Getting your child to eat vegetables is not your job.
Parents naturally want their children to eat their vegetables and other nutritious foods.
Many parents become so fixated on getting their children to eat vegetable that the fun is taken out of food and meal-times and eating together as a family becomes a battle ground.
To avoid turning meal times into the next world war, it is helpful to examine our expectations around eating and eating vegetables.
I know I get swept away with setting expectation that sometimes are too high compared to the abilities of my children. It’s easy to do especially if we are not sure about nutrition and child feeding.
It is important to be aware of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.
To help your child eat vegetables, both you and your child have an important role in feeding. Your role as a parent is to provide your child with the “what”, “when” and “where” they eat. Your child’s duty around eating is to decide “whether” and “how much” food they will eat.
The goal of feeding children is not to get children to eat broccoli at meal times. The goal is to support your children to eat broccoli in the future and have a good relationship with it.
The following list of ideas if used over and over again will nurture children’s relationships with food, broccoli or whatever the food in question is.
- Make food fun!
- Set an example by eating and enjoying vegetables as parents. kids learn from us.
- Don’t force kids to finish the food on their plate.
- Do not punish kids for not eating vegetables, because they will associate eating vegetables as a negative thing.
- It is also not a good idea to say things like, “If you eat your broccoli, you can have some ice-cream for dessert”. This gives the impression that vegetables are a chore to eat and something that needs to be rewarded for after eating. This sentence also encourages overeating.
- Persist – Continue to provide vegetables. It is normal for kids to refuse vegetable because the taste of vegetables are quite bitter and different to the foods they like (i.e. not usually sweet). With ongoing exposure, kids will eventually be ok with having the vegetable on the plate. With more and more exposure they will try vegetables and may even like them.
Offer a diverse range foods – colours, textures, types of foods, food groups etc.
- Get creative with plating vegetables.. E.g. Make vegetable people.
Serve veggie differently. Cut them differently, cook them differently (roast, stir-fry, slices, mash them, include them on a pizza), add different sauces and flavourings.
- Offer vegetables for snacks – Keep a container of chopped vegetables, like cucumber, carrots or capsicum in the fridge. Serve vegetable sticks with dips. E.g. Avocado or hummus.
- Provide deconstructed meals for greater autonomy, self-efficacy, self-esteem, self-confidence and choice. Allow children to choose what they want to eat regardless of how the meal is presented.
- Be creative with how else you can get veggies into meals, ie. chocolate zucchini cake, slices, pancakes, fish cakes, muffins, sauces, dips, soups, pies, sausage rolls, burger patties, smoothies. It is important to also offer vegetables on the plate as opposed to always hiding or disguising them as this is not going to help children to become familiar with vegetables or move closer to accepting and eating them.
- Praise and/or reward your child for TRYING new foods and vegetables (not for eating them) and having good table manners. The aim is not to let praise become the focus of the meal. We want children to choose vegetables because they want to eat them, not because they are fishing for praise, rewards and compliments.
- Go shopping together. Go to the supermarket, farmers market and name and taste the produce when offered. Get your child to choose one vegetable they want to buy and try.
- Get your child involved in meal preparation. Children love to help chop and prepare dinner, especially if they can get their hands dirty. See this post for age appropriate tasks.
- Educate your child about vegetables – Explain what vegetables do for the body and how it makes the body feel. E.g. They help the body grow stronger, do all the things they want to do, go on adventures, sing songs, and so on.
- Buy/borrow vegetable books, clothing, accessories and toys.
Start a veggie garden
- Play with vegetables – Use vegetables in painting by turning them into stamps, make vegetables from playdough, play shop or pretend to cook, draw and colour vegetables, watch vegetable movies.
The above ideas and strategies repeated consistently will encourage children to eat vegetables in the long-term, whilst nurturing their relationship with vegetables.
If you have concerns about your child’s eating or notice your child doing any of the following, you may benefit from chatting to a suitable health professional.
- Eating only a handful of foods (e.g. only eating food that is of one colour, and certain brands of food).
- Refusing to feed themselves or eating baby-like textured food.
- Disliking the textures and smells of foods.
- Struggling to chew and control food in the mouth.
- Gastrointestinal or medical problems (e.g. related to pain associated with reflux).
- Allergies affecting dietary intake and causing anxiety around feeding.
- Behavioural issues (e.g. throwing tantrums or being anxious when seeing food, gagging at the sight of food).
- Environmental and family feeding dynamics (e.g. not sitting at the table as a family, not trusting your child to eat well and history of conflicts).