7 Reasons Your Child Refuses Vegetables
When did your baby sleep the whole night through?
All four of my children consistently ‘slept through’ only after I finished breastfeeding. When they were little and woke in the middle of the night, it was easier to feed them to sleep than to deal with the crying with only 1/3 of my brain ‘on-line’.
I realise now that if I had just put a little more oomph into helping them to self-soothe (instead of using me a crux to sleep), they would have slept through much earlier.
And I would not have suffered from the waking haze of tiredness that crept into my day.
Getting children to eat vegetables is the same.
Yes, you are right…
Children typically go through a phase where they look at vegetables (or new food) with the same disgust as a pregnant person feels when someone drops a stinky one.
(I can still feel my throat tighten when a family member farted in the car – giggles were replaced with gagging)
But, just like my babies who didn’t sleep through the night – it can last longer than it needs to.
By understanding why they screw up their nose at your loving prepared broccoli, you can help them to enjoy healthy foods, just like we can help babies self-sooth to get a good night’s sleep.
1. They are afraid…
Would you like chicken feet for dinner?
90% of you just felt the nausea of the first three months of pregnancy return.
Chicken feet, to most of us, sounds, and looks about as appealing as your baby’s latest diaper change.
What if I said…
The delicacy tonight is eaten regularly in China by those who have a youthful complexion. It enhances collagen and helps you to radiate as you did before kids.
Sounds more appealing, right?
We are afraid of the unknown.
So, make new foods that your child has not eaten yet, fascinating.
Or better yet, make it familiar.
They are more likely to try:
- Broccoli, if you told them, they are dinosaur trees, knocking them down with your head and roaring as you open your mouth up to take a bite.
- Carrot’s pulled straight from the ground, teaching them how they are grown.
- Kumara, if you say it’s the sweetest potatoes they will ever have, they will want to try because you made a link to potatoes (if they like and eating potatoes).
Just like I put chicken feet in a way that you can relate, “youthful complexion”, “radiates” – make vegetables or any new food into a story that your little one can relate to.
We are less afraid of things we know, so make the unfamiliar vegetables familiar for them.
Is your child afraid of ‘new’ foods?
Make unfamiliar food, familiar.
2. Are you Gargoyle mum?
I wish I weren’t, but I am.
I’m a ‘get shit done girl’. Why walk when you can run. Why mess about ‘encouraging’ your child to eat vegetables when can pull out gargoyle mum and bribe, reward… force them to eat it.
It helps them eat it… right?
Yes. In the short-term, but you will not always be there to make sure every pea is eaten.
And, your kids will rebel.
Busting out gargoyle mum every night leave’s you craving inner calm that is only achieved by wine. (at least that was the way for me)
Do you want a way out of the dinner wars?
Take out your emotion. It’s easier than you may think.
Your kids will have opinions about the food you have just cooked. Even if they haven’t tasted it yet. Don’t let their opinions mean anything to you.
Below is an example of a dinner with my emotions ruling and dinner without my emotions ruling. Gargoyle, get shit done mum v’s non-reactional mum.
Bottom line: your kids are not saying yuck or gross to annoy you. I know how deflating it can be to get that reaction after you have put effort into making something healthy. But if you don’t take their response to mean anything to you, other than it is their opinion and they are entitled to it – it will take the emotion out of dinner times for you.
Turing from gargoyle mum into a calm mum.
Their reaction to your un-reaction,
will astound you.
3. The Strong-will Child
Do you have a strong-willed kid?
Years back, a friend of mine said something which changed the way I saw my strong-willed child.
“We parent our kids out of the qualities we would love them to have as an adult”.
Imagine having a strong-willed adult kid. Someone who stuck to their guns and stood up for what’s right. Who took on the world because their ‘will’ was as strong as Hercules on steroids.
Makes me glee with imagined possibilities.
But they are not adults, just yet.
They are children.
And that Hercules-like ‘will’… is up against you.
Argh, so frustrating.
If your child is strong willed, I am sure you can use manipulation, bribing or just everyday control to break them down.
But do you want to break them?
Getting around the Strong-willed child
Children don’t have much control over their lives.
