A Behavioral Therapist’s Take on Kids and Veggies

Let me say, right from the start, that my kids, seven and five years old, eat basically everything. There are some minor exceptions: squash, sardines, eggplant, and “smelly” cheese. I continue to encourage them to try those foods every now and again because taste buds do change, and I want to help you get your kids to eat fruits and veggies.

As a behavioral therapist, I definitely have an unfair advantage when it comes to mealtime shenanigans. Puppy-dog eyes, phony compliments, fake promises, and downright refusals have zero effect on me when it comes down to eating what has been served. I wish that I could say I am motivated purely by concern for their health and nutrient intake, but mostly, I am determined for my children to be polite, open-minded, adventurous eaters.

I like to cook; I like to eat; I like to explore different cultures and customs. I want my children to participate in these experiences with me. And also, because I definitely don’t want them to turn their noses up at foods someone else might serve just because they aren’t familiar with them.

Make a Rule and Stick to It

Kids are not equipped to make all of their food choices at young ages, which is why it’s imperative for parents to remember that they have the ability to make a rule and stick to it. Think of these concepts as a construct to help your children broaden their horizons and learn to be flexible, adventurous humans! After all, you don’t want them to miss out on rich, varied, cultural experiences because not every restaurant has chicken fingers.

Here’s the simple secret: One bite.

Before eating any “preferred” food, you must require your little love to partake in “one taste.” If after they have chewed, swallowed, and evaluated, they do not have to eat anymore. Not for forever, mind you, just until that food pops up again at a different mealtime. Showing the same approach with your own food skepticism goes a long way.

It’s important to remember that it takes taste buds at least 10 different times to decide whether or not they like a food! Personally, I’m on round 8 with okra, and second round with escargot. So far, minimal progress in the “likes” department, but what matters is my willingness to try, modeling that approach to my kids. Going public with my own baby steps forward has brought my own children, and other numerous patients that I work with, immense success.

Tips and tricks to guide you in rewriting your family’s food rules:

  • Serve a meal that contains both new foods and foods that your child already loves. But remember: they can’t have the favorites until they try the newbies!
  • Expand their interests by involving kids in meal planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking.
  • Teach your kids about foods and recipes from around the world, including what children in different cultures eat.
  • Read about food-based professions such as cheesemonger, butcher, baker, and chef.
  • Watch cooking shows and videos with your kids.
  • Let your kids make and name their own food creations!
  • Lastly, and most importantly, refuse to engage in a power struggle. Wait for the “one taste” as long as it takes. You will quickly find “the wait” becomes less and less, and the food that they like becomes more and more!

Try this favorite smoothie as a gateway to green.

Story Kelly Kinsey

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