For the love of veg: teaching children to eat their greens

For the love of veg: teaching children to eat their greens
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It is a commonplace assumption that children do not like eating vegetables. But it is this sort of thinking that makes us get off on the wrong foot before a child has even had the chance to discover different foods.

Young parents often believe that they need to convince their child to love vegetables, talk them into it and motivate them somehow to achieve the desired goal. The best thing you can really do is not to interfere with the child’s journey of getting to know their greens and to allow them to find out what they like for themselves. Think of this article as a manual for how to do exactly that.

Do not introduce fruit too soon, start weaning with veg.
Image: @sproutedkitchen

Start weaning with veg

Do not introduce fruit too soon. Instead, experiment with different kinds of vegetables. Remember that a baby needs time and sometimes multiple attempts to discover a new taste will be needed. If a certain food has not passed their approval from the start, try again in 3-4 days and be prepared to have a few goes at it. It is important to let your baby clearly identify the new taste and make up their mind.

Keep veg on display and present them in their natural form

Always keep some veg within easy reach as a snack. Multiuse packed lunch bags and containers can help keep them fresh. As soon as your child learns to take a bite from a larger piece, stop chopping vegetables into finer pieces. Try to avoid using tactics which get your baby engaged with food when they are not necessarily hungry.

While cute cutting shapes for vegetables and attempts to dress veg up as your child’s favourite cartoon character might be a great idea for your Instagram, do you really want to keep laying out your salads in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head? Your mission is to teach your child to accept vegetables for what they are: a delicious food rather than a toy.

Parenting - Keep veg on display and present them in their natural form
Image: @sproutedkitchen

Stop talking about how healthy they are

It is best to avoid any preaching about vegetables being good for you as this additional pressure only exacerbates the problem. This is particularly important for children aged three and above. At this age they already have enough agency to resist a parent’s guidance.

It is all to do with the negative connotations of the many instances when children are faced with the good old “it’s what’s best for you” argument. This is what they hear before visiting a doctor, when they are told to go to bed, eat according to a certain schedule or do anything they do not really want to do. The main food motivation for a baby should be genuine hunger and a craving for something tasty. Your job is to utilise that instinct wisely and experiment with different vegetables until you get it right.

Serve veg first

When your children get hungry, rather than serving them the main meal right away, offer them some veg to snack on. It can be pieces of vegetables on a skewer or matchstick sized bites with some Greek yoghurt. This will not be enough to put them off their main meal but will guarantee a daily portion of fibre.

Parenting - Serve veg first
Image: @sproutedkitchen

Avoid emotions

Do not show how upset you are, if they decline veg, and do not act overly happy, if your baby finally has a broccoli floret or a piece of carrot.

When it comes to food behaviours, overly positive reinforcement can be just as harmful as negative statements. By showing your disappointment or encouragement you teach your child to rely on the opinions of others over their own feelings. In adulthood this can also lead to serious issues in the form of various digestive disorders.

Children who have an overly entangled bond with their parents are often obedient and desperate to be liked to the point where they would continue eating a certain food just to get praise. But as soon as a child enters the inevitable rebellious stage of development, they will try their best to show their own agency. If vegetables were something they really disliked, they will likely stop eating them anyway.

Do not lie

Hiding veg inside other food that your child likes is a bad idea. You can certainly add a new ingredient to a soup or a smoothie without letting your baby know. There is no reason why you need to present them with all of the ingredients you put into your meals. It is, however, a bad idea to do that with vegetables (or any other foods for that matter) that your child refuses to eat because they have made up their mind about its taste and communicated their preference. Children’s receptors are much more attuned. It is likely that your child will detect the flavour and, if they are aged 3-4, will even quiz you about this secret ingredient.

Frequent attempts to trick your child into eating the foods they refuse to have will only lead to mistrust. In the best-case scenario this will only relate to your cooking but, the chances are, the child will feel like you are not on their side and expect you to let them down in other areas as well. If the idea of that sounds awful, let that be the one good reason to never use these tactics again.

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