One of the most common questions parents ask doctors is – “Why does my child not eat vegetables?” The question is asked by sad parents who are tearing their hair out because their dining tables have turned into war zones.Mealtimes for them have turned into battle times. At every meal – they are coaxing threatening and bribing their child to eat vegetables and their children are vehemently refusing.
These parents are sad and worried because they find themselves fighting a losing battle. They know that vegetables are good and essential for good health. And as their child refuses to eat vegetables – they feel like their child’s bright future is slipping out of their hands.
Yes vegetables are good for children. Yes it would be wonderful if children ate them. But it is really not such a catastrophe if they don’t.
Why don’t children eat vegetables?
There are 4 important reasons why children don’t eat vegetables. And here they are
- Children are growing and very active and so they need lots of energy. So they prefer calorie rich food. Vegetables have very few calories. Vegetables don’t give children the instant energy boost they are looking for – and so they avoid vegetables
- Children have small stomachs and so they prefer food that packs a lot of calories in very little volume.Vegetables have large volumes because of their fibre – and very few calories – and so they are exactly the opposite of what little kids need.
- Children are programmed to avoid pungent and bitter tastes because poisonous things are usually pungent and bitter. This is an evolutionary mechanism.Many vegetables are pungent and bitter and children are naturally wary of these tastes and so avoid eating these vegetables
- Children don’t have well-developed muscles in their tongue and cheeks. Their jaw bones are also not fully developed and not as strong as adults – so they have difficulty chewing. Most vegetables require a lot of chewing. Children get tired of chewing with their under developed mouths. And so they don’t like vegetables
What you should never do when your child refuses vegetables
1. Never coax, bribe or threaten your child to eat vegetables
“Please….just one more bite”
“If you eat the vegetable – I will give you the ice cream”
“Eat it! Otherwise I will give you a tight slap!”
Dialogues like this should never be delivered at the dining table during meals.
Remember – the more you try to make your child like vegetables – the more he is likely to dislike it
2. Don’t try to tell your child that the vegetables “are good for you” or “you will fall sick if you don’t eat vegetables”
Children believe that they are unconquerable – so threats like these don’t frighten them. They also have no concept of the future. They live in the present moment. So explaining what will happen in the distant future does not frighten them.
3. Don’t feed your child alone.
Let him eat at the table with you and see you relishing vegetables. Sooner or later your child is likely to be curious about the food that you think is so delicious.
What to do to help your child like Vegetables
1. Offer small servings of vegetables every day.
Repetition is very important. Your child needs to be familiar with vegetables before he has the confidence to eat them
2. Offer vegetables at snack time instead of meal time.
At meal times – when children are very hungry they need food that fills them up quickly and gives them an instant burst of energy. At snack times children are likely to be less hungry and therefore may be willing to experiment with a few bites of a vegetable.
3. If you want your child to like vegetables – eat a variety of vegetables when you are breastfeeding.
Your child will begin to like these tastes. Formula fed babies are used to a constant sweet taste and dislike variety
7. When you offer vegetables start with sweeter vegetables like peas or carrots.
Keep the stronger, more bitter tastes for later when eating veggies has become routine. Also tone down tastes with salt herbs and spices
8. If your child is eating fruits – relax.
Fruits and vegetables contain the same nutrients – so it is OK to eat one in place of the other.
Remember this – While it is important for your child to eat vegetables – it is not essential for your child to eat all the vegetables right now. Getting into a power struggle with your child over eating vegetables will only make your child dislike vegetables even more. He may begin to hate vegetables for.