In the chapter Waste or Waist in Buddha’s Diet, we talk about the ingrained reasons we hate wasting food. Many of them trace back to childhood, those early experiences in your high chair, and later at the dinner table, or out at a restaurant with your parents. In a study of 122 American adults back in 2003, over 80% recalled being told to clean their plates after every meal. Because we hate to waste food, we often eat more than we really want, or are hungry for. Children are actually pretty good at knowing when they are full and have had enough. Forcing them to eat because we don’t want to “waste” it, actually does more harm than good. But there are other gotchas when it comes to kids and the dinner table. How do we get our children to eat things that are good for them, like veggies?
If you were ever bribed, praised, cajoled, threatened, encouraged, or manipulated into eating your veggies, you’re familiar with the go-to tactics of your childhood. Studies tell us though that all these things generally backfire and create complicated and unhealthy relationships around eating. A study was even done around paying children to eat their vegetables. Which seemed to work. Though it’s unclear how expensive this might get and sounds pretty drastic. You probably don’t have a line item in your budget for paying your children to eat kale. We don’t either.
So, how can you get your children to eat their veggies?
It’s actually pretty simple and comes down to three things: frequent exposure, modeling, and involvement
First: Introduce vegetables to children again and again. Don’t give up to early. Toddlers may need something like 15 exposures to a food to like it. Of course, if you’ve tried carrots more times than you care to count, and your child still says no, let it go. You can give it another try when they are older.
Second: Model what you’d like for them. If you want them to eat their veggies, they should see you eating vegetables regularly too. If they see you eating vegetables, ordering items from the restaurant with vegetables, buying and cooking vegetables, they will grow up to do that too. Modeling matters. Serve food in a positive environment but keep reactions netural. They shouldn’t get a gold star for eating green beans.
Third: Involve children in the process of buying (or growing) and preparing vegetables. Let them select the veggies they like from the store. Resist the urge to encourage them to get things you think they should try or like. Give them a bag and let them choose.
What should you not do?
Take a pass on these four tactics below. They rarely work and teach your children that veggies are something to be hated.
First: Don’t sneak vegetables into food you know they don’t like. No one likes to hear they were tricked into eating something.
Second: Don’t use the “clear your plate” method – i.e.: “You can’t have dessert until you’ve eaten all your vegetables.” It paints veggies as bad, which they are not.
Third: Don’t bribe or manipulate. Just let it go. Historically, children have still managed to thrive without carrots.
Fourth: Don’t let your own dislikes get in the way. You might hate mushrooms, but perhaps they will love them.
Have you had success getting your children to enjoy vegetables? Have you tried incentives, like the cash incentives offered by the study and did it work?