Want to know why toddlers reject vegetables? Most parents inadvertently teach them to.
No one does it deliberately, “Hey, we’ve got to stop this veggie-eating thing. It’s time to make sure Lucy loathes lima beans.”
But most parents don’t actively help their children cultivate a taste for vegetables. In fact, they teach their kids to prefer other kinds of flavors instead.
Here’s some counterintuitive advice: Don’t worry so much about vegetables. Pay attention to all the other foods you regularly feed your kids because therein lies the answer to veggie eating.
Instead of trying to get nutrients into your children, think about shaping their taste buds.
A recent study shows that when children favor foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt they typically don’t like natural flavored foods. Foods like vegetables.
Sadly, most “Child-Friendly” foods are high in sugar, salt and fat. This is true of sweetened yogurt, apple juice, Goldfish crackers, pizza, cheese and the list goes on.
From a nutrition perspective, these foods barely pass the parental “sniff-test.”
From a habits perspective, they’re a disaster. If you give your children a lot of sweet, salty, and high fat foods throughout the day then these are the flavors their taste buds will come to expect.
When it comes to feeding kids, most parents think of themselves as Nutrient-Providers and Detectives.
And this is how most parents get into trouble. Nutrient-Providers and Detectives look for foods that meet two criteria: they deliver the nutritional goods (at least minimally) and their kids will like them.
This approach ends up restricting rather than expanding, your kids’ palates because it encourages you to feed your children foods that have the same taste and texture.
You need to think of yourself as a taste-bud shaper instead.
Taste-bud shapers recognize that every bite of food influences their children’s taste preferences.
It’s just not the number of times your kids eat peas that determines whether or not they like peas.
What matters is the range of flavors your kids are exposed to throughout the day, and how those flavors compare to peas.
If you don’t consciously shape your kids’ taste buds to like vegetables you’ll end up teaching them to dislike vegetables instead.
Don’t believe me? Chart all the foods your kids eat for a couple of days, noting whether they are sweet, salty or full of fat. Go ahead. I dare you!
Then, start training your kids’ taste buds in the right direction by:
- Gradually wean your kids away from sugar, salt and fat.
- Temporarily add sugar, salt or fat to veggies so they taste more like the other stuff.
- Shift your children’s daily diet towards more fresh, natural foods.
- Use “Child-Friendly” Foods as occasional treats.
Source: Cornwell, T. B. and A. R. McAlister. 2011. “Alternative Thinking About Starting Points in Obesity. Development of Child Taste Preferences.” Appetite 56: 428-39.
— Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits
© 2011 Dina R. Rose author of the popular blog It’s Not About Nutrition
Dina R. Rose is the author of the popular blog It’s Not About Nutrition. She has a PhD in sociology from Duke University and more than fifteen years’ experience in teaching and research. After her mother’s premature death from obesity-related illnesses at the age of 65, Dina knew she wanted to give her daughter a better — and happier — food-life. Dina made helping parents solve their kids’ eating problems her life work. Most parents know what their children should eat, but have trouble putting this knowledge into practice. Dina offers parents the relief they need: practical, research-based strategies so they can stop struggling and start succeeding.