Conventional Wisdom Versus the Truth about Why Kids Won’t Eat Their Vegetables

Mar 26, 2009 by

Veggie man “Getting a child to enjoy healthy food is next to impossible, but there is no harm trying,” says a website that talks of “making” kids eat healthy foods by piling food in humorous structures on the plate.

“Most kids will turn up their nose at the sight of anything green,” another web source matter-of-factly warns parents that might not be aware of this “truth.”

Kids are fussy. They‘re hard to please, conventional wisdom tells us. Feeding them is Difficult. It’s A Problem. Kids are born wanting to eat what’s bad for them, not what’s good for them. They will not eat vegetables unless we poke and prod and motivate them somehow. Until they get old enough to fear death and disease like we adults do, we must outwit them somehow or find ways to induce their cooperation.

This attitude in their parents is reason enough for kids not to want to eat vegetables.

The problem is compounded when we combine those beliefs with the common adult attitude, unquestioned and passed on to children quite naturally and automatically, that healthy food is yucky, and unhealthy food is yummy.

Parents don’t like vegetables, so of course they don’t expect children to like vegetables. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. How can we blame them for not liking vegetables? It is our lot, our misfortune, in a fallen world to love what is bad and hate what is good. We consider it an ironic twist of fate, the universe’s colossal joke on us, that the healthiest food group to eat is the yuckiest.

This belief alone is yet another excellent reason for a kid to have no interest in eating vegetables.

Based on these beliefs, parents find that feeding their children means either giving in to temptation and pressure, or engaging in battle. Either you give them fast food, junk food or whatever they will eat as long as they eat (we cannot let them starve) or face a constant struggle and a series of desperate measures to “get kids to eat” their vegetables.

The latest trend in desperate measures, with short-term results guaranteed, has been developed into an elaborate system in not just one but two best-selling books: The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious. We can’t get them to eat vegetables, but we can hide them so well, disguised within desserts or pasta dishes or other foodstuffs that kids are known to eat, that kids won’t know they’re eating them.

I came across one particularly creative victory in food smuggling on the web yesterday. A mom reported that she got her daughter to swallow some form of vegetable by getting her to eat a vegetarian corndog while convincing her that it was made of meat.

It’s this parental attitude toward vegetables that creates the situation of kids who won’t eat vegetables.

It all goes back to the fact that parents don’t realize vegetables can be good. The parents have tasted sour grapes and our children’s teeth are set on edge, like in the old Israeli proverb in Ezekiel. It takes faith to believe that vegetables can be good, for those who have never tasted it to be true.

Therefore, finding healthy recipes we like, cooking at home, and eating in peace and joy as a family seems to be the thing we think we can’t do.

If it’s not possible for healthy food to taste good, there surely have to be other ways of getting there. Over 11,000 websites offer answers to “how to get kids to eat vegetables.”

Like with losing weight, the simple, old-fashioned answer is overlooked as impossible to live by. People look for any strategy to taking off pounds other than to eat less junk and exercise. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that attempts to get around that one straight and narrow way.

Giving vegetables “cool names” like “x-ray vision carrots” is proven to result in more carrots ingested, false advertising or no. We can carve vegetables into “fun” shapes to disguise them as something else. We can offer praise, or resort to begging, insisting, praising, punishing and rewarding. We can worry, fret, fuss, strategize and manipulate. We can make rules.

It’s all like trying to make the goat go into the barn by pushing and pulling rather than giving him a tempting reason to want to go in.

In the mind of a child, it all reinforces what a parent believes: that vegetables, while necessary, are unlovable.

Getting kids to eat vegetables has to start with the parents not just eating vegetables but actually liking them themselves. But the first thing conventional wisdom almost entirely overlooks is that vegetables can be delicious. By no means must eating well be joyless. There is an enormous variety of vegetables that many people have never tasted. There are limitless ways to fix them and make them good to eat, far beyond smothering them with cheese or ketchup.

Colorful vegs Find Healthy Foods that You Can Love

Tasty, easy recipes are the first essential tools to making vegetables delicious. It takes a little time but it’s not burdensome. I have made hundreds of new recipes over the years, and have posted some of my best selections on this blog. It’s an adventure of new flavors and discovery that will increase your pleasure in eating and cooking, not deprive you. If you continually add favorite healthy recipes that you enjoy into your repertory you will eventually replace the bad foods with good. No pain and all gain.

Leverage the Appetite

The second powerful tool for getting kids to eat vegetables, also ignored by conventional wisdom, is their appetite. If all there is to eat all the time is good, healthy Real Food, they won’t be able to help wanting it. It’s as strong as the force of gravity. Let them get hungry and present them with something both healthy and tempting. Quit forcing, making an issue of it. Without being the least bit ugly about it, give them no choice. The more you enjoy what you are cooking, the greater the chances your child will pick up on that and be attracted themselves.

It’s as simple as learning to love vegetables yourself to “get kids to eat vegetables.” Your own transformation from fussy to adventuresome will lead the way for their transformation.

© Sacred Appetite /  Anna Migeon  /  26 March 2009  /  All rights reserved

1 comments
Jeff Duncan Brecht
Jeff Duncan Brecht

Here. Here. I agree completely. I especially like your final paragraph. Let 'em get hungry.