Why Your Kids Won’t Eat Their Vegetables

Are your mealtimes spent trying to convince your kids to eat their green beans? Does your child clamp their mouth shut as soon as they see a piece of broccoli on their plate?

Getting kids to eat their vegetables is a daily struggle for many families. Parents often complain that they spend hours cooking healthy meals for their family, only to have their kids refuse to try even one bite of any vegetable in sight. 

This can be extremely frustrating, and may result in parents giving up on serving vegetables altogether. In the short-term, this may make mealtime less stressful, but in the long term it can contribute to poor eating habits and a lifelong aversion to vegetables - something that could have negative health consequences in the future.

In order to improve your child's eating habits, it's important to understand the root of the problem. Here are some of the most likely causes behind their vegetable phobia:

There is too much pressure

Parents often think that they can persuade their child to eat vegetables. They beg. They plead. They try and convince them that beets taste like candy or that spinach will give them super powers. They force them to eat "just one bite" or refuse to let them leave the table until the vegetables are gone. Talk about pressure!

Often, something as simple as just relaxing at the dinner table can make a huge difference in a child's attitude towards vegetables. Focus on spending time together as a family and catching up on the day instead of what and how much they are eating. In fact, food should be the last thing that is discussed as the dinner table.  

It may take a bit of time, but once a child feels relaxed and not pressured, they will start to explore and experiment with food on their own. Eventually, they will begin to accept some of the vegetables that they previously refused.

It's a control thing

Remember as a kid when someone told you not to do something, it made you want to do it even more? Well, the opposite is true as well. 

Think of it this way - kids feel a lack of control over most aspects of their life, but one thing they do have control over is what goes into their mouth. And they use this to their advantage. If you tell them they must eat their vegetables, they most certainly will not. Encouraging kids to try new foods is great, but forcing them to do so will likely have the opposite effect that it is intended to.

However, if you make sure to continuously serve them a variety of vegetables, multiple times a day and give them the option of whether they eat them or not, they will slowly start to ease up. In fact, you will be surprised at how quickly their attitude will change once the satisfaction of a power struggle is removed.

They taste awful

How many adults actually crave plain steamed or overcooked vegetables?  Sure, we tolerate them but we're not lining up for second helpings. 

If our goal is for kids to like vegetables (not just tolerate them), we need to make sure they taste good.  So try roasting or sautéing them, serving them topped with olive oil or butter, or adding them to a meal that your child already loves.  Vegetables can be absolutely delicious, so let's serve them to our kids that way!

You're not eating them

For kids, mom and dad are the ultimate role models. They want to be just like us, and they pay attention to every little thing we do.

If you are serving your kids vegetables that you won't eat yourself, they are definitely going to notice. And they aren't going to eat them either. Parents need to demonstrate the eating habits that they want their kids to develop, and children need to see eating vegetables as a normal, everyday occurrence. This translates into everybody in the family eating a large variety of different vegetables on a daily basis - even if you yourself are still learning to like them. The added bonus is that over time, you too will find yourself actually liking vegetables that you once shunned.

Remember, it's totally normal for a child not to be born a vegetable lover. Luckily, by committing to healthier habits and attitudes during your family's meal times, your kids will slowly come around and can develop the competence to make healthy choices for themselves as they grow into adults. Don't give up - it’s never too late to raise a healthy eater.

Sarah Bester, CNP