My kids just don’t eat vegetables!
Eeeewwwww! That looks icky and you can’t make me eat it!
Do these sound familiar? A common issue that we hear from clients is that their kids won’t eat vegetables – any vegetables! So, is it ok to “sneak” veggies into our kids meals by “hiding” them in other dishes?
Hiding vegetables in other foods in order to get kids to eat them has been the topic of much debate in recent years. Several cookbooks on this topic – most notably Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious – advocate adding pureed vegetables to common recipes. But there is a downside to this approach. First it assumes that your child will never catch on to what you’re doing. When they do find out (and they likely will at some point) it may just reinforce their dislike for veggies. After all, they may reason, veggies are so bad that Mommy and Daddy had to hide them from me!
After reviewing the literature, here’s what we think. We continue to believe (and practice) that kids should be introduced to and encouraged to develop a taste for a wide variety of foods. We as parents do our children no good by allowing them to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. Left alone, children will naturally favor foods high in sugar and low in nutrition. They will also typically avoid any foods that seem different or unusual. How many times have you heard your child say, “I don’t like that” when they haven’t ever tasted it? In most cases, they are rejecting the food simply because it is unfamiliar.
At the same time, there are some real benefits to incorporating vegetables into your family’s regular foods. After all, adding pureed vegetables to a dish is really no different than drinking orange juice with added calcium or replacing the oil in a recipe with applesauce. And, hiding vegetables in foods may be the only way that you can get some kids to eat them. We have a number of recipes that include vegetables instead of, or in addition to, the traditional ingredients, and our grandkids love them. So go ahead and add vegetables to your recipes. But, we believe this approach should be used in addition to and not instead of serving actual vegetables.
Here are 7 tips for getting almost anyone to eat their vegetables, without resorting to trickery (many of these work for both kids and adults!):
Adjust your own mindset: You have to let go of the idea that you can “force” or “demand” that your child eat any particular food. This doesn’t mean you should give up, but it does mean that you need to recognize that logic simply may not work with some children. Instead, create a home environment where eating a variety of healthy foods is normal and rewarded.
Prepare just one meal: Decide what the family meal will include and then prepare it. Don’t allow additions, subtractions or changes. Resist the urge to create additional dishes to satisfy just one family member. Hint: It can help to prepare foods that are easy to “customize,” like a taco bar or pasta bar.
Be a good role model: It’s difficult to encourage a child to eat something that you won’t eat. If you want them to eat vegetables, then you need to enjoy them yourself. Kids may not listen to what you say, but they are expert imitators of what you do.
Involve children in meal preparation: When kids are involved in the selection and preparation of meals, they are much more likely to eat what’s prepared. It’s also an excellent opportunity to teach them about different types of foods, and what a “healthy” meal includes.
Try vegetable gardening: Most kids, especially those that live in an urban or suburban environment, are fascinated by vegetable gardens. Seeing actual vegetables grow and ripen is an amazing experience for them. If space is limited, start with an herb garden. Bonus: The vegetables you grow will taste better and be healthier than the ones you buy at the store.
Don’t fight over food: If your child doesn’t want to eat the meal you’ve prepared, don’t fight with them about it. You can simply tell them, “Ok, you have a choice. This is what we’re eating tonight, and you can choose to eat it or leave the table hungry.” Then (this is the hard part), you should simply ignore further complaints. If the child says that they’re hungry, then offer them the same meal again.
Don’t worry about your kids going to be hungry: Kids will eat when they are hungry, and they will pick at their food when they’re not. Occasionally going to bed without dinner is not the worst thing that could happen.
Studies show that most of the time, a child’s picky eating habits are a result of their parents’ picky eating habits. By making a wide variety of healthy foods part of your regular meals, your family will have the opportunity to develop healthy eating habits that will last them a lifetime.
Remember, healthy choices you make each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?
You might also want to read: Picky Eaters: What You May Not Know, Skip the Sugar at Breakfast, Are “Super Foods” Really That Super?