By Meryl Kanfer, LCSW
Meryl R. Kanfer, LCSW is a counselor with the Healthy Lifestyles Program at Duke University. The program focuses on empowering kids and families with the skills and knowledge needed to live a life of healthy eating and active lifestyles.
Who knew that getting some children to eat broccoli (or any green vegetable) could be so difficult? Like me, are you a parent who has looked, with amazement and envy, at your niece or nephew or one of your child’s friends happily devouring vegetables on their dinner plate? Some children eat vegetables with the same enthusiasm that my child eats mac and cheese. What’s up with that?
It turns out that many complicated and often interrelated things are up with that. For some children, the way certain vegetables look, smell, feel, or taste in their mouths can be very aversive. Your child might be a Supertaster–someone who tastes things with more intensity than the average person. For others certain foods, including some vegetables, cause unpleasant GI symptoms, and they just naturally avoid those foods. Other children develop thoughts that certain foods are “bad” and no amount of parental coaxing seems to change their minds.
So, what’s a responsible parent to do? Below you’ll find some tips on how to introduce more vegetables to your child’s diet. Remember: if you try one (or all) of these suggestions it’s important that you try them over and over again. The more a child is exposed to vegetables, the more likely they’ll start eating them.
* Try lots of different green vegetables prepared in different ways. Will your child be more likely to eat broccoli if there’s a dip that accompanies it? How about eating broccoli in a soup? What about sprinkled with parmesan cheese? Maybe your child would prefer broccoli roasted instead of boiled.
* What about other green vegetables? If your child likes crunchy foods, fresh green beans or snow and/or sugar snap peas or crunchy lettuce might be good alternatives.
* When introducing any new food, it’s OK if your child starts by taking pea-sized bites. Get excited, and even consider a reward when they increase the quantity of a previously avoided food.
* Have you looked at your own vegetable eating habits? When you serve vegetables, do they look appealing? Are you eating the same vegetables all the time or are you adding variety? Remember, children learn by watching others, and how you eat vegetables can strongly influence your child’s vegetable eating habits.
* Be prepared for the possibility that your child’s preferences for vegetables may be different from yours. Vegetables that taste bitter and sour to you may be tasty and savory to them. Even though you’ve never been a Brussels sprout fan, your child might love their crunchy, earthy taste.
* Encourage your child to describe how any new vegetable or food tastes with descriptive words like slippery, crunchy, mushy, chewy, sweet, sour. Discourage other descriptive words like yucky, gross and other non-printable words. Make a game of seeing who can come up with the most descriptive words. Does it seem that your child prefers mushy textures? Then more mushy vegetables it is!
Some children have such strong aversions to vegetables and other foods that they might benefit from professional help from an occupational therapist who specializes in feeding issues. A psychologist or social worker with expertise in feeding issues might also be able to help. It’s best to speak with your child’s pediatrician if you have questions about referrals.
Learn more about healthy eating and raising fit kids here.