They are told when to go to sleep, what to eat, they are given clothes to dress in and sometimes even forced to go toilet.
Strong-willed children just want some control over their lives… and guess what is easiest to control…
The food that passes their lips.
Ways to give your strong-willed child control over their food
- Empathise with them like the example in #3.
- Give them three meal choices and ask which one they want.
- At the supermarket, ask them to pick out two vegetables they want to eat with dinners.
- Start a garden, ask what vegetable they want to grow.
- Always let them decide how much they eat (non-negotiable if you’re going to raise an Adventurous Little Eater)
- Last resort, have a go-to back up when they don’t want to eat dinner. When they are not fussed on dinner, then they get the option of having the back-up.
If you have a strong-willed child, find ways to get them on board without force on your part. It requires a little extra work up front, but they feel heard and understood.
Give your strong-will child a say in what food passes their lips. (with your boundaries)
They will make less of a fuss at the dinner table.
4. Healthy food is yuck
What is ‘kid’ food, and what is ‘adult’ food?
Do you expect kids to like vegetables?
When my 2-year-old polished off half a punnet of blueberries in front of our B&B host in Wales, it was like he had just seen her sprout muscles as Popeye did after eating a can of spinach. He spluttered and mumbled, unable to form words at 2-year-old eating blueberries.
I didn’t quite get it, and I still don’t. Kids love berries. At least that is my opinion, my expectation.
It wasn’t his.
Do you expect toddlers to like blueberries?
What about broccoli?
Do you expect kids to love broccoli?… Spinach?… Mushrooms?… Garlic?
It is our expectation that forms our reality. Not the other way around.
When you tell your kids to ‘eat your broccoli’ and then you will be rewarded with ice-cream. You are teaching them that broccoli is yuck – no wonder they don’t want to eat it.
It is a standard held expectation that kids do not like vegetables. Some, like my B&B host, even think fruit.
We can argue all we like about what comes first the chicken or the egg. Reality or expectation.
Results speak for themselves.
When you expect kids to like foods like vegetables, lentils, tofu, blue-cheese and when they either say ‘yuck’ or spit it out as a baby, you think ‘oh they just need to train their taste’…
The reality is, kids, eat more vegetables.
What foods do you expect your kids to like?
What foods do you expect your kids not to like?
Expectation shapes reality.
5. Thinking taste is set in stone?
I used to think that I was trying to figure out what my baby liked. If she spat something out, it was a sure sign she didn’t like it.
I had to find out what my baby liked… right?
But, it’s not that way around…
How do you train arm muscles? Take a 50kg barbell and say well if you cannot lift it, accept you have weak arm muscles and they will be like that forever?
If you cannot lift that 50kg, you’ll start with a smaller weight, slowly increasing the weight regularly until the 50kg goes up as natural as your nightly wine goes down. You will train your muscle to grow stronger
Taste buds are the same.
You can train your taste-buds to accept (and like) more flavours.
Yes, babies indeed have a preferential taste for food that you ate when you were pregnant and breastfeeding.
But, their taste-buds are not set in stone.
If kids (and adults) don’t like a food first time around, repeating the same taste will help to train their taste buds, so eventually, they will happily munch on a vegetarian quiche, blue cheese or olives.
Try changing the way you cook foods. Roasted broccoli tastes different from boiled and adding garlic to sauté the florets changes the taste again.
Half of getting kids eating vegetables is for the parent to be not afraid to experiment.
When they say ‘yuck’, praise them for training their taste-buds. Saying ‘not to worry, eventually one day you will like it – your taste buds are growing stronger.’
Note: I act like it is a grown-up thing to like vegetables and by them accepting more vegetables they are getting older. What kid doesn’t want to be older or a big-kid?
Getting your kids to like different foods is about repetition.
The more they try,
the more they will like.
6. Textures are difficult.
Is your child a sensory child?
You will know. The seams of their socks irritate them, the texture of clothing has to be a certain way. As a baby, they may have taken a bit longer to adapt to the changing textures of food.
