If you so far tried to get your kids to eat their vegetables and failed, try a new approach: have them understand how nutrition works and how vegetables fit into the big picture.
Thinking back to when I was small, getting me to eat vegetables was a fight. “They are good for you” somehow didn’t weigh as heavy for me than my personal assessment: “they taste yuk and I hate them!”
One day my mom, in what was probably a genius move of parental control, forced me to stay at the table until I had eaten all of my carrots. Those weren’t just the regular carrots stewed a bit, no, it was the extra squishy kind out of a can. Double yuk! But, well, I ate them. And promptly threw up right on the plate. After that my mom never again forced me to eat my vegetables.
I don’t know if you made similar experiences with your kids or actually were subject to the same approach as a child, but the “do it because it’s good for you” angle sure doesn’t work, does it? We as adults would feel insulted if someone tried that on us and it turns out it’s just the same for kids.
Use The Big Picture
Researchers from Stanford University developed five story books that on child-level explained how digestion works, what different food categories there are, what vitamins and other micronutrients do and how all nutrients together make the body function. For about three months they had a number of preschool classrooms read them during snack time, while other classrooms stayed with their regular snack time activity. Later all these preschoolers were asked questions about nutrition.
Most of the children who had been read the nutrition books understand that food had nutrients, that there are different kinds of these and that all are needed for the various bodily functions. They also understood how digestive processes turn the food into what the body needs – from the stomach and gut breaking down the food they ate to the blood delivering it to the different body parts. They had, in the words of the Stanford guys, developed a “concept” of what eating is.
And the best is: these children more than doubled their voluntary intake of vegetables. The kids who hadn’t been read the books ate as usual.
Of course there already are school programs telling kids how enjoyable healthy eating is and that trying new foods can be fun. But pitted against that, the Stanford “teach them a concept” still worked better: both had children eat more vegetables, but the children taught the conceptual program possessed more knowledge about nutrition and a greater overall increase in vegetable consumption.
Don’t Underestimate Your Kids
Go and give your kids a chance to understand why you want them to eat vegetables. Maybe you will learn a thing or two yourself. After all, we are talking about a group of pre-schoolers here that now know more about nutrition than some grown-ups I know.
Sure, you’ll have to simplify some ideas to have kids grasp them, but saying “they are too young too understand” is likely just parental laziness.