End the Fruit and Veggies Battle with Your Kids
Less than 10% of kids eat the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings each day. Most parents won’t be surprised by that news. They already know how frustrated they are trying to get their kids to eat more healthy foods overall. So, what is the answer?
Finicky eating is normal during preschool years because kids are learning to become independent and vocalize their opinions. The key is to not allow their food preferences to dictate your meal plan and prevent you from exposing them to a variety of nourishing yummy foods.
Sadly, parents are accepting defeat way too soon! When their child proclaims they don’t like a food, many parents feel they only have 2 options: 1) require them to take at least 1 bite to ‘taste it’ or 2) give up and stop serving it. Many of us try option 1 for a little while and then the kids wear us down and we move to option 2 – tired of all the tantrums, dinnertime battles, and power struggles.
Good news: There Are More Healthy Eating Strategies for Kids!
For some strong-willed children, trying to convince them to try a food only leads to resentment. And research shows that pressure and negative food experiences can decrease preference for these foods later in life.
But, it is possible to exert your authority without dominance.
Ellyn Satter, Registered Dietitian and Social Worker, has created a feeding model that thousands of parents have found incredibly useful. Her Division of Responsibility in Feeding identifies that parents and kids both have a level of responsibility at meals. Parents are in charge of what food is served, when it is served, and how it is served. Kids are responsible for if they eat it and how much.
While there are some extreme picky eaters that do need to work with a Registered Dietitian, the majority of parents can rest assured that this model works. You can turn in your short order cook hat that you didn’t like anyway. No more frustrated (and useless) attempts negotiating another bite with your child.
When we talk about training our kids in the way they should go, this isn’t about making their decisions for them – it’s about training them how to make responsible decisions and take ownership of those choices and their bodies. That involves practice. This method allows them to make mistakes and feel consequences – positive and uncomfortable. It allows them to feel the weight of their decision.
Before we get to the 4 secrets, here is one last thought. If your child knows that when they complain about a food, you will make them a PB&J or chicken nuggets or their favorite go-to food, then you will continue to reinforce that they are in control. Essentially, you are training them to expect their desire to be met when they ask. And, if you never expose them to new foods but allow them to request ‘safe’ foods, then the variety in their diet will never expand.
So, let’s get to some practical strategies you can implement to help your kids eat more fruits and veggies.
Parents are in the best position to influence their children. They can demonstrate habits, rhythms, and so much more. Interestingly, parents create the food environment and while they can’t make their child eat anything (at least not in a positive light), they can model healthy choices and eating patterns.
Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 adults eat the recommended number of fruits and vegetables each day. This means that many parents are missing out on an opportunity to influence their child in a positive way.
Don’t believe they notice? Well, they do. My 3-year-old asked my husband why he wasn’t eating any of the cauliflower on the dinner table. She also wants to dress and top her salad, “just like mommy.” And, the other night when her 10-month-old sister was eating a fruit and veggie pouch, my 3-year-old was quite perturbed as to why she didn’t have one too.
They notice. The more we make daily fruit and vegetable consumption ‘normal’ and look delicious, the more they will be curious, interested, and willing to try them too.
2. Make One Vegetable 10 Different Ways
Kids often say that they don’t like something – it’s a normal response. Maybe they don’t like how it tastes, but there could be dozens of reasons why they ‘don’t like it.’
It’s possible that they don’t like how it feels in their mouth or the crunch, creaminess, or even the sound it makes when they are chewing. Kids are also influenced by peers, so it’s possible they have heard another child or someone they look up to say they didn’t like it.
The amazing thing is that practically every vegetable and fruit can be prepared or cooked in many different ways for an entirely unique food experience.
For example, carrots can be eaten raw with dip, but they can also be prepared in savory and sweet dishes. My daughter claimed she didn’t like carrots for months, but instead of believing her, I just decided to keep presenting them in lots of tasty ways until she found one (or more!) that she liked. She eventually decided she likes them raw dipped in almond butter.
Now, when they are presented and she is not so sure about eating them, I just remind her that she ‘likes’ carrots and use that as a reminder that this new food isn’t as scary as she originally thought. It opens the door to trying new foods or at least considering them. Remember, the goal isn’t for your kids to eat everything but to keep an open mind.
If they don’t prefer a vegetable or fruit prepared a certain way, just keep presenting it in lots of yummy ways. These Carrot Cake Snack Balls are amazing! This Carrot Ginger Butternut Soup is creamy and rich with a hint of sweetness and can be topped with nuts or even your child’s favorite granola. And, these Parmesan Carrot Fries are almost like sweet and savory candy. The possibilities are endless, so don’t accept ‘no’. Instead, keep making yummy vegetables lots of different ways!
3. Change Your Language
One day I overheard a family member asking my 3-year-old, “Are you sure you like green olives?” Obviously, this individual was skeptical and assumed that the tangy, salty flavor would not be well received. In fact, my daughter does eat green olives, along with many other tangy foods.
Many of us project our own preferences on our kids. We assume they will like certain foods because they are or aren’t ‘kid foods’ OR because we do or don’t like them. Every time we make assumptions or question their decision to try something, we put skepticism in their mind and begin closing the door to open-mindedness.
When my daughter mixed applesauce into her rice, who am I to say whether she will like that or not? Or, the time when she asked for some balsamic dressing on her sweet potato – why should I deny her the option? Of course, playing with food at the table is an entirely different matter, but if our kids are taking steps to be adventurous eaters, let’s not set up roadblocks with our language.
Similarly, every time we tell our kids they are ‘picky eaters’, we are keeping them stuck in a box. We are labeling them, speaking words over them that are the opposite of uplifting.
4. Take a Cooking Class with Your Child
Kids love fun! Adults do too! Find a local cooking class you can take with your child that introduces them to a variety of unfamiliar foods in a fun and entertaining way. These classes are excellent opportunities to connect with your child and teach them new skills. But, they also allow kids to engage with foods using all of their senses.
These fun classes create a non-threatening environment for kids to explore, create, and taste (if they want to) without pressure. They will see other kids engaging as well which can be a helpful motivator.
Remember, the more kids engage with foods, the more familiar they become, de-escalating the scariness.
So, what’s the play call?
Getting your child to eat broccoli is not hopeless. But, it’s important to remember that their health (and yours) isn’t pending any one fruit or vegetable.
Don’t underestimate your power as a parent to teach them open-mindedness and curiosity. Take your responsibility seriously. Stay proactive. And, have a little more fun in the kitchen.