Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

From the GF archives...

A mother picked up her daughter from my house today and remarked casually about her two girls "They still don't eat any vegetables!" A few minutes later, she announced again "I just can't get them to eat vegetables." Well, as soon as they walked out the door my daughter announced "Why are we the ONLY ones who have to eat VEGETABLES!"

Four years of hard work to get my kids to eat their veggies went down the drain. "Well," I said, "we eat vegetables because they are healthy--and they taste good. And you do have some friends who eat vegetables--Billie has to eat vegetables, right?" Finally, I asked "Do you want a break from eating your vegetables?" thinking it might be good to lose the battle and win the war. So tonight, my two kids took a break from eating vegetables while I enjoyed a bowl of kale and some out of this world asparagus parmesan.

The truth is, my kids don't willingly eat vegetables. They have to eat some vegetables if they want dessert. And it's usually something green: my son will eat a salad, my daughter will have some peas or green beans or cucumbers. It's completely optional but if you want something sweet at the end of the meal you need to have "vegetables first--dessert second." I don't feel like it is bribery--you just have to do xxx in order to do yyy. Dessert is definitely a reinforcer.

"Fine if you don't eat it but we can't move on to dessert." I say if they don't want the vegetables. And I am truly fine with them not eating any vegetables and skipping dessert.

My kids didn't always eat vegetables with dinner. For a long time, I didn't want to force them to eat vegetables.They would eat whatever they wanted. There were enough rules about eating since they couldn't eat gluten (or dairy) that I really wanted eating to be fun and without additional complications so I held off on forcing the issue. They would eat vegetables in the summer and although they occasionally did eat some vegetables, it was not a routine but a random event.

Then I went to visit a relative who doesn't cook at all but had decided for health reasons her daughter who was a very picky eater needed to eat vegetables with dinner. After years of her saying "She doesn't eat vegetables" she decided that it was imperative that her daughter eat vegetables after a life threatening illness. Since she doesn't cook at all, she had a bag of frozen green beans and a bag of frozen peas and she would alternate them. Peas one night. Green beans the next. She would put a cup of water in an omelet pan and bring it to a boil with a little salt. Then she would boil the vegetables in the water for four minutes. When I returned home from our visit, I was inspired and the kids had been served vegetables every night for almost two week, so we began our routine.

To make it a little more fun I often put the peas or beans in shot glasses and gave them a choice. "Peas or beans?" I would yell for the fun of it as I cooked dinner. It didn't matter to me which they chose. We just needed to start incorporating vegetables into our dinner more regularly. "Do I have to?" they would whine at some point. "No." I would say. "You don't have to eat them. But if you want dessert we have vegetables first. Dessert second." That's it. End of story. Very unemotional.

You need to start somewhere.

"Where is your leverage?" I remember learning at a parenting course. Well, dessert was my leverage. I guess for other people it could be something else. I know the relative who got her daughter to eat her veggies used a second helping of pasta as her leverage. Sometimes you need to finish your veggies, but you never need to clean your plate. Half of whatever is healthy is the unoffical rule at my house.

And gradually, my kids have learned to eat their vegetables. I don't know if they like them. But I am guessing they have learned to not hate them. And I don't make them eat kale--although some kids love it. They eat vegetables that kids eat: carrots, cucumbers, pickles, green beans, peas as well as a few family favorites: artichokes, olives, sauerkraut, and a salad. And they each have the things they will eat and won't. My son will eat a salad but will eat only one pea. My daughter will eat salty peas but won't go near a salad.

It's not easy--it is hard work. But, it's not magic--it's just a moment in your life as a parent when you realize that eating vegetables is important and necessary to health and not something you can opt out of. I was a picky eater so I am completely sensitive to picky eaters, but eating vegetables is too critical to good health to be something kids don't do.

"Rome wasn't built in a day" so it's okay if you move gradually toward having them eat vegetables. Start with one carrot or one pea. Make it unemotional but make it count. One pea at a time. (Or jicama.) Just do it.

Related posts:
My List of all Fruits and Vegetables
Beyond "Eat Your Peas, PLEASE!"--Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables
Fresh, Raw Food--An Important Source of Glutathione
Easy Green Herb Dip
Snack Trays
Going Green with Green Beans