Eat your Veggies! Those words are almost synonymous with parenting. The phrase is definitely a cliché associated with parental instruction. We’ve all heard it and we’ve probably all said it. But do we mean it? What are we really saying when we tell our children to eat their vegetables?
I will always believe that parents want their kids to be healthy in every way. Eating vegetables has been associated with healthy eating for decades, if not centuries. If we want our kids to be healthy then they must eat healthy foods, right? Right! That said, eating is such a personal choice. Everyone’s tastes are different. Nobody wants to be forced to eat foods they find distasteful. Even infants who are first introduced to jarred baby food have preferences. They will happily slurp down their favorites and push back out the varieties they don’t like. Food preferences are as individual as fingerprints.
So, how do we get our children to eat healthy foods? I will say it again, children learn by example. You can’t put a plate of green beans in front of your child and insist they eat them while you’re happily munching on a bag of Doritos. It doesn’t work that way. A child will eat the way their parents model how to eat. If you want your child to eat healthy vegetables, then those food choices should be a part of your meals. Even then, there will be foods your child simply does not like.
Of course, this process is much easier if you start when they are first introduced to solid foods as a baby. Preparing and serving healthy foods every meal is the best way to encourage your child to eat healthy foods. Encouraging them to try new things is a great way to expand their tastes and help them on their journey to healthy eating for life. Forcing them to eat something they don’t want to try will have the opposite of the desired effect. They are likely to never eat that food, even when their tastes change as they get older.
I recently switched to a plant based diet and joined a few vegan groups on social media. A particular thread was a discussion regarding whether or not parents force their child to also be vegan. I was shocked and dismayed by the number of parents who had the “my way or the highway” attitude about it with their children. Mind you, these are kids that have been fed meat, fish, eggs and dairy by their parents their entire life and now all of a sudden the parents are telling them they can’t have those foods. Additionally, they are introducing a whole spectrum of vegetables their kids have never eaten and telling them they must eat it or starve. I can only imagine the emotional trauma this is causing for their children. Their methods will not only be met with resistance, but they are likely to have negative results. To suddenly pull the rug out from under your child and tell them they can’t have their favorite foods anymore is just cruel. I totally understand their motives, but their methods are wrong on so many levels.
Everyone’s tastes are different and those preferences are present at the first introduction of foods other than breast milk or formula. A parent should never force a child to eat foods they don’t like, or don’t like how it looks. We eat with our eyes first. If something looks disgusting to you, you likely are not going to even give it a try. Your child should be given the same courtesy. The best way to guide your child to healthy eating is to eat those foods yourself and encourage your children to try them. Never force them to try it. You can say, “You can’t say you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it.”, but forcing them to try just one bite will almost guarantee that they will never try it again.
To be healthy one must eat healthy. Encourage your child to do the same by being a great role model for them. Happy eating!