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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