What to do when they just won’t eat their vegetables – Part 1

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This is the first in a 2-part series of articles on child eating habits. Make sure to read What to do when they just won’t eat their vegetables – Part 2!

Some children seem to come out of the womb naturally predisposed to general goodness. You know the ones I’m talking about, the all-star students and ballerinas and athletes who would rather read a book then watch cartoons, who practically tuck themselves into bed at 9 p.m., and who ask for a second helping of broccoli at dinner.

I have been told that these children are real. But they are definitely not mine.

eat your vegetables

Oh, my two kids are great, don’t get me wrong. They’re outrageously clever and make me laugh in the way only your own children can. But when it comes to that extra helping of broccoli, or any edible green, for that matter, there are moments when they make me want to pull out my hair.

Ever since my son was old enough to talk, meals in our household became something of a battleground. While my daughter would more or less eat what was served, my son, if left to his own devices, would happily have subsisted on plain white bread, plain noodles and the occasional hot dog. He regarded peas with the utmost suspicion, and developed a talent for “accidentally” knocking his cauliflower off the table. Our family dog used to sit exclusively under his chair.

My husband and I begged, argued, threatened and shouted to no avail. There are few things more humbling than pleading with a six-year-old. I lost my temper at times, and I still remember one long evening where my little boy and I sat scowling at each other for nearly two hours in silence over a plate of Brussels sprouts.

And it started to show. Our pediatrician warned me that my son wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed. I felt like I was somehow failing as a mother, that because I couldn’t accomplish this one simple task I was letting my son down. But I’m trying so hard! I wanted to say. It’s not that easy!

Thankfully, this story does have a happy ending. My son is 12 now, and while he doesn’t eat everything, he’s come an awfully long way. There is no magic way to get children to eat their veggies, but here are a few things I found that helped along the way:

  1. Introduce new foods one at a time. Kids are evolutionarily inclined to be wary of unfamiliar foods, so try to ease them into the idea slowly. Serve something they don’t know with one of their favorite dishes.
  2. Try different preparations. My son hates steamed cauliflower, but when we roast it with a little butter and sprinkle on some salt, or bury it under a cheese sauce, he’s suddenly a fan. He wouldn’t dream of touching boiled kale, but when we toss it in the oven and turn it into chips, he’ll snack on them. There are a whole lot of ways to prepare healthy foods out there. If your kid hates something, try it from a different angle. Who knows, you may find a few new favorites along the way.
  3. Emphasize “just trying” things. You know that whole “clean your plate” rule? I’m officially over it. Tell your kid if they take a good two bites of something and don’t want any more, they don’t have to finish.
  4. Lighten up. All the tension in our household didn’t help the situation one bit. Try not to make your child’s eating habits the focus of the meal. Laugh, goof off and have a good time. It’s a whole lot easier to try something new when there’s less pressure.
  5. Make vegetables a bigger part of the meal. This one is counterintuitive, but it helps. It’s easy for kids to separate veggies out as a kind of punishment if they’re relegated to one sad little corner of the plate. Try incorporating them more into the main course (hint: lasagne can take just about anything).
  6. You are not above bribery. Many parents offer dessert as incentive for good eating habits. We went one step further. Each of our kids has a small glass jar with their name on it in the dining room. When they eat at least a minimum amount of vegetable matter, we put a marble in their jar. On some nights, we have bonus rounds where a certain dish will be worth double or triple points. Once the jar is full, that child gets to choose what activities we do as a family for a whole day. It might sound like cheating, but introducing a prize and a whiff of competition made a big difference.

Photo Credit: chimothy27 via Compfight cc


Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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