A theory suggests that mindless eating is a good way to get your kids to eat their greens. A professor of health psychology in the UK believes if you give your child some veggies in front of the TV they will eat them (probably true). So why I do I think this is a poor way to increase your children’s veggie intake?
First of all, we don’t want to encourage mindless eating in our children. I don’t care if it’s just vegetables. We want them to grow up with a healthy relationship with food, including being in tune with hunger and fullness signals. Mindless eating discourages this.
Another problem is that eating veggies in front of the TV will possibly translate to the feeling of a need to eat whenever watching TV. And I can guarantee it often won’t be veggies. Kids who eat in front of the TV eat more junk (partially due to TV food advertising directed at kids). And this could translate to a life-long negative eating habit: from eating peas in front of the TV to eating a bag of chips in front of the TV nightly as an adult.
Another issue I have with this concept is the need to win a “face-off” over vegetables and make our kids eat them. If you are a parent and have had battles from trying to force your kids to eat a certain food, you know nobody wins that battle. Food battles can be a huge stress for families. We want meal times to be peaceful instead of dreaded by everyone. Which can’t happen if there’s pressure to eat. Over the course of a week, most kids who are offered a variety of foods will eat the variety they need. Don’t worry about each individual meal or day.
So what do I suggest instead, if your child doesn’t like veggies?
1) The most important thing you can do is to repeatedly offer vegetables at regular meal and snack times, without the pressure to eat them. It sounds counter-intuitive, but over the long run will allow your child to eat more veggies, cultivating a life-long taste for them as opposed to a life-long hatred for them if they were forced to eat. Follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding and allow your child to choose “if” and “how much” they will eat, of the food you have offered them.
2) Get your child involved: Grow a garden (or even a windowsill pot) of vegetables. Visit the farmers market and talk to a farmer about how they grow their carrots. Pick out a new vegetable to try at the grocery store. Wash the lettuce. Getting kids involved in the process will encourage them to taste the food.
3) Try different cooking methods. Kale chips. Sweet potatoes baked, mashed or in “fry” form. Raw or over-cooked.
4) Offer the food at a time your child is hungriest. If they are school-aged, after school and before dinner is often a time when children are hungry and will eat the leftover veggies from their lunch!
5) Give vegetables a funny name. Kids will eat more “super-sight” carrots than plain carrots.
6) Try dips or sauces. Hummus or yogurt dip provide extra nutrients. I’m not opposed to Ranch or Ketchup either, if your child eats the veggies along with the dip! Cheese sauce on cooked veggies also enhances their flavour.
7) Be a good role model. I have a lot of clients who say “my husband won’t eat veggies.” Then why would the child think they should eat veggies? Expand your palate. Someone is watching you!