by Jennifer Nelson, MS, RD, CDE
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, one of the most common questions that I get from parents of children is “How do I get my child to eat more vegetables?” The question is usually accompanied by a disconcerting look from the mother. I don’t get this question very often from fathers. Fathers, it seems, are either less interested, or they “know” that they must require or pressure the children to eat them.
The families that ask this question often only serve vegetables to their family about 2-3 times per week and sometimes less. Some parents don’t serve vegetables at all and complain or rationalize that the reason that they don’t is because the child “doesn’t eat them” – they usually express this with a tone of frustration and anger in their voice.
There are several principles that work together that will contribute to increasing your family’s intake of vegetables:
First of all, stop pressuring your child to eat vegetables. It doesn’t work and usually backfires. Don’t lecture them on the benefits, and don’t suggest that they taste it. For mothers who pressure children to eat more vegetables, those children eat less vegetables, and interestingly enough, those mothers eat less vegetables as well.
Get vegetable, and fruits, in front of your family’s eyes several times per day. For vegetables, start with something simple like cucumber slices. You can serve cucumbers to them every day. Put them on the table at 3 in the afternoon, or with lunch or dinner. And don’t say anything. As for fruits, cut whole fruit into smaller pieces and place the pieces on a plate in the center of the table.
High sugar foods and drinks, fruit juice, and high fat processed treats in a bag will reduce a child’s appetite for both fruits and vegetables. It is normal for children to want these highly concentrated refined carbohydrates. Keep them out of the house!
So, for this coming week, put serving dishes in the center of the table for meals and snacks, and include vegetables and fruits as often as you can. Focus on your own intake of vegetables. Keep mealtime and snack times pleasant with conversation and sharing.
Galloway AT, Fiorito, L, Lee Y, Birch LL. Parental Pressure, Dietary Patterns, and Weight Status among Girls Who Are “Picky Eaters”. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105:541-548.
Galloway AT, Lee Y, Birch LL. Predictors and consequences of food neophobia and pickiness in children. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103:692–698.
Fisher JO, Mitchell DC, Smiciklas-Wright H, Birch LL. Parental influences on young girls’ fruit and vegetable, micronutrient, and fat intakes. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102:58–64.