Stop Doing These Things To Get Your Child To Eat Vegetables

Picky eaters. Do you have any in your family? One day they are loving broccoli to the next day swearing they’ve never liked broccoli at all. Or maybe it’s square cut sandwiches on Mondays and Tuesdays leading to a meltdown about the square shape. Needless to say, these situations can leave you as parents wanting to rip your hair out.

We get it. And we are there right along with you.

While we find that most parents are genuinely trying to encourage their children to eat healthy food, often the way they go about it is all wrong.

Here’s some of the biggest mistakes that we see parents making when feeding their littles.

Feeding Kids Whenever They Tell You They Are Hungry

When your little one cries and tells you how hungry they are, the instinct is to give them food. We don’t want our kids to be starved.

Very rarely is a child in danger of being starved. Maintaining a consistent feeding schedule is one of the best things you can do for your child’s eating habits.

Kids need structure. They need to know when meal times will happen and how often snacks will be offered.

A great schedule for toddlers and young children is:

7:00 a.m. Breakfast

9:00 a.m. Snack 1

11:30 a.m. Lunch

2:00 p.m. Snack 2

5:00 p.m. Dinner

7:00 p.m. Snack 3

Planning out the time that meals and snacks are offered is a good first step.

Being a Short-Order Cook

Many parents that we talk to are over-worked and stressed out by all of life demands. Don’t make mealtime harder by providing separate meals for members of the family.

Kids will never learn or be encouraged to try fruits and vegetables if mac n cheese or chicken nuggets are ALWAYS offered as a back-up dinner plan.

Your role in feeding as a parent is to be the gate-keeper for the food that comes into your home and onto your table. You decide what foods are being served. It’s the child’s role to decide what and how much of the food offered they will eat. This is part of a feeding model called the Division of Responsibility, created by a dietitian and family therapist, Ellyn Satter.

Giving Your Child Milk or Juice All Throughout The Day

Going along with being consistent with meals and snacks, beverages need to be accounted for as well. Allowing kids to drink milk or juice all during the day fills up their little tummies and makes them less likely to eat the healthy food you are providing.

We recommend providing energy dense drinks (like milk) after a meal has been eaten.

Recommended milk intake for toddlers is 2 cups/day. There is no recommended juice intake. Children do not NEED juice to be healthy, so take a look at what you child’s drinking in a day and make some plans to adjust.

Making Kids Clean Their Plate

This action may seem logical. Make children eat all their food, then they ware receiving the nutrition you think they need and eventually they will like the food.

Research actually tells us the opposite. In a review of literature of child and adolescent eating behaviors by Birch, Fisher (1998) found “that imposition of stringent parental controls can potentiate preferences for high-fat, energy-dense foods, limiting children’s acceptance of a variety of foods, and disrupt children’s regulation of energy intake by altering children’s responsiveness to internal cues of hunger and satiety. This can occur when well-intended but concerned parents assume that children need help in determining what, when, and how much to eat and when parents impose child-feeding practices that provide children with few opportunities for self-control.
This can be very hard to put into practice, as it goes against the basic assumption of feeding kids - that they don’t know how much and what foods to eat. But best outcomes in feeding occur when we as parents offer the food and then let the child choose what they want to eat.

Being A Hypocrite

Do you eat all the recommended servings of vegetables each day? Most Americans don’t. So, let’s be realistic with our children. And let’s be motivated to do better ourselves, to teach them that healthy food can be tasty.

Modeling healthy food behaviors and a healthy relationship to food is one of the most important things you can do to help your child beome a confident eater. Modeling healthy food behaviors includes eating a variety of foods (including vegetables) yourself and your language around the food you eat.

Be mindful of the words you use regarding food. Is candy “bad”? Is your daughter “such a good girl” when she eats all of her vegetables? Food should be neutral, but we often have our own ideas about good and bad food and place those ideas on our children without even realizing it.

Instead, talk about how the food makes you or our bodies feel. “When I eat several pieces of candy, my tunny feels tight.” Or, “this jicama is so juicy and sweet.”

Feeding young kids can be such a challenge. Remember that you are not alone in any of the struggles you may be facing with your little one. Most kids will go through a time of picky eating and it is completely normal (although completely frustrating)!

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Shaun PalmerComment