The Secret to Getting Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

This trick will get your child to eat vegetables every time.
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Instructions like, “Eat your broccoli. It’s good for you,” and “Eat three more bites of your peas if you want dessert tonight,” ring out across dinner tables every day. And at those very same dinner tables, most parents are fighting a constant uphill battle to get kids to eat their vegetables.

It’s likely that you don’t have to coax your child to eat a cookie or try a piece of cake. But if you’re like most parents, you may have found yourself nagging, commanding, and bribing your child to eat healthy foods. 

Research says the biggest reasons kids aren’t eating healthy choices is because parents are going about trying to get them to eat healthier all wrong.

What the Research Says

A research study published in the July 2014 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research concluded that when children hear that food is healthy, they assume it isn’t tasty. The authors drew this conclusion based on a series of research studies on children between the ages of 3 and 5.

Participants in the study were read a picture book about a character who ate a snack of crackers or carrots. Depending on the study, the story either did or didn’t reveal the benefits of the snack, which included either making the girl strong or helping her learn how to count.

After hearing the story, the children were given the opportunity to eat the snacks featured in the story. Researchers discovered that the children ate more when they didn’t receive any type of message about the positive benefits of the food choices.

When children hear a food is good for them, they conclude it must taste bad. They know that anything considered “junk food,” likely tastes delicious and these types of foods are usually limited.

Why Your Well-Intentioned Efforts May Fail

When a child's plate is filled with broccoli and a parent says, “Eat it. Broccoli is good for you,” they assume it must not taste very good and they’re reluctant to eat it.

Alternatives to Telling Kids a Food Is Healthy

Young children aren’t interested in hearing that fish is good for their brains and milk is good for their bones. It doesn’t encourage them to eat more, and clearly, sending that message could backfire and lead children to eat less.

So what’s a parent to do? After all, it’s important that kids still eat healthy food. Here are some suggestions to get kids to eat healthy food:

  • Talk about how delicious vegetables taste. Share your thoughts on how good a bite of squash can taste or how much you enjoy a good salad. Speak positively about how much you enjoy eating vegetables and you'll encourage your child to have a healthy attitude toward food.
  • Get excited about vegetables. Use a similar level of excitement when you talk about vegetables as when you discuss sweet treats. Sometimes parents send the message that vegetables are something to be eaten because you have to, but delicious snacks and treats are mostly forbidden. 
  • Talk about where food comes from. Discuss how vegetables are grown in the garden and get your child involved in preparing meals. A better understanding of food can motivate kids to try eating them.
  • If you don’t like a particular food, just don’t mention it. If you try to convince your child you like that food – but your child never sees you eat it or doesn’t believe that you find it to be delicious – your effort may backfire. So if you don’t like particularly healthy food, simply don’t make any comments about it all.
  • Pay attention to how food is marketed. Children who are exposed to advertisements that announce the health benefits of food may be turned off from eating those foods. Monitor your child’s exposure to TV commercials and recognize that the message may come from manufacturers as well.
  • Talk to other people who feed your child. Well-meaning daycare providers, grandparents, or other families who may serve your child snacks or be present during meals, may spill the beans on the health benefits of nutritious food. When it’s appropriate to do so, remind them to keep the focus on the food tasting delicious instead of the benefits.

Refusing to eat healthy food is one of the most common food-related discipline issues. But the good news is, a slightly different approach to vegetables may help motivate your child to make healthy choices on his own.

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