Please Stop Asking Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies


Please Stop Asking Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies

24, June 2014 8:00 AM

During our camping trip this weekend my son befriended a boy several campsites away. After our dinner one night, my son asked if I would walk him up to see if his friend could come back and play. As I approached the family's campsite I wasn't sure what was happening – mom and dad were in lounge chairs with drinks in their hands and the son was alone at the picnic table. When I asked whether it was a good time, his dad said to me, "Oh, he's having a particularly hard time finishing up his vegetables tonight, so I think he'll be there for a while." Then he turned to my son and implying that good kids eat all their veggies, said, "I'm sure you would have eaten up all your vegetables, wouldn't you?"

The irony in that question is that my son eats a total of five different types of vegetables: carrots (only raw), corn, peas, artichokes and potatoes. About six months ago, I celebrated when he started eating tomato sauce on pasta and pizza again, so I guess we can make that six vegetables. In my son's world, no one is forced to eat anything they don't want to, so he stared blankly at this man and said, "I really love mashed potatoes!"

I know that parents feel like they are doing a good thing when they cajole, bribe and mandate that kids eat their vegetables.But I wonder if they have thought about what forcing kids to eat will look like in 20 years?

What You Are Actually Telling Your Child When You Force Them to Eat Their Veggies

  1. Don't trust your body, someone else knows what is best for it. 
  2. Vegetables are something to be choked down and disliked. Too bad, eat them anyway.
  3. Being healthy is really just about eating your veggies. It's not about giving your body the fuel it needs or eating a variety of foods that taste good to you.
  4. Dinner is not meant to be an enjoyable family experience, but a battle of wills.
  5. Join the clean plate club and continue eating even when you are no longer hungry. 

What You Should Do To Encourage Eating Vegetables/Healthy 

  1. Serve family meals and strive to include at least one food from each food group.
  2. Role model healthy eating.
  3. Practice the Division of Responsibility from Ellyn Satter: you serve the foods, the child chooses whether or not to eat them. 
  4. Make mealtime pleasant, focusing on conversation and polite manners rather than how much or what is eaten.
  5. Give light prompts to encourage trying new foods or eating from all the food groups that you've included in the meal: "Wow, have you tried this asparagus, it's really good?"
  6. Check out these 15 strategies from Fearless Feeding author Maryann Jacobsen. 

What If You Didn't Force Vegetables on Your Child?

I understand the parental fear: "If I were to let my child eat from whatever was available at our dinner table, they would eat all the bread, rice or pasta and nothing else." If you have been feeding your child with an authoritarian feeding style, you are probably right. But if you shift to the division of responsibility in feeding, your child may binge on preferred foods for several weeks until they trust that the new pattern and your new attitude will persist. Then they will likely surprise you by experimenting with some new foods. Not every day, but rather making slow, incremental progress that will gradually expand their food choices. It takes some kids years (decades even!) to learn to enjoy certain vegetables. Give them the time they need to come to the conclusion on their own – it's truly the healthier way to approach healthy eating.

What has your experience with getting kids to eat vegetables been like? 

LeAnne R. Ruzzamenti, M.A.
Director of Marketing Communications
Dairy Council of California

Visit our Healthy Kids section for more articles, tips, recipes, presentations and a webinar on feeding children.


Tags: division of responsibility Healthy eating healthy foods LeAnne Ruzzamenti


  • Barbie 2 years 285 days ago
    This method is pretty much what my mom did with me. The only difference is, I want allowed to say that I didn't like something until I tried at least one bite. I could spit it out, so I wasn't forced to eat it, anyway. It was more along the lines of, "Don't lie to me." I've NEVER had issues with weight. I eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (although there are a few I just can't stomach). I use the same approach with my son, and, so far so good. He eats as little or as much as he wants. Sometimes, he eats more of certain foods in waves (like eating a bunch of beef or carrots for a day or 2), but I always figure that it's his body's way of saying he needs more of something (like protein or vitamin A). He takes a multivitamin daily and we just go with the flow. He's always healthy, not too fat or thin.

  • Maureen Bligh 5 years 243 days ago
    My kids were VERY picky. We always offered vegetables and never forced them. They eventually ate more and more vegetables and now as young adults eat a wide range of foods from all five food groups. When talking to my 20 year old son yesterday, I realized that we never restricted sweets and now neither of them are really much interested in sweets. The Division of Responsibility as outlined by the Ellyn Satter Institute really does work!


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