Getting Your Picky Eater To Try Vegetables and Other Healthy Foods

By Victoria Irwin

Why does my child refuse to eat anything that’s green?

Probably for the same reason she insists on dressing herself and resists going to bed on time — because she can. Some kids go through lots of fussy eating stages, but the first and most common occurs when they’re toddlers, about the time they learn to say no. The next time your child scrunches up her face, clenches her jaw, and pushes her peas away, she may simply be reminding you that she’s her own person, thank you very much, and she doesn’t need you to tell her what to eat.

Or she may truly have an aversion to vegetables: She’s developing likes and dislikes, and you can bet she’ll use her new-found ability to express her opinions. She can afford to be discriminating now. As an infant, she didn’t know where her next meal was coming from, or when, so she ate what was offered. Now she has a better memory, and she knows that if she doesn’t eat now, you’ll feed her again later. She also knows that there are other foods in the pantry. Think about it: If she can forego the veggies now, knowing she’ll get cookies or crackers later, why not? Eventually this stage will pass and your child’s tastes will most likely expand to include at least a few vegetables. In the meantime, make up the lost vitamins with chewable multivitamins and by serving fruits — apricots, cantaloupes, mangoes, plums, prunes, and watermelon for vitamin A; grapefruit, oranges, and strawberries for vitamin C.

How can I avoid power struggles at mealtimes?

When tension mounts at the dinner table, everyone ends up with no appetite for family meals. So to ensure a pleasant experience for all, keep it light — the atmosphere, that is, not necessarily the menu. Involve your child in the kitchen, tearing lettuce for the salad or setting the table. And during meals, play a word game or make up silly rhymes. Put the emphasis on enjoying one another’s company rather than eating.

Also, try to serve at least one food at every meal that you’re pretty sure your child will eat. That way she’ll have something to eat — and you’ll be less tempted to bribe, cajole, or otherwise urge her to chow down, all strategies that are guaranteed to backfire.

If your child is resistant to change, as many are, be sure to follow her routine: set the table with her usual placemat, slice her sandwiches just right, or whatever she prefers.

What can I do to make sure my child eats healthfully?

Plan a sneak attack. Maybe your kid won’t eat carrots because they’re hard to chew, so add grated carrots to her favorite muffin recipe. That strategy works for all kinds of foods: Add grated zucchini to scrambled eggs, fresh fruit to yogurt smoothies, and spinach to that all-time kid favorite, macaroni and cheese. Dips — guacamole, low-fat salad dressing, yogurt, or peanut butter — also help the vegetables go down.

Sweets — including fruit juice, which is merely sugar and water — dull the appetite for all the good foods, so keep them to a minimum. And try not to let your child fill up on milk — more than 2 or 3 cups a day, and she won’t be hungry for anything else. As long as you provide an array of healthful foods, rest assured your child will eat what her body needs.

Do “try-it” bites work?

“How do you know you don’t like it if you won’t even try it?” The logic may make sense to you, but it won’t mean a thing to your child.

“Kids are food phobic,” says Linda Sugimura, a registered dietitian at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California. “They need to see a new food as many as 20 times before they’ll taste it.”

You can ask your child to try a bite of something new, but if it becomes a battle of wills, don’t force it. And don’t assume that just because your child refuses to take even one bite, she won’t eventually try a new food and like it. Just keep serving it with a smile.

References

Roberta Larson Duyuff, MS, RD, CFCS, The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. Chronimed Publishing.

American Medical Association, Good Food That’s Good For You: Good Nutrition at Every Age

American Academy of Pediatrics, Nutritional Needs of School-Age Children

HealthyNYC.com