Wednesday, November 11, 2009

how to get your kids to eat vegetables

Oh, I've got your attention now, right?

Maybe there are a few of you whose kids will eat everything. Good for you. In fact, I used to be one of you. When Sadie was little, we would tell her that we were having kale for dessert, and she was thrilled.

Maybe it was the birth of my second, pickier child. Was she born with crazy taste buds? Was the breast milk just too delicious? She instantly emerged as a white food only kind of girl. Somehow, it rubbed off on Sadie too. Now my children do not eat vegetables.
Or at least not as many as would ease my parental anxieties.

I get this question a lot. Perhaps I'm giving you the idea over here that I have this one figured out, but I don't. If I did, I imagine I'd be supporting my family and filling the non-existing college funds on my wise food writing. Wouldn't you pay money for that?
However, because I think about food nonstop, I do have a bit that I can share. I'm not a big parenting advice giver on principle, but I have a few things that have helped us over here, and if they can help ease the anxieties of some poor parent out there or get a child to eat a broccoli floret, then we are all better off.

So here we go...

1. Eat good food yourself. I know this might be a no brainer, but I think that it bears repeating. I worked for several years as a homeschooling tutor, and many parents came to me to help their children with Math. Nine times out of ten, they would say to me, in front of their children, "I hate Math. I always have. And I'm no good at it." Once the kids heard their parents say those words, it was very difficult to recover. The same goes for food. If you eat greens with gusto every night for five years, I'd bet you an apple pie that it will make an impression. And it will be good for you, too.

2. Grow vegetables. My kids will eat things that they grew that they will not touch from the store. Rosie has an intense hatred for carrots, but she will pull up and eat an entire bed of them in twenty minutes if allowed. She doesn't even get the dirt off first. Even if you don't have a yard, you can start a little container garden and let your kids graze from it.

3. Let your kids prepare their own food. This one is hard for me (I'm a little, um, controlling in the kitchen), but it really works in my house. The kids will eat anything they make, and they usually want to use as many ingredients as I put in front of them. This is the sure fire way to get the girls to eat salad in my house, even if there might be some odd things in it.

4. Take your kids to the Farmers Market. Let them pick out the vegetables. Maybe you'll get to try something new yourself, and give them credit when you cook it.

5. Sneak in the vegetables. There are many cookbooks devoted to this topic, and I know many parents who swear by this. I once had a pretty good sweet potato cinnamon bun, so there you go.

6. Bribe with Dessert. Controversial, yes. But effective. I save this one for moments when my "my children are going to get rickets" anxiety is at its peak.

7. Don't make something else for dinner for your kids. They will eventually get hungry enough to eat what you've made. If you feel like you are starving your children with this method, send them to the fruit bowl to help themselves.

8. You know those twenty minutes before dinner is ready? When your kids are SO HUNGRY MOM, and you keep saying, "5 minutes. Did you put the napkins on the table?" and they say "I can't, I'm SO HUNGRY MOM." Well, put the veggies on the table then, and let them go to town. I often find that I'm unnecessarily holding to the thought that this will spoil their appetite. I think "spoiling the appetite" is ridiculous if you're talking about good food. If they want to eat three pounds of green beans before dinner because they are SO HUNGRY, that's okay with me. You can put the veggies that you made for dinner out early, or you can just throw them a bowl of carrot sticks. You will be amazed.

9. This is the most important. Should I say that again? THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT.
Relax. RELAX. I'm going to venture into my general thoughts on parenting here... forgive me- like I said, I try to make a habit of not giving advice. But this is what we work on over here.
Your children will be okay. No child died from lack of vegetables, at least not recently. In my experience, the most effective tactic is to put no pressure on the situation, and to keep your wits about you. I'm pretty sure that Rosie went nearly a year without a green vegetable, and a few months ago, we were over at my Mother's house, and she helped herself to an entire plate of kale. There was hardly any left for anyone else, but we let her go for it, quietly. We said nothing. We went about our dinner as she cleaned her plate. Joey couldn't stop kicking me under the table, but hopefully she didn't notice.
The more I relax, the less anxiety I send their way, the better those girls seem to do. They have pretty strong internal compasses, and I have to trust that they will take what they need, even if it is a year's worth of noodles. They will be okay.

I think that's all I've got for now. But if you have more thoughts on this, I'd love it if you'd join in. I could always use more ideas myself, and I'm guessing I'm not alone.


  1. These are such great ideas! I've always had the theory that you can't turn food into a battle ground. My daughter started as a picky eater, but I just kept offering and she finally got the courage to try more and more of a variety of foods. As an adult, loves pretty much everything.

    She now has a 6 month old baby who I am afraid is going to be a picky eater. He hates texture - and gags over every bite of baby food. Just yesterday she finally found something he likes...pears!

  2. i know i'm a non-mom, but these all sound like great ideas to me, especially the growing and picking- i can still smell the first cherry tomato plant i ever put in the ground as a child. is there a better smell than that? not for me. well, maybe if there's butter & onion involved, but it's not quiet the same.

  3. hi alana

    i really enjoyed your blog and appreciate that i am not the only person out there trying to figure out how to get green food into small people. langford will eat or try anything i put in front of him. otto, on the other hand, will not. he does love smoothies and so i can sneak in kale, carrots, turnips, beets, garlic....just about anything as long as i put enough fruit to sweeten it up.
    he will also eat quesadillas. i have recently discovered that i can put any soup i make into the blender, turn it into the consistency of refried beans and stick it in a tortilla with a little cheese on top. this he will eat. something tells me that this is more about being stubborn than actually not liking something. i do get some inner satisfaction out of watching him eat the quesadilla (which is really lentil or some other soup) while the little bowl of actual soup sits untouched next to him. somehow, i feel like i have won

  4. I'm sure many of your tips will come in handy in the coming years. Owen had his first non-cereal meal today -- sweet potatoes. He was a little surprised to be eating some of that non-white food since all he's ever had is breastmilk and cereal, but so far so good. I have a question for you though -- do you give your kids vitamins? Did you when they were babies? I keep researching this and I'm on the fence about it.

  5. Yes Erin, thanks for the quesadilla reminder- for a while we relied on the kale-sadilla which was always a big hit with the ladies.
    And Aubrey, yes we do give the girls vitamins, but only in the last few years. Sadie just actually learned how to swallow a vitamin D and she is so happy with herself. The way I've understood it in the past, there's no need to think about vitamins while breastfeeding- Owen's getting everything he needs from you. Even food is really just a fun sensory experience right now. Probably controversial in some circles, but that was how I learned it, and the girls are okay so far...