Some babies and kids are more sensory than others. This will affect their food choices and what they say they like/dislike. They are the ones that find foods such as broccoli, spinach and Brussel sprout very bitter.
NOTE: don’t confuse your child with a sensory child if they seem not to like typically bitter foods. It may be that their taste buds are trained to sweet and therefore bitter foods, seem even stronger. By decreasing sugary foods, you will find your child more accepting of these vegetables.
What can I do to help my child accept more foods if they are sensory
This is not an answer I am sure you wanted. But, science is settled when it comes to people who have a sensitivity to anything – from snakes to flying to food.
Repeated, gradual, exposure helps to desensitise their reaction to what they struggle with.
If you’re worried that they will form a negative association of say broccoli, and it is a vegetable that will be a regular in your family’s lives… you can introduce broccoli with a little sugar for the first three servings of that vegetable.
A research paper showed that by introducing vegetables with a bit of sugar, kids were more likely to like that vegetable later on. If you want to go ‘al natural’, then give stevia or honey a go (no honey for those under one though).
If you have a sensory child, repeated exposure to new, different food is the only way to help them grow a taste for that food. It’s like riding a bike, you need to have continued experience being able to balance while riding (taking steps to get there) before
Let your baby/toddler/child experience different textures, flavours etc even it is, little by little.
More exposure = desensitizing taste buds = more of that food eaten.
7. Your Little One is Programmed for Sweet Foods?
Can your child sniff out chocolate?
Emily said that she just needed to open a packet of biscuits and her daughter would sprout ninja-like skills appearing before her, waiting with eager anticipation as a dog waits at the door for his morning walk.
If your child seems to have a one-track mind for anything sweet, there are 3 ways to help break this cycle.
- Breaking the Fast
Overnight you fast (go without food). Breakfast is ‘breaking the fast’.
When you break the fast with something sweet, Cheerio’s, Ricies, most cereals, honey toast, orange juice, Up & Go – to name a few everyday breakfast items… you set the day up to have sugar highs, followed by lows.
The sugar lows will result in cravings for something sweet. Sniffing out anything that can fill that hole.
Try switching breakfast.
Break the fast with protein and healthy fat foods.
Avocado toast, porridge made with full-fat milk, a cereal that has nuts and seeds with a bit of full-fat natural yoghurt (sweeten with berries or honey if needed). Eggs; scrambled, poached, boiled, an omelette is a few of our favourite breakfasts in our home.
Give it a go for a week and see if your child’s sugar craving reduces.
- Feeding Good Gut Bacteria
When you eat a highly processed diet with lots of sugars from the more typical chocolate bars and biscuits to the less insidious, crackers – your gut bacteria are dominated by guys who love this food. They (your residential gut bacteria) will then influence you to eat more of this food.
To shift this balance, increase probiotic foods and fibre rich foods in your child’s diet. The balance of their bacteria will change.
Cravings will become less, and they will feel more satisfied with dinner and not need something sweet.
Most of you and your child’s foods choices are habitual.
Like Pavlov’s dog. Every time they rang the bell, he would salivate in anticipation of food.
A bell would ring… he would get food.
His brain started anticipating the food once the bell rang, hence salivating.
Do you always serve a sweet treat after school or after dinner?
Can your child go without this sweet treat?
If not, it is most likely a habit, something their body expects and prepares for at particular times of the day.
Breaking a habit with your children requires resolve.
Know what you’re doing and why. Sticking to your guns. And within a relatively short period, a new habit will be laid down.
The sweet cravings at particular times of day will cease.
If your child seems to be programmed to eat only sweet things, try switching up breakfast, feeding their gut – not their brains and if in doubt always start with habits.
Life-long healthy eating starts with habits.
Refusing to eat vegetables is common childhood experience. One that if we, as parents are not conscious of can last longer than it needs to.
In hind-site, it would have been much easier for me to help my babies self-sooth to get them sleeping through. Just a little more oomph in the middle of the night would have made my life easier.
By getting more oomph into your day and tweaking how you teach you’re kids about food makes for healthy eating kids. Both now and in the future.
Dinner times, kids eating healthy food… can be a happy experience, even when they are a toddler.
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