I am wondering what stresses you most about your kids eating habits? Is it that they are not getting enough protein? Is it that they are not getting enough calcium? Is it that they are not having a variety of foods?
Do you know the question that I get asked the most from parents? Well I probably gave the answer away in the title to this blog! The question I get asked the most is….
“My child won’t eat vegetables......How do I GET kids to eat vegetables?”
No matter if I am seeing a parent in my private practice or I am at a party and a parent finds out that I am a paediatric dietitian, they all want to know the magic ingredient to get their child to eat their vegetables.
As you may or may not know, I have two young children
Do you know how I get my kids to eat their vegetables (and salad).....the magic formula is by not making them eat their vegetables at all!
Huh, you might be saying? What do you mean you get them to eat their vegetables by not making then eat their vegetables.
The Obstinate Child
Before I explain what I mean, I want you to think about your other toddler and kids behaviours. How hard is it to get your child to get dressed in the morning? How challenging can it be to get your child to brush their teeth or go to bed at night? These everyday activities can be hard, especially when you are in a rush. We all know that the more that we want our children to do something, the less likely they are to want to do it!
Does this sound familiar?
Well feeding your kids is really the same thing. Children (especially toddlers!!!) are naturally obstinate. As parents, we all know how important vegetables are for your children’s health. This means you are more likely to focus on getting your child to eat vegetables than any other food on their plate. Well your toddler picks up on this and will likely do the exact opposite to what you want. If you try and get your kid to eat vegetables, they won’t eat their vegetables.
Kids will do the opposite to what you want when it comes to eating veggies
The Magic Solution
So what is the thing that you ought to know about getting your child to eat vegetables? Well the simple answer is, you DON’T try and get your children to eat vegetables. Your job is to offer the vegetables/salad but it is your child’s responsibility to eat them.
Parent Habits and Kids Veggie Eating
A recent study by a team of researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia did a study of what parents behaviours were related to getting kids to eat vegetables. Do you know what the 3 main strategies were?
1. Parent fruit and vegetable intake
2. Having fruit and vegetables around the house and in a form easy for kids to eat
3. Having set meal times
Pressuring To Eat Did Not Work
Pressuring a child to eat fruit and vegetables did not appear to help with a child’s fruit and vegetable intake. In fact by trying to “get” your child to eat vegetables it may cause the opposite to happen and your child is likely to eat less. My mantra around food is that your job is not to get your child to eat better, but your job is to stop them from getting worse
Pressuring your child to eat, will not improve your child's eating, it may make it worse
It's Time to Re-Set
I want you to think about your meal times and how you act when your children are eating. Are you asking them to have “one more bite” of their vegetables? Are you asking them to eat their vegetables before they get down from the table.
If these strategies are not working then it is time to re-set. The more your child is stressed about mealtimes the less likely they are to eat. I suggest trying the following to start with. Your kids are not going to start eating vegetables straight away, but doing these things but it is going to make mealtimes more pleasant. It will also be the first step in improving your child’s veggie intake.
Steps to "Re-Set" Mealtimes
- Continue to offer vegetables at every meal
- Put the food in the middle of the table to let your child help them self
- Eat with your child and model good healthy eating habits
- Do not ask your child to try/eat/taste the vegetables
- Use reverse psychology-if they say they don’t to eat the vegetables, say thats OK you don’t have to eat anything
- Spend 5 minutes playing with one of the vegetables-talking about its characteristics For example: If you had brocolli you say something like it's green, it looks like a tree, its prickly on top and hard on the bottom etc
- Once dinner is over remove the vegetables and avoid offering any other food-If your child states that they are hungry then say to them that they can eat their leftovers.
First Steps to Get your Kids to Eat Vegetables
- Have fruit and vegetables cut up and available in the fridge
- Offer vegetables at each snack and meal-don’t just leave offering vegetables to the evening meal
- Make sure you, as a parent, are eating vegetables at each meal and snack
Was this helpful? I hope so. Please leave your comments below.
Dr Jennifer Cohen
Providing Bite-Sized Pieces of Nutrition Information to Busy Families
PS. If you want more great tips on how to have a calm and happy mealtime with your family, please download my guide on "7 Tips for Reducing Mealtime Madness" Click Here
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