But, as with all kids, he could see right through me.
At mealtime, I had one mission and one mission only: to get those vegetables into his body. (Sounds pleasant, right?)
And, not surprisingly to any parent in the world… he also had a mission: to assert his will.
Our goals created a bit of a conflict … to say the least.
And, as I have learned (painfully) over and over again, we might be able to “get those veggies into their mouths,” but we cannot at the same time help our kids develop a personal, rewarding connection to those foods.
One in which they proactively choose to eat them on their own.
It just doesn’t happen by force, rules or pressure… and not even with praise.
In fact, it backfires.
Instead, here are 5 ways that really work with no struggle and a lot more peace.
BUT: Not immediately. Not intuitively. Not without (our own) discomfort.
They will ONLY work with patience, trust and a heavy dose of blind faith. Trust me, I’ve tried speeding up the process and it’s a nightmare. So, tread slowly and with care and before you know it, your kids will be loving their greens!
Serve vegetables that YOU like.
Children learn to eat by watching their parents eat. This means that at a most primal level, children are looking to us to decide what is good and safe to eat. Children want to see their parents eat it first. And, they want to know that their parents are really enjoying it.
And, as we all know, our kids can tell when we’re faking it. Once they watch us enjoying it for a long time, they might put that food on their plate, but not taste it. Then, they might lick it, or eat it and then spit it out. However frustrating it can be for us, these are actually real signs of success for them.
Say, “You don’t have to eat it” … and mean it.
When we let kids move at their own pace, they will begin to venture out and taste new foods. Power struggles will end because our children will not have anyone to push back against.
Ultimately, they will be choosing what to eat based on their natural, internal drive to eat a variety of foods and to learn to like the food their family eats.
Rotate, but repeat
Serving the same veggies over and over again can feel boring and create a sense of pressure to eat them. But, having them make an appearance regularly, about once a week or month, gives our kids more opportunities to learn to like them.
Also, research shows that the palate is not set. So, when our kids say they don’t like something, just tell them they don’t have to eat it, but tell yourself that they don’t like it today.
Without pressure, they likely will enjoy it at some point in the future, even if that moment is weeks or months away.
Think of each meal as a practice, not as a game.
When it comes to getting our kids to eat vegetables, we want to “win” every time, at every meal. But, with this sole focus, we lose sight of our kids’ need to practice, to warm up.
They really do need time (sometimes years) to get used to the smells, textures and tastes of some foods, especially vegetables.
Personally, I know how hard it is to feel like the food went to waste or that our kids did not eat well (today). But, if we recognize that each meal is simply a practice run, then we can have more patience and understanding, knowing that our kids are trying their best to like the food we make.
Say Nothing, Do Nothing
It may take some time for our kids to try new foods, like vegetables, that we have for so long focused on forcing into them.
But just know that nothing will slow that process down faster than trying to convince them, cheer for them when they do take a bite, or make a rule around it.
In the short term, they might eat their veggies if we make them, but in the long run, these strategies backfire.
Trusting our kids will pay off in the long run because they will be deciding what to eat based on their internal cues, not based on what we pressure them into eating.
So, the next time you sit down for dinner, consider how these ideas might benefit your kids, your own peace of mind and your entire family meal experience.
On a final note, my son now regularly eats vegetables. Not at every meal and not in large quantities. But, he asks for lettuce on his sandwiches, eats seaweed salads and avocado rolls and finally likes roasted trees. I mean, broccoli.