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How to Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables

Published in Lifestyle Health, Pediatrics, Weight Management, For the Health of It, Healthy Eating Tips Author: Ally Doerfler, RD, LD

Family meals should be relaxing and a time to bond with one another. This is often not the case for many families and instead mealtimes turn into a source of stress and even tears. Your child may refuse to eat anything on his/her plate except the bread or just pick around all the vegetables in the delicious casserole you spent an hour making.

What should you do? Some may resort to bribes, such as using dessert as a reward by saying, “You can only have ice cream if you eat your carrots.” Others may ask a child to sit at the table until he/she takes three bites of the meatloaf. Others still may prepare an entirely separate meal for their child. These are common approaches parents take when dealing with picky eaters. These also are examples of approaches to avoid as they can lead to more troublesome eating behaviors down the road. Instead, caregivers should strive to follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility with Feeding.

According to Ellyn Satter, child feeding expert and registered dietitian, the parent and child each have their own responsibilities at meal and snack times.

  • Parents’ responsibilities include deciding which foods and beverages will be served, the timing of meals and snacks, and where the meal or snack will be eaten (at the dinner table, as a picnic, etc.).
  • Children’s responsibilities include whether to eat and how much.

Children are often more eager to try new foods when mealtimes are relaxed and there is no pressure to eat a certain food. When trying this new approach, be sure to give it time. It can take some time for your child to get used to the new meal environment and many kids will continue to be suspicious of new foods. Here are some suggestions to help make mealtimes enjoyable and nourishing for everyone.

  • Schedule regular meal and snack times. Young children do best when they have an opportunity to eat every two to three hours. For older children or adolescents, three to four hours between meals and snacks may be more appropriate. Provide only water between meals and snacks to avoid filling up before its time to eat.
  • Provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks, including at least one food item that your child usually likes, whether that is a side item, such as fruit or bread, or the main entrée. Snacks are a great time to offer a food that your child may not be eating as frequently such as fruits, vegetables or meat/meat alternatives.
  • Include new foods with familiar foods and be patient. You may need to offer a food more than 10 times before your child will actually eat it. Start with a small amount and let your child touch, smell, eat or ignore the food — whatever he or she is comfortable with.
  • Avoid pressuring a child to eat. Often children will want a food less if they are forced to eat it. Also steer clear of using food as a reward, which is a type of pressure. This places the reward food on a pedestal, thus making that food better than other foods.
  • Be a good role model. Children learn to eat and enjoy foods from watching others. If you want your child to eat vegetables, you also should eat vegetables. Also, avoid making negative comments about foods.
  • Turn off distractions. Make sure the TV is off and phones, tablets or other devices are kept away from the table — including toys and books.

Being a little picky or wary of new foods is normal in childhood. While these strategies are helpful in many instances, if you have concerns about your child’s growth or extreme food refusal/selectivity, contact his or her pediatrician or a registered dietitian for further guidance.