lining up for second helpings.
If our goal is for kids to like vegetables (not just tolerate them), we need to make sure they taste good. So try roasting or sautéing them, serving them topped with olive oil or butter, or adding them to a meal that your child already loves. Vegetables can be absolutely delicious, so let's serve them to our kids that way!
To children, mom and dad are the ultimate role models. They want to be just like us, and they pay attention to every little thing we do. If you are serving your kids vegetables that you won't eat yourself, they are definitely going to notice. And they aren't going to eat them either.
Parents need to demonstrate the eating habits that they want their kids to develop, and children need to see eating vegetables as a normal, everyday occurrence. This translates into everybody in the family eating a large variety of vegetables on a daily basis - even if you yourself are still learning to like them. The added bonus is that over time, you too will find yourself actually liking vegetables that you once shunned.
Remember, it's totally normal for a child not to be born a vegetable lover. By committing to healthier habits and attitudes during your family's meal times, your kids will slowly come around and can develop the competence to make healthy choices for themselves as they grow into adults. Don't give up - it’s never too late to raise a healthy eater.
About the Author
Sarah Bester, CNP, is a Family Nutritionist and Real Food Educator. Sarah offers nutritional counseling and real food education to moms-to-be, infants, kids and the entire family and hosts informative workshops and cooking classes for both adults and children. Her mission is to prove to parents that their kids really can learn to love and appreciate vegetables – and that it can be fun instead of a battle! To help with this mission, she started a blog called Kids Heart Real Food, where she posts kid-friendly recipes and simple strategies for making real food a part of every family’s life.Website: www.sarahbester.com Blog: www.sarahbester.com/blog Facebook: www.facebook.com/kidsheartrealfood Twitter: @kidsheartrealfd
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