How to Get Kids to Eat Veggies at Any Age
Dear Dr Laura,
My children have eczema, and I am really trying to get junk food out of our diets and get some vegetables in its place. One problem is my kids refuse to eat vegetables. Any suggestions for sneaking some veggies in?
Vegetables or Bust
Dear Vegetables or Bust,
First of all, congratulations for your commitment to their skin and their health. So proud of you for walking your family on the path to wellness. I have found one truth on my own motherhood journey. It is this: The only thing stronger than a stubborn child is a resolute mama. Bravo to you.
You are also completely right. Eczema is strongly correlated with the junk that works its way into our diets. In fact, in Thorax which is part of the British Medical Journal system, this study looked at just that question.
The study looked at more than THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND kids and in it they found that junk food is strongly associated with worsening of asthma and severe eczema. Yikes.
You'd think after knowing this, transitioning to a healthier lifestyle might be easy. But it's not. It's actually really hard.
Junk food hard to avoid and it's a hard habit to kick. Frankly it's cheap (and Covid put most Americans on a strict budget), it's filling and it's convenient. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find myself sometimes reaching for the "grab n go" when I'm on the run. But now we know it's a one way street when health is concerned. Let's leave it behind us.
Here are my best tips for introducing and keeping healthy fruits and vegetables into your child's diet. They come from my own experience parenting my babies and from years of practicing medicine.
So let's do this.
Dr Laura's recommendations for getting kids to eat their (fruits and) veggies by age group:
Age 1: Introduce foods early and put on repeat. Do not mistake the faces they make for displeasure. These foods are unusual flavors and tastes develop over time. This is a good life lesson for all of us. We can develop our tastes over time. Don't rule a food our forever because of initial responses. It's great to try to sneak in veggies and fruits into other foods to help the taste develop slowly.
Age 2: Imitation and mimicry. This age is all about babe doing as you do. Remember, you are your child's first teacher. When they see you eat veggies, they will want to try what you have. Put these foods on repeat too since the kids start to recognize that these are the foods they eat. There are so many great books for toddler food, and I have used this one.
Age 3: Give them Choices.
By age three, children are really coming into their own, and they desire increasing autonomy and independence. If you give them a choice, they feel empowered and it can often diffuse a situation. But the best part is, you can still wield your good influence. Offer up two vegetables and give your child the choice between the two. On a pro note, you can even try putting your own preference second, because children this age are often inclined to choose the latter of two options, being most recent in their consciousness.
Age 4-6: Harness the strength of supers. This age is all about being strong. Use this to your advantage and talk often about the incredible benefits of fruits and vegetables. Put these discussions in the context of developing strength in your child as they pull from the strength of their foods. I found it helps to have the foods come alive with stories about them. Everyone in our house loved Mr. Carrot below.
Age 7-9: Have kids participate in preparation. At this age, kids want to know they are helping with household chores and contributing invaluably to the running of the family. Have your kids prepare their own snacks and meals with supervision. Tell them stories about where the food came from and open their awareness about food.
Age 10-12. Harness their interest in health and longevity. Kids become purveyors of health at this age because they start to become more aware of their own health and mortality. This was so sad to me when I first read about it, but now I find it so enlightening and I use it to my advantage. I remember the first time I came across this beautiful poem by Billy Collins. It describes the magnificent transition that happens at around ten years old when kids learn about their space in the world.
Isn't it beautiful? Let's use this very sentiment to our advantage.
Age 13+: Cook often with them and whatever you do DO NOT MISS the opportunity to serve them up and show your relish and gratitude.
You may be surprised by the fantastic concoctions kids dream up. At this age, children love to share their creations with others because they start to increasingly feel like part of a community and civic engagement becomes important, even on a family scale. Did you ever hear the story of stone soup? We all feel good about preparing and sharing food for others. It feeds the soul.
Introduce fruits and veggies early.
Put them on repeat.
Keep setting the example.
Allow the children to contribute.
Encourage every step of the way.
I hope that helps, dear Vegetables or Bust. I am so proud of you for walking down this sometimes tricky but always valuable path. Thank you for including me in the process. Always arm yourself with information.
With you on the journey,
Dr Laura MD
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