How To Get Your Kids To Like Veggies

By Devika Pathak April 5, 2017
One way to help children eat vegetables is to go bright. Image: Cooking.NYTimes.com

How many times have you had the ‘please eat your veggies’ fight with your child? As much as we hate to admit it, it’s very likely that when we were children we hated vegetables with the same vengeance that our own kids do today. It got us thinking that there has to be more to this mutual hatred for reds, greens and yellows.

It turns out children are averse to vegetables for reasons more scientific than one assumes.

Kids refuse to eat vegetables very often. Image: BananasBunch.org

Kids refuse to eat vegetables very often. Image: BananasBunch.org

The first place to look when it comes to children and veggies is biology. Children are constantly on the go (often to our dismay), and therefore require high energy foods – something vegetables don’t quite offer. In comparison, glucose has high energy levels and provides kids with the much-abhorred sugar rush that has them bouncing off walls to cause mayhem.

Children are instinctively drawn toward foods that will provide them with this energy boost and hence tend to not be attracted to leafy greens which are healthier but less calorie-dense.

Uhoh, there comes a sugar rush.

Uhoh, there comes a sugar rush. Image: Fwtx.com

 

You may notice that over the years your tastes change. Foods you once found repulsive become tolerable, even occasionally climbing up to favourites. Common examples of this are vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage – all cruciferous vegetables that children really hate. The common factor between these veggies is that they contain compounds like phenols, terpenes, isoflavones, flavonoids and other science words like calcium which lend these foods a bitter taste. As adults, we adapt to these flavours and may even enjoy them. For a child, these veggies are worse than a night with no television.

A third reason children are averse to spinach compared to cake, for example, is that cake is celebrated. Cake is connected to birthdays, parties, anniversaries and other happy memories. Spinach, even with Popeye, is just spinach. When a person links a stimulus (in this case sugar) with a specific response (in this case happiness or joy), it is called paired associative learning. Children will associate those sugary, high-fat foods with the fun times they had with their friends rather than the bhindi that they are forced to eat at home every night.

Associative pairing learning means children find joy from cake because it's celebratory food. Image: BestPaintingParties.com

Paired associative learning means children find joy from cake because it’s celebratory food. Image: BestPaintingParties.com

 

Though these reasons almost seem convincing enough to let your child off the hook around mealtime, there are ways to get your kid to eat greens! There are a few things you can try and hope that your child is fooled for long enough to finish off their dinner. When it comes to cooking veggies, try masking the flavour by caramelizing, braising or even pickling items with especially strong flavours.

Make food as colourful as possible, substitute cheesy dips with bright pink beetroot hummus or potato chips with sweet potatoes. When introducing your child to vegetables, start with the sweeter, easier options like corn, carrots and peas while saving and brussel sprouts for when you’re a pro at veggie-disguise.

Make food fun and bright. Image: Dailywt.com

Make food fun and bright. Image: Dailywt.com

 

It takes months of repetition before something becomes an ingrained habit, especially enjoying vegetables. Though you might be tempted, there is no use in nagging your child, they will simply resist. Try to find different ways to present veggies to your kids daily and continue to do this even if they say no.

Over time, they will watch you and the rest of the family enjoying leafy, hearty meals and perhaps associate them with happier memories than simply a bitter flavour – encouraging them to try out the foods. Mealtimes should be enjoyable for children rather than a battlefield, so avoid nagging your children while you instil them with values you have around food and healthy eating. You may find that by being persistent and actively practicing what you preach, you may eventually win a veggie-hater over.