“How to get my child to eat fruits and vegetables?” is one of the most common questions I have heard parents ask in regard to their child’s nutrition issues.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with healthy nutrients and are highly beneficial to our health. The New Canada Food Guide recommends filling half of our plate with them, sharing the other half between whole grains and protein rich foods.
As a responsible parent, you may try your best to follow this advice and provide your kids with nutritious and balanced meals. However, it doesn’t always guarantee children cooperation on actually eating what you serve.
There are many possible reasons behind your child’s saying “no” to fruits or vegetables, such as:
- Neophobia – fear to try new things (including food), which is pretty common in children
- Negative past experiences, associated with unpleasant feelings, pain or trauma (such as food poisoning, choking, forceful feeding)
- Sensory issues, especially in children with certain sensory needs, such as sensory processing disorder, autism spectrum or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- Behavioural motives – pressure from parents / caregivers and power struggles around food
While parental frustration about child refusal to eat (or even try) fruits or vegetables is understandable, there is no way to “make” your little one eat something, without jeopardizing her relationship with food (which, when formed earlier in life, may follow her far into adulthood).
What parents can do on their end is identifying and addressing feeding challenges, specific to their child, providing optimal and safe meal environment and stimulating interest in their child to try, explore and find fruit and vegetables he would enjoy.
While in many cases individual recommendations are needed, based on specific barriers for F&V intake, below are some common ways many parents can implement, to increase child’s interest in these foods.
🥕Start early. When introducing solids to your little one, give her a variety of fruit and veggies to try (one a time at first, to determine potential allergic reactions). Start with vegetables first and introduce fruits later (they are naturally sweeter and may affect acceptance of less sweet veggies). The wider variety of F&V your infant gets exposed to, the higher chance of them accepting plenty of fruit and vegetables as they grow up.
🥕Let your little one explore fruit and veggies through play. Experiencing food through all the senses is an important part of child development. Don’t be discouraged if none of the veggies or fruits are eaten in the process. The main goal at this stage is to develop positive attitudes towards F&V in your child, rather than getting more of it into him.
🥕Practice what you preach. If your child never sees you eating broccoli or lettuce, chance of wanting to eat these veggies get slimmer. By eating a variety of foods, including a wide range of F&V, in your child’s presence (which is one of the many reasons family meals are important), you model the desired eating habits you want to see in your child.
If your child has already developed negative attitude towards some/many fruits and/or vegetables:
🥕Keep offering F&V in a variety of forms and shapes, without pressuring your little one to eat them. Try using different cutting methods (cookie cutters can be handy for this purpose) and cooking modes (steaming, sauteing, baking, grilling, etc.), and adding to different dishes and drinks.
🥕Engage your child in activities involving F&V – take her to a grocery store or farmers market with you, visit a farm where you can pick your produce, try gardening together. Cooking and baking with fruits/vegetables can also be a fun way to stimulate your child’s curiosity in new food items she hasn’t tried yet.
🥑 Don’t try to manipulate your child into eating fruit or vegetables. Begging to eat just a few bites, conditioning to have a desert only if he eats his veggies, lecturing about nutrition benefited or resorting to some other ways to “make” him eat F&V are counter-productive and can lead to food aversions and power struggles around foods.
🥑Don’t overemphasize health benefits of fruit and vegetables. Yes, these foods are highly nutritious and vital for our health, but constantly reminding your child about those benefits, comparing with foods you deem unhealthy, or trying scaring tactics (like the risk of developing certain diseases, if your kid won’t eat them), aren’t helpful in creating healthy relationship with food. By treating all foods as morally equal, regardless of nutrition values, you will help your child make food choices based on what his body needs, balancing food groups over the course of a day or a week.
🥑Don’t hide F&V in dishes your child eats. Not only it doesn’t facilitate acceptance of food you are trying to mask, but may also erode his trust and provoke suspicions towards other foods you serve, further decreasing his food repertoire.