The Littles · Whole Health

8 Tips for Raising a Life-Long Veggie-Lover

Breaking News: Lachanophobia Pandemic Strikes the Nation!

*Lachanophobia: An irrational fear and avoidance of vegetables. 

Parents everywhere are struggling to get their kids to eat their vegetables, often resorting to tactics such as bribery or disguise. There are reports of parents across the nation offering their children bribes, such as,”If you finish your vegetables, you can have some desert,” or playing cheap tricks on their children, like the old hiding-the-peas-in-the-mashed-potatoes trick. What is our country coming to? Read on for one mother’s personal encounter with this phenomenon.

“You Have to Eat it Anyway”

One Mother’s Personal Account

One morning, I was sitting in my living room with my daughter, just chatting. But the conversation that came next left me speechless. And ROFL.

“Mommy, do you like yellow?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like pink?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like green?”

“Yes.”

<Here she pauses. That was not a response she had expected. She thinks only a moment, then continues.>

“Do you like orange?”

“It’s not my favorite.” 

And with no hesitation: “You have to eat it anyway.” 

And  there I sat,  choking on my own words.

For the most part, my kids have always enjoyed their vegetables. However, my youngest daughter did go through a phase where she didn’t like the color green. Monsters are green. Monsters are scary. Therefore, she did not like the color green. And logically, since she didn’t like the color green, it was really best that she did not consume anything green on her dinner plate.

The change in eating habits seemed to happen over night. One day, green beans and broccoli were disappearing from her plate and into her stomach in seconds. The next day, they were disappearing from her plate and into the dog’s stomach in seconds. And all because they were the color green. Other vegetables like carrots and potatoes were fine. But not those scary green ones.

Mine and my husband’s response, right or wrong, was “I know it’s green, but you have to eat it anyway.” Little did I know those words would come back and smack me in the face!

Getting kids to eat their vegetables is something the majority of us struggle with at least at some point in our parenting careers. Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t really matter how we get our kids to eat them – a bribe, a trick, a funnel – whatever it takes, right? But tricking or forcing our children into getting their 5 servings a day won’t teach them to make healthy choices on their own. So here’s some tips on how to teach our children to choose to eat their vegetables on their own, and help them create life-long healthy habits.

8 Tips to Create a Life-long Veggie Lover

This Mom’s Philosophy on Food

1. Start early. Start young. Start now. When we started introducing solids, we skipped the rice cereal. We started with vegetables. And we stayed limited to only vegetables for several months. Only after our daughter was eating vegetables well for about three months did we introduce mashed bananas. Those early months are critical for babies forming taste buds and opinions about food.

Just take a moment to reflect on your own eating habits. We get so used to all the salt and sugar in our diets, we think food is bland without it. But have you ever tried to cut down or completely cut out sugar or salt? It’s hard at first, but after a while, we become accustomed to the change. I remember having my first Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup after having cut back on sugar drastically for a full year. Reese’s had at one point been my favorite candy bar. But this time, it made me so sick, I refused to have another for a very long time! Likewise, if babies are accustomed to the more bitter taste of vegetables before the sweetness of fruits is introduced, they will have a better appreciation for vegetables.

2. Just say no. Say no to soda, to candy, to cake…just say no to sugar! Okay, okay, so I’m not a total Sugar Nazi. We did let our girls have cake on their first birthday. But for both of them, that was the first sugar we had ever given them. No sugar for the first year, and after that, only in moderation, only on occasion. My oldest daughter didn’t even like her cake! We couldn’t get her to eat it. And we were okay with that.

3. Model the behavior yourself. Children learn far more from what they see us do, than by what they hear us say. See #8. Enough said.

4. Let them choose! Goodness knows, so much of the toddler phase and the Terrible Two’s is about asserting their autonomy and independence. These Littles just want to show that they can do it themselves. So let them do it! Let your children make their own decisions about what they eat. If you’re making a menu plan for the week, ask them what vegetable they think you should all have with the chicken tomorrow night. If you’re packing their lunches, ask what vegetable they want with their peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’m sure every parent can relate to the frustration of endless wants and can-I-haves when shopping. So at the grocery, let them choose any vegetable they like while you’re in the produce section.

It’s a grand victory on all sides. You get to say “yes” instead of “no” – you get to be the good guy for once! They got to make big decisions and are probably feeling pretty grown up and important right now. And because they made the decisions, there will be little to no fight getting them to eat what they just picked out.

