Many parents I see are worried that their child doesn’t eat any vegetables. Maybe this concern is because we hear so much from health professionals and in the media about how good vegetables are for us. They help prevent certain cancers, increase our immunity, and provide important nutrients. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure that you feel from all these health messages.
It’s important to know that it is common for young children not to like vegetables, so your child is not alone, even though it might look like every other child likes their veges.
So what can you do?
Firstly relax – fruit and vegetables provide similar nutrients, so if they are eating either it is OK.
Secondly, don’t pressure. Whether it’s bribing, coaxing or using distractions such as TV, your child is likely to feel pressured. Even commenting on how delicious the broccoli tastes, can be felt as pressure by your child. And it won’t necessarily help to achieve your goal of them eating broccoli. They may enjoy all the attention they are getting, but the real message is that ‘this food mustn’t taste good if they are trying so hard to get me to eat it’.
Thirdly, ask yourself if you enjoy eating vegetables. It may take months or years but eventually they will learn to like most of the food that you enjoy eating. The goal is to enjoy the food and not to eat it just because it is good for you. If you force the food, whether it is subtle forcing or not, your child will pick this up and not learn to like the foods. Some parents tell me that they themselves didn’t start eating vegetables until they were adults!
How do children learn to like new foods?
- Exposure – many children and adults learn to like a new food after they have seen it 10 to 15 times or more. Parents tend to give up serving the food way before this assuming that they won’t ever try it. Some children take much longer than this.
- No pressure – it’s a good idea not to even talk about the food. Talk about what’s happened during the day or anything else but not about the food that you want your child to eat!
- Having family meals where your child sees you eating the foods that you enjoy. You can’t expect them to eat vegetables if they rarely see you eating them.
- Getting the kids to help with cooking, makes vegetables and other foods more familiar to children. However this doesn’t guarantee that they will eat them immediately. It is just another step towards a long-term goal of your child enjoy a variety of foods.