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What if your kids don’t eat vegetables?

by FeliciaReading time: 4 min.
My kids don’t eat vegetables
I’d bet I’m not the only one who has grown up with an inexplicable hatred towards vegetables. I used to hate vegetables with all my heart during my childhood and with no apparent reason. Well, there was a reason actually, but it wasn’t logical at all. I didn’t like vegetables because my older cousin didn’t like them too and she used to publicly share all her disappointment whenever we had lunch together. Of course, I really looked up to her, so I joined her battle against veggies.

My parents didn’t really get my controversial feelings towards vegetables and tried everything to make me like them, with carrots or sticks, literally. Unfortunately, they didn’t succeed in it but I’ve gradually managed to eat and even like vegetables growing up! It was a natural process but I must say that my mum struggled a lot. So, this post is dedicated to all the parents - and their Au Pairs - who are fighting next to vegetables, in order to get their kids to eat them!

The importance of vegetables

If you are reading this article, you probably already know everything about the importance of vegetables for a healthy and balanced diet. The World Health Organization states that loud and clear and recommends the intake of at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day. The correct integration of these nutrients can reduce the risk of developing serious diseases, like cancer, diabetes and obesity. Moreover, they provide us with vitamins, minerals and fibres, basically everything we need to get from food. Including fruits and veggies in the kids’ diet is therefore fundamental. 
Next to the long-term benefits of a healthy diet, we should remember that correct nutrition can considerably improve our quality of life. For the kids, this means having enough energy for the whole day, a better concentration, if they already go to school, and possibly avoiding very frequent visits to the dentist. Moreover, childhood obesity’s numbers have alarmingly increased in the last decade. This led important political characters like Michelle Obama to actively promote campaigns fighting for the children’s health. See Let’s Move!
But promoting a healthy diet based on balanced consumption of fruits and vegetables isn’t as easy as ABC when it comes to kids.

Why don’t kids eat vegetables?

Well, the answer is actually simple. They don’t like them! Let’s face it, veggies simply can’t be as tasty as chocolate. And, as a matter of fact, vegetables aren’t known for their aesthetic appeal: they don’t satisfy the eyes (compare a plate of broccoli with a nice cake, come on), and most cooked veggies don’t even have a great smell (think about cabbage). You know what they say, you eat with your eyes first. Moreover, kids usually begin to make personal food choices from 2 or 3 years old and they usually limit the range of food they’d eat. That’s the moment when they develop scepticism towards certain types of ingredients.
You may be surprised by the fact that there is a biological reason behind this human tantrum. Studies have shown that humans, during their evolution, have developed a preference towards non-fresh, crunchy and sweet food, instead of vegetables and their bright colours. Our ancestors learned that sour or bitter food could lead to death or perishment, adapting their diet to make it through the centuries. Moreover, our brain really likes sweet food and gains pleasure from it. Eating something sweet also reduces a baby’s perception of pain: the substances produced by the sweetness block the pain! It’s simple biology.
In a few words, it’s hard (but not impossible) to get the kids to eat what they biologically don’t find tasty or attractive. 

How can you make them like vegetables?

This arduous path begins long before the child’s birth! In fact, one of the factors that can influence a kid’s taste is what they had already tried while they were in their mother’s womb and through the mother’s milk. 
Food preference also lies in the experiences with which food is associated. If the mealtime is a stressful moment in the family life, then the kid’s food preferences will be guided by this stress.
Coming to my personal experience, I can confirm that kids are easily influenced by the people around them. I refused to eat vegetables because my cousin did. Easy. Imitating others’ behaviour is very typical of kids, so you should really show happiness while eating vegetables at home! Your kids should see light in your eyes when you eat a tasty onion soup. You can also make them see Popeye! A very good example when it comes to spinach.
If your kids don’t want to eat vegetables, don’t force them to do it. This will make them hate veggies even more! Try to explain to them the importance of veggies instead. Use drawings, cartoons, visual images which can impress them and let your kid understand that veggies are friends, not enemies.
Is there anything worse than seeing a plate full of things you hate? Big green portions are not kid-friendly. Vary the diet and your offer and try to integrate vegetables gradually, accompanying them with other ingredients.
If you are about to approach these new techniques, start with nicer veggies than broccoli and cabbage. Peas, carrots and zucchini are much more likeable and sweeter. Once they have become accepted in the everyday diet, try with the tough ones… gradually!
I have to mention an ancient and unfair trick that I’m currently using to make veggies a bit more appealing… hiding them everywhere! Since they are not the best thing to eat alone, you can add them to basically every recipe that comes to your mind: cakes (the carrot cake is actually really good), vegetable pies, like the quiche which is absolutely the best save-dinner recipe ever, and smoothies! You can also try to cook veggies in a tastier way (in the oven with cheese, for example). The kids will gradually get used to the healthy flavours and your job will be easier.
If nothing helps, you can always count on multivitamins which can provide kids with a good amount of vitamins and minerals.
As if being a parent wasn’t difficult enough, you also have to improvise as a chef. What can I say… Being a pro-veggie parent can be a challenge! Share with us and with your fellow host parents your personal strategies and techniques to make your kids eat vegetables!
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