Help! My Kids Won’t Eat Their Veggies!

Regardless of whether I’m presenting to a West Fargo, Fargo or Moorhead MOPS or parent’s group, or talking with parents in my West Fargo office, it’s a complaint I hear often.  Moms and dads recognize the importance of vegetables for their children, but getting them from the plate to the palette can be a challenge.

Kids detesting their veggies isn’t a new phenomenon.  Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember strangely off-color (and off tasting) canned green beans, slimy spinach with Popeye on the can, mushy and overcooked broccoli…I’m lucky I wasn’t turned off to these vegetables for life!  Kids today are often faced with the same disgusting options, in addition to new challenges.

At an even younger age our kids are being introduced to sugar in its many forms.  Sugar in baby formula (even though amounts are often not listed on the nutrition label), sugar in infant cereal; even unsweetened juices and their natural occurring sugars heighten our infants’ cravings for sweet stuff.  The result is that we’re conditioning our kids to crave sweet tastes through the release of dopamine in the brain.  This brain response leads to a feeling of comfort and contentment (think of your own body’s response to “comfort foods”) and they become hypersensitive to sweetness, craving it more and more.

I believe this to be one of many factors that are contributing to unprecedented obesity rates among our children, as well as many common behavioral disorders such as ADD, and other health challenges such as type 2 Diabetes, depression, asthma, anxiety, daytime drowsiness and nighttime insomnia.  It is also important to note that sugar also has a suppressing effect on the nervous system and immunity.  I often find a correlation between sugar intake in children and recurring ear infections and colds, even in my own kids.

So what’s a parent to do?  Here are some tips I’ve found to be extremely helpful both for my own family and the families that visit my office:

  • Limit sugary and high carb foods, including breads, cereals, soda, juice, cake, candy, and cookies.  Don’t forget about the hidden sweeteners in ketchup, salad dressings, and processed and fast foods.  To understand why read, “The Truth About Good Mood Food and Happy Meals”.
  • Introduce high quality supplements into your family’s eating plan.  Many of the health conditions being battled today can be traced back to diet.  Our food supply isn’t as nutritious as it once was and let’s face it, life can get hectic and the family doesn’t always eat right.  That’s why I believe supplements are an important part of any healthy lifestyle.  But, I’m not talking the cartoon vitamins from the grocery store (yep, you guessed it…they are chock full of sugar, fillers, and dyes).  There are many high quality brands available and we carry several in our office that I trust for my own family’s health.
  • Set a good example.  Kids will follow the lead of their parents.  To instill healthy habits, ensuring you’re eating a well-balanced diet, rich in vegetables.  Your children will surely follow suit.
  • Experiment with vegetables in their many forms.  Introduce vegetables to your children in raw form rather than cooked.  Many kids are actually attracted to their bright colors and interesting shapes.  Consider child-size versions (mini-carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.).  How about something frozen?  Many moms have shared that while their kids won’t eat cooked peas, they love eating them straight from the freezer.
  • Get creative.  Kids can’t resist vegetables when they are presented in interesting ways.  Check out the fun ideas below, and better yet, get the kids involved in the kitchen.  Often kids will happily eat what they’ve prepared themselves.
What kid could resist these fun veggie snacks? Note, for the lady bug, substitute a cucumber slice for the cracker.

What creative and fun techniques have you used to get your children to eat their veggies?  As one mom to another, I would love to know your secrets.  Please comment below.

Dr. Tiffany