My Child Won’t Eat Vegetables!!!!

Dear Sharon,

Do you have any advice for parents who have children who will not eat vegetables? I am really concerned about this. My son seems to only have a palate for junk. He is 9 years old and although our home provides quality nutritional food, he has developed a love of fast food items that he gets when he’s with his friends. It seems other parents aren’t as interested in good eating as we are.

Dear Parent,

I am sorry to hear that you and your 9 year old are facing the same dilemma as many other families. It sounds like you are already doing well confronting the challenge by providing regular nutritious food at home.

Why do children love fast food? The answer isn’t that complicated – salt, sugar, and oil can taste good and provide sudden bursts of energy. The peer pressure that you mentioned in your question combined with plenty of effective advertising help make fast food “irresistible.”

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind that might help your son be more interested in vegetables and other healthy options.

There are an increasing number of cookbooks to help parents incorporate vegetables and healthy foods into home cooked recipes. Using stocks or incorporating finely chopped vegetables into breads or popular main course dishes are some of the recommendations that are common in these sources.

It can also be useful to offer healthy snacks throughout the day rather than waiting until mealtime. Slicing fruits and vegetables and placing them attractively at a child’s eye level in the refrigerator or on plates near play areas can help healthy nibbling become more common. Keeping a tasty dipping sauce nearby can make these kinds of snacks even more appealing.

Involving children in the selection and preparation of food can help them feel more engaged and interested in “veggies” and other nutritious foods and less resistant to adult opinions about healthy eating. For example when children accompany their parents to a grocery store I often suggest that the young person be allowed to choose one or two things that they would like. (This simple gesture can lessen the inevitable unproductive power battles that can surface while buying food.) It can also be helpful for parents to ask children to pick recipes from a colorful and interesting cookbook and make a meal. If a child has shopped for carrots, broccoli and/or spinach, helped chop, clean or cook the vegetables and then arranged the food creatively on a plate it can be more interesting to eat.

A lighthearted attitude in relation to food can also help. Some parents I know have set up a “play restaurant” where parents are customers and children serve and prepare a healthy menu. Young ones often take pride in their preparations and can develop a positive relationship to good quality food.

Exchanging rebukes and worry for humor and child centered activity, (telling age appropriate jokes, playing word games, making up stories, etc.) while eating usually makes a big difference. It can also help to arrange food in humorous shapes that spark interest. A broccoli forest, carrot log cabin, or banana raisin whole grain “face” pancakes are some common examples.

Severely restricting junk foods can result in children feeling deprived of what “everyone else” is having and can increase cravings and secrecy, especially as they get older. As parents juggle the requests for junk it can be helpful to remember that children’s eating habits frequently change over time. I have found that young ones exposed to adults with quality diets like the ones you are modeling in your home eventually develop into nutritious eaters as well.