Created by: Hali Obray, Dietetic Intern
There are many health benefits that come from eating fruits and vegetables, as they contain fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Because of these benefits, fruits and vegetables are strongly encouraged to be included in one’s diet. A parent whose child doesn’t eat fruits and/or vegetables may likely feel concern about the nutritional health of their child and may feel that they must get their child to eat fruits and vegetables. While these intentions are honorable, the result is that many children don’t eat vegetables, others don’t eat fruits, and some refuse to eat either.
To those concerned parents: It will be okay. Your child is not going to experience a nutritional catastrophe if he or she doesn’t eat their fruits and vegetables. Here are some steps you can take to ease the mental burden on yourself and give your child a comfortable environment to try out fruits and vegetables.
The first step is to relax and enjoy your own fruits and vegetables. Remember the saying “monkey see, monkey do.” Children learn by example. If you eat fruits and vegetables, eventually, your child will learn to eat them as well. Many fruits and vegetables carry the same nutrients, so you and your child can receive those health benefits from either fruits or vegetables. Some vegetables have naturally stronger flavors that can be unappealing to children. You can tone those strong flavors down with herbs, spices, salt, fats such as olive oil or butter, and sauces. For some children, food textures can be a big factor in whether they eat the food or not and some fruits can have unappealing textures. For those fruits, you can make sauces, desserts, or use canned fruits instead of fresh ones.
Second, don’t pressure your child to eat fruits and vegetables. It never works. Your child sees through pressure attempts, even sneaky ones like bribing, cheer-leading, and talking about how much you love this fruit or that vegetable. The child then assumes that if they need to be bribed to eat a food, it can’t actually be good. Instead of pressuring, offer fruits and vegetables, enjoy them yourself, and let your child decide what they will eat. Your child will likely then assume that they will someday also eat fruits and vegetables.
Perhaps you are wondering how your child will ever eat fruits and vegetables without you there to encourage, bribe, or trick them into it. It is important to remember that your child is still learning and experiencing new foods. Observe how your child learns to eat those new, unfamiliar foods. They may watch you eat, but don’t eat that food; help you in the kitchen, but don’t eat that food; take a bite of that food, then spit it out. It can take up to 15 or 20 exposures to a new food before your child will eat it, so don’t give up if they refuse once or twice. Do your part by providing the fruits and vegetables, then let your child do their part by deciding what they will eat.
Content adapted from ellynsatterinstitute.org.