5. Grow a Garden – Just from my own perspective and experience, it’s fun and exciting to eat something you grew yourself. I’m sure it’s equally fun and exciting for children to eat something they grew themselves. Children learn to appreciate their food more too, knowing the effort that goes into growing it.

Plus, food you grow yourself is typically riper and more flavorful at harvest than what you find in the grocery store. For years as a child, I would eat strawberries and blackberries <not vegetables, I  know> to my hearts content, as long as I could pick them myself. There’s something about the color, the texture and feel. You just know when it’s ripe and will taste good. But if you tried to offer me berries from a store, I wouldn’t touch them. It was like playing Russian Roulette with my taste buds! It might look ripe and delicious, but it also might taste awful. Vegetables, just like berries, are going to taste better home grown.

6. Be persistent, but not forceful. I’m often surprised to see my youngest has cleared her sugar snap peas at school when it’s a wrestling match to get her to eat just one bite at home. But all you can do is just keep trying. Offer them vegetables, but do not force them. If they sincerely do not like the food, forcing them to finish it may only create an aversion to the vegetable, having the opposite effect you had hoped for. As long as you’ve exposed them to healthy options and created the opportunity for them to make healthy choices, you’ve done your part. The rest will come with time and patience.

7. Make it fun! I love the endless, creative vegetable tray and snack displays I see on Pinterest, and the cute bento box ideas. I remember a group of moms and I getting together one time and all bringing creative vegetable snack displays to share with our kids. It was so fun to see everyone’s creations and get new ideas. Even just giving food silly or fun names can help, like calling broccoli “little trees.” Did anyone else eat “Ants on a log” as a kid? Also, try dips – peanut butter, ranch, hummus – everybody loves to dip!

8. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Have any of you seen that Daniel Tiger episode about trying new foods? My girls sing to my husband and I, and even to each other all the time – “Try new food because it might be good!” If you know the jingle, I’m sure it’ll be stuck in your head the rest of the day. We’ve all told our children this same thing, in one way or another.

But the rule goes both ways. I know I’ve been prejudiced against certain vegetables before. For example, I didn’t like lettuce and salad as a child, so I assumed my children wouldn’t like lettuce either. I had it stuck in my head that salad is an “adult food.” One night for dinner, salad sounded amazing. So I made a big salad for my husband and I and some other “kid-friendly” vegetables for my girls.

After dinner, there was still a lot of salad left. I sat nibbling at it, as curious little eyes watched. My youngest asked me for a bite. Doubtfully, I gave her a small forkful. And she’s been hooked ever since. She even made up a song and dance about salad, that goes something like “This is my lettuce dance!” It was definitely one of those moments when the child teaches the parent.

Further Reading

I hope these ideas help inspire a love for vegetables in your home! For more ideas on healthy eating as a family, check out my post The Ultimate Menu Planning Guide.

9 thoughts on “8 Tips for Raising a Life-Long Veggie-Lover

  1. these tips are fantastic…i often hear my friends say their kids just don’t like veggies but i think it’s really up to them to initiate the enjoyment…so yes, start them early and get them involved. cheers to veggie love!

  2. Thankfully, I do not have a picky eater, but I think we may do a lot of these things already. He got vegetables immediately when we started baby-led weaning and we eat pretty healthy. He is a bit of a fruit fanatic, so veggies are not as much a priority as his precious blueberries. I enjoyed reading this. Even though I may do many of these things, it is valuable to cement them into my brain. Pinned.

  3. I have 2 toddlers and both completely protest the veggies. I can get them to eat peas once in a while but it’s a battle. Going to put some of your tips into play. Wish me luck!

  4. I’m not even a parent but I enjoyed reading this. My parents were always really good with my brother and I, for the most part, we copied what they ate, and they ate a lot of veggies! But they also used to make it fun and we would make pies or smoothies or something.

    Sophia xx http://sophiawhitham.co.uk

  5. I know I’ll have to deal with these things when my daughter is older. Currently, she’s 5 months old and almost to that point of trying out veggies/fruits. I’m hoping my children aren’t super picky eaters because I know I’m not.

  6. I don’t have kids yet, but I can really appreciate the advice in this post, mostly from reflecting on how my parents raised me. Let me begin by saying I LOVE salad. I could each salad for every meal. My mom never forced vegetables on me, but always taught me about healthy food in subtle ways. She also only gave me healthy choices (so I felt like I was getting my way) and was a great role model with her eating. I definitely want to grow a garden one day!! I think this is such a great way to get your kids excited about eating vegetables! Thank you for the fun and informative post!

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