I knew that any kid of mine would be sort of weird…but this wasn’t what I expected. I’m cutting up broccoli for dinner, step away for a minute, and next thing you know my kid has taken a bite out of EVERY little piece.
Did I shrug and just toss them back in the bowl? You bet, I did! Would I do that if I had guests coming for dinner? Nope, absolutely not, no way, of course not!
Last week my husband saw a few stray pieces of broccoli on the kitchen counter and popped them in his mouth to tidy up.
Little J’s eyes glistened. “Dada. That was my broccoli!”
Calamity. She ran to her room, weeping like an old-school Disney princess.
Somehow I’ve gotten my daughter to love vegetables. Really love them. And I didn’t have to grow my own freaking garden. Just a little benign manipulation and imaginary play–and, BOOM! I’ve got the weird kid who cries over broccoli. It could be a fluke, because I have utterly failed to achieve this level of veggie-love with my one-year old…but who knows?
Maybe it will work for you, too.
- Don’t pressure your child. The surest way to build resistance is by initiating a power struggle, and that can damage your child’s relationship with food in the long-term. Say, “It’s okay! You don’t have to try it–only if you want to!” And you have to mean it. Your kid will sense if you’re internally begging them to eat that green bean, and your anxiety will transfer to them. So relax and trust that your kid will try a new vegetable with time.
- “Play bunnies” or “ horses” or “mice” or whatever veggie-eating animal grabs your kid’s interest. Read some library books, and pretend you’re little bunnies digging a burrow and hopping through a meadow. Then pull out the spinach and carrots and munch like a rabbit. Let your kid arrange the leaves for you and carry a bowl into your “burrow,” where you can munch them appreciatively.
This may take a while. I played like this every once in a while for two or three months with no obvious results. Then one day at dinner, J asked me for a “baby spinach leaf” so she could be a bunny. Little Bunny J proceeded to eat an entire family-sized salad in one sitting.
- Read books with vegetable protagonists Veggie Tales might work, but I’ve had more success with books about vegetables simply being vegetables. And sometimes it’s okay to just get through lunch and tackle eternal mysteries later.
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a favorite in our household, and we make our peas act out the adventures of Mama Pea, Papa Pea, and Little Pea. Goodnight, Veggies and Baby Food will also recast vegetables as familiar and engaging friends. Friends you eat.
Avoid books about children who hate vegetables. Even if the protagonist learns to like brussels sprouts by the end of the story, guess which parts of the book your kid will quote and mimic? I tried not to normalize or even introduce the narrative that kids dislike vegetables, and treat it as an obvious and universal fact that vegetables are great.
- Have your kid “help” prepare dinner. I cut up vegetables and have my kids put them in the bowl. Sometimes J wants to cut the potatoes, too, and achieves marginal success with a butterknife or these fancy, kid-safe knives. If I’m not in a hurry, I let J play with the vegetables (arrange them in shapes, separate big and small pieces, etc.). My theory is that whatever she plays with eventually ends up in her mouth.
- Don’t ask–just put veggies in front of them. My two-year old loves to say no. So I shouldn’t be surprised by the inevitable response to, “Do you want some beans?” I’ve learned to never, ever ask. Instead I put a plate in front of her and say, “Here are some beans!” I respect her refusals, but at least I’ve gotten them on the table. Physical proximity to salad is a start, right?
Whether she says “yes” or “no,” I happily munch a plate of vegetables in front of her. Some parents try to generate interest by pretending they don’t want to share. Either way, your kid will want to be like you! No pressure.
- Find the “baby broccoli, the mama broccoli, the grandma broccoli,” etc.
Relationships are (hopefully) the biggest force in kids’ lives, so they look for these patterns in the world around them. Before you take a bite, identify your piece as a “little girl sweet potato” or “the daddy sweet potato.”
Parenting is hard. Good luck out there, and I hope this helps!