We began our journey toward a real food diet and real healthy lifestyle three years ago because I wanted to make a positive impact on our children. When I thought about feeding my sweet, innocent baby food from a jar, from who knows where and who knows when, I knew there had to be a better way. We completely overhauled our diets by cutting out processed foods, eliminating refined sugar and focusing on good-quality meats and fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Gabriella’s first food was broccolini (sophisticated, right?!) and she was a baby who would eat anything. We avoided grains and dairy until she was about a year old so she only knew and grew to love meat, eggs, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.
I find that most people have a similar experience with a baby who will eat anything. Sometime around two years old when toddlers begin to exercise their right to be independent, most kids start to be labeled as picky. I like to think of it as developing preferences. I will eat almost anything (no oysters, wild game or veal to name a few on my won’t-eat list), but I certainly have preferences when it comes to eating. I don’t like salad unless it’s finely chopped; I like my yolk slightly runny; I don’t like Red Delicious apples; I don’t like the texture of couscous- I could go on and on. Do I consider myself a picky eater? Not at all. So why are toddlers who suddenly have preferences labeled as picky eaters?
Parenting a toddler is hard. There are new challenges every day and meal times often become one of them. Whether it’s complete refusal to eat a meal or throwing a whole plate of food on the floor, it’s so easy to take it personally and feel like giving up. Why slave over a meal that you know they won’t eat? This is the stage when some parents begin making separate meals for their children. Everyone I know says they won’t do that, but we all end up doing it. There were many times I felt defeated and helpless in the battle over dinner and a bowl of yogurt and strawberries seemed harmless enough. Every once in a while, giving in to a separate meal will not cause issues, but when this becomes a trend and the norm, it’s a habit that becomes hard to break.
So, what is the 100% no-fail method for getting your kids to not eat vegetables?
Stop offering them. If I don’t put vegetables on Gabriella’s plate, I can rest assured that she won’t eat them. I know it’s common sense, but this hit me like a brick a few days ago when I realized I went a whole day without even offering a single vegetable, which meant Gabriella went a whole day without eating a single vegetable. Some kind of real foodie mom I am!
Like many other things in my life, my commitment to various causes comes and goes in waves. Right now, I will be riding the vegetable wave until it becomes a better habit for us. I am 100% in charge of the food purchased, cooked and served in my house. I may not be able to control what others choose to put in their mouths, but when the choices are healthy, healthy or healthy, I don’t care what they eat! My goal is to offer at least one vegetable for every meal and at least one snack a day.
I was planning on making bean & cheese quesadillas for lunch one day earlier this week, and I asked Gabriella what vegetable she wanted to have with lunch. I was shocked by her answer: “kale, carrots and corn in my quesadilla.” Yup, my three year old requested a kale, carrot and corn quesadilla. That’s all I needed to persuade me to keep offering. She may not eat what I offer many days, but one day she will, and that’s what counts.
How to inspire a well-rounded eater
I am thankful that Gabriella is a “good” eater, and some of it may be luck, but I definitely believe our family’s habits have shaped her own eating habits. Here are a few things we do that contribute to my vegetable-eating preschooler:
- Visit the farmer’s market. We love seeing what new fruits or vegetables we can find at the market. Kids are much more interested in trying something new or different when it is their idea.
- Cook together. Kids can help with washing vegetables, tearing lettuce leaves, putting chopped veggies in a bowl and more. Get them involved in the preparation and they’ll be more likely to try the finished product.
- Tend a garden. Nothing is more exciting than harvesting your own produce. Home-grown vegetables are prettier, tastier and way more fun than anything you could find at a grocery store.
- Sit down at the table. Family meals at the table are required in our house. We eat all meals at the table together because meals are just as much about eating as they are about socializing. When we all have the same food on our plates and the adults model “good” eating habits, it’s easy for the little ones to catch on.
- Appreciate preferences. It’s ok to prefer broccoli steamed vs. roasted or peas frozen vs. cooked. When feasible, I serve vegetables the way I know Gabriella likes them. I do try new presentations every once in a while and sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s not, but that’s ok. We like to use a line I learned from the 100 Days of Real Food cookbook: “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to eat it.”