Strategies for Getting Children to Eat Vegetables

December 1, 2010 at 12:43 am | Posted in GFCF | 6 Comments
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By Shannon Penrod

When my son was 2 I took him to Ikea.  I wasn’t planning on being there long but they had a ball pit that my son crawled into and would not get out of…literally for hours.  When he finally did come out he was starving.  We went to their cafeteria and I ordered a huge plate of steamed veggies for myself and some mac and cheese for my son.  This was  a good six months before we ever even heard of the GFCF diet.  The worker have me the heaping plate of veggies and told me that the mac  and cheese would probably be 10 minutes.  I took my son and sat down at a table. 

Before we even sat down he was shoving vegetables in his mouth so fast I had to tell him to slow down.  He kept jamming vegetables in his mouth and I noticed that everyone in the place was staring at us.  I was still a relatively new mom and not all that secure in my parenting.  All I could think was they must have thought my child’s table manners were atrocious, or that I never fed him!

Eventually the mac and cheese showed up and I ordered more veggies for myself, as my son had eaten most of mine.  He was now happily eating macaroni and cheese haven forgotten about the veggies.  That’s when four woman came over to the table and asked me what my trick was for getting a small child to eat vegetables.  They had been staring because they had never seen a child eat vegetables without being forced!  I told them the truth.  When children are hungry they will eat vegetables. 

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, but it’s the main theme.  Feed them veggies when they are hungry and don’t give them other choices.  I have a lot of children come in and out of my house for play dates.  All of their moms assure me that they don’t eat vegetables anywhere but my house.  Here’s my reality, I don’t offer a snackapalousa.  I let them get hungry.  I’m not talking about starving anybody, but I don’t offer snacks.  I wait until they ask for them, and then I generally make them wait another 15-30 minutes before giving the snack.  When I do offer the snack it is cute up raw vegetables.  If your child won’t eat vegetables don’t make the mistake of starting them out on cooked veggies.

Did you know that kids have more taste buds than adults?  Apparently we are all born with a certain number of taste buds and over time they become less sensitive.  So small children can be overwhelmed easily with intense flavors.  When you overcook vegetables they become bitter, not to you and I because our tastebuds are dead, but to little kids it’s a powerful bad.  So start with fresh, crunchy vegetables and don’t bury them in ranch dressing, salsa and or salt.  I cut up cucumbers, carrots and all different colored peppers and I keep them in bags ready for someone to say, “I’m hungry!”

Now here’s the hard part, when you tell the kids that all you have is the veggies they are going to say they don’t want them.  That’s a reality.  They are going to ask for something else.  Wouldn’t you?  This is when you have to straighten your spine and look them right in the eye and say, “Sorry, that’s all we have.  If you’re really hungry you’ll have to eat that.”  And then stick to it.

I have a friend with three boys who couldn’t take the traffic in her kitchen when she was making dinner.  Three boys in and out asking for something to eat, while she was cooking, was making her crazy.  So she had the brilliant idea to put a plate of veggies out before she started cooking.  It took a week of the boys refusing the veggies and being turned away empty handed before they decided to cave in.  Then they ate the veggies like ravenous dogs.  My friend sat down to dinner every night knowing that she didn’t have to harangue her kids about eating their vegetables, because they had just eaten several servings of veg right before dinner.

I love the idea of sneaking vegetable in where kids don’t see them too.  I’m all for filling a meatloaf with ground brocoli and carrots.  The truth is though that you can get your children to eat vegetables if it’s all you offer them.  When I think back to the Ikea incident, if the mac and cheese had been ready on time, my son probably wouldn’t have noticed the vegetables.  It’s all about timing and sticking to the idea of only offering vegetables for snacks.

They say we should be making sure that our kids get 3-5 servings of vegetables a day.  Did you notice that I didn’t say fruit or vegetables?  Fruit is important but eating 5 fruits a day sets you up for diabetes and other health issues.  But who can get 3-5 servings of veg down their kid’s throats daily?  I don’t know ANYONE who can do it solely at meal time.  It’s a really tall order. But it can be done in snacks.  Give it a try! Our kids are worth it.



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  1. Awesome post!! Great suggestions for parents, some I might even take to heart. 🙂

  2. (This is your neice in law) this worked exceptionally well for me when Thomas was younger, then he got old enough to know 1) dad likes junk food 2) there is junkfood in the house 3) where dad keeps his junk food.
    Thomas started gagging on veggies about 6 months ago, even ones he used to love. Now when I try the ‘if you were really hungry you’d eat it’, he stands in front of where he knows the cheezeits are and hollers for ‘che-num!’ Driving me crazy!

    • I remember taking your husband to the movie theatre when he was little, probably 5 years old. They were selling grape flavoured popcorn at the movie theatre. It was the ’80s, what can I tell you? He wanted that grape flavoured popcorn in the worst way and I wouldn’t buy it. He wanted to know why and I told him it was loaded with preservatives. I remember he put his little hand up on the counter and looked up at me and said, “Aunt Shannon, I LIKE preservatives!” He was cute and he was clever, but he did not get any grape flavoured popcorn that day. He may be a big boy now but you can still take away his Cheesy, preservative sandwhich mess, so you can tell Thomas, “Sorry! No Cheeseums! Cucumbers instead.” And when he throws himself on the floor like his father did, do what I did then – act like nothing is happening. Literally step over him and go on with your day. Eventually he will want the cucumbers, when he sees that throwing a fit doesn’t get him anything.

      • This is actually one of his favorite stories to tell, that and the ‘msg/preservative sandwich’ he threatened to feed your future child someday (don’t know if that’s actually part of the same day or not).

  3. Great post! We have a hard time getting our son to eat veggies and he’s always looking for snacks. Great ideas.

  4. I’ve noticed that my son (2) will eat just about any vegetable if he is helping me with dinner prep. At dinner time I save the high-carb food for after he’s eaten something more nutrient dense. Right now I’m focusing on getting protein into his snacks but I might as well toss some veggies in, too.

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