Turn Those Picky-Eaters into Veggie-Lovers!

As a leading child-feeding expert in Canada, the single most common complaint that I hear from parents is that their children simply don’t like vegetables. These parents are concerned about this for two reasons. First, they worry that their children aren’t getting enough nutrition. Second, they fear that their children won’t grow up to be healthy eaters. In other words, these parents really want their children to enjoy eating vegetables.

Understanding Your Child’s Taste Buds
Simply put, children have different taste buds than adults do. They taste bitter flavours more than we do. Since most vegetables naturally have a bitter flavour, it is easy to understand why picky eaters try to avoid them.

Persistence Pays
It is important to remember that we learn to like bitter flavours through repeated exposure to them. It is essential that you keep exposing your children to vegetables.

Many of the parents I have met gave up on serving veggies to their picky eaters. And yet, the best way to get your children to eat vegetables is to make veggies a regular part of meal-planning and stick to that routine.

Don’t Force Bites
One of the most common techniques that I see parents use can actually make the situation worse. They enforce a rule so their child has to eat a specified number of bites of vegetables in order to earn dessert. Unfortunately, this doesn’t teach kids to choose veggies. In fact, it inadvertently fuels picky-eating. This rule reinforces that veggies are “awful”. At the same time, it reinforces the idea that desserts are “simply amazing!”

Instead of forcing bites, here are some strategies that can encourage vegetable-eating:

Grow a Garden
Children will often happily munch away on vegetables they have helped to grow. Don’t have a yard? Look for ways to grow some on a patio or sunny windowsill.

Visit a Farmer’s Market. Touring a farmer’s market together is a great way to get your children interacting with vegetables. The music and crowds create a party atmosphere – think of it as a party to celebrate vegetables! And that excitement makes it fun for the whole family.

Cook Together (Don’t Just Bake Together). You want to create happy associations with vegetables. Children love to ‘help’ in the kitchen. Trust me, cookies and cupcakes don’t need any more positive memories to be associated with them. We need to show our veggies some love too.

So ask your children to help with washing veggies; tearing lettuce and tossing a salad. While doing so, have pleasant conversations. One of my favourite childhood memories takes me back to summer days sitting on the back porch with my grandmother, while shucking corn and snapping the ends off of green beans. Thanks to her, I still love those veggies today.

Allow Dip. Try healthy dips such as hummus. Not only do they make vegetables tasty, they provide extra nutrition too.

Vary Preparation Techniques. Just like adults, children may have a preference for the way a vegetable is prepared. And each preparation technique can result in very different flavour profiles and textures. To change things up try serving vegetables raw, steamed or roasted. Alternatively, you can serve them in a stir-fry, pasta sauce or smoothie to give your child options.

Try “Cute” Food. We eat with our eyes. This is especially true for toddlers and preschoolers because they are at that very visual stage of development. Use this fact to your advantage to make servings attractive and fun. For example, arrange raw veggies and fruit in the shape of a happy face, flower or truck. Your imagination is your only limitation!

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