Children’s Nutrition Attitude

Eric's mother sighed as once again she scraped her son's untouched cauliflower into the wastebasket. For the hundredth time she wondered why Eric didn't like to eat cauliflower (or any other vegetables, for that matter). Mothers the world over have wondered the very same thing.

Commercials and television programs have often reflected this universal question by making jokes about it, but most nutritionists aren't laughing. Vegetables contain many necessary vitamins, including A, C, beta carotene, and trace elements. They also contain a great deal of fiber, which helps combat constipation and digestive disorders plus is low in calories, which helps with weight control.

So what is a parent to do when faced with a child who will devour anything as long as it did not grow in the ground?

The younger the child the easier it is to change an attitude, and this is especially true with nutrition. Contrary to how it may seem, children are not born disliking vegetables; it is a learned behavior. Somewhere, somehow, their instinctive taste for vegetables has been lost. What can be done to alter this behavior?

Start From Birth

The first step to good nutrition begins with your child's first foods. Try to delay giving your infant solids until at least 3 to 6 months of age. When you do begin solid foods, make your own. Some brands of commercial baby foods add salt, sugar, and other flavor enhancers, so right from the beginning a child is taught that carrots are sweeter or com is saltier than it really is. To become attuned to a vegetable's natural taste instead of a processed one, a baby needs to know how it tastes in its natural state.

Set a Good Example

As in all things, don't expect your children to do as you say, but as you do. It is essential that you and your spouse set a good example for your child and eat all your vegetables too! Even if your son refuses to touch his lima beans, devour yours with gusto. For many children this is incentive enough at least to try a nibble. Be satisfied when your child tastes a vegetable - it can be the first step toward liking it.

Vegetables as a Main Dish

Most meals revolve around an entree, with the vegetables served off to the side. When this is done regularly, children may get the indirect message that vegetables are not as important.

Try serving vegetables first, before any other part of the meal, taking advantage of your child's impatience to eat. Also try making the vegetable the main dish occasionally.

No Distractions, Please

When you want your child to eat broccoli, do not serve it at the same time as french fries. (Everyone knows what will get eaten and what won't!) On the same note, don't put out a plate of cookies or a cake for dessert at the beginning of the meal. If there is dessert, don't offer it until everything else is served - and eaten.

Serve Attractively

Try to make your servings of vegetables both varied and attractive. Look for different vegetables such as artichokes, or a real potential favorite spaghetti squash. Make a big production out of serving them, displaying the same enthusiasm and excitement you would with any other exotic dish.

Many vegetables come in beautiful colors and can look very festive when served. Purple cabbage and red peppers, for example, can add exceptional color and nutrition when sprinkled through green beans, peas, and other “boring” vegetables.

Keep Trying

If your child doesn't like peas cooked, try serving them slightly frozen. Put asparagus in a casserole. The name of the game here is creativity but without completely disguising the vegetable. After all, zucchini bread is not zucchini - it's bread. You want to entice your children to eat vegetables; you don't want to deceive them.

Finger Foods

Children are perpetually hungry and always looking for yet another snack. Young children are especially interested in foods that they can handle by themselves. Vegetables are perfect in this case. Keep a bowl of carrot and celery sticks, broccoli florets and cauliflower chunks available in the refrigerator for quick, easy snacks that even the littlest fingers can grab. Of course, don't stock that same refrigerator with doughnuts, cupcakes, or other unhealthful snacks or the vegetables will likely go untouched. Having a variety of low fat vegetable dips or salad dressings can also increase the chance of your children enjoying these healthy treats.

Grocery Shopping

Take your child along with you to the grocery store, especially open-air markets, where the temptation to buy other things is not so strong. Children love being included in most adult activities, and shopping is no exception. Point out the available vegetables, and then ask, “Of all these vegetables, which one would you like?” (Not “Do you want any of these vegetables?” It's too easy to just say No!)

Teach your child how to recognize when a vegetable is fresh and when it is about to spoil, then give them the responsibility for selecting certain ones each time you go to the store. Follow this up with a lesson on the different ways to prepare the vegetable, then let your child cook and serve it at mealtime.


One of the best ways to generate an interest in vegetables and all growing things is to have your own garden. Children involved in planting, watering, weeding, watching, and picking are apt to be more interested in the tasting also. You might let your child have a personal area of the garden for easy-growing vegetables like cherry tomatoes or zucchini.

Forced Feeding

No matter what route you decide to follow in trying to persuade your children to eat vegetables, never force them into eating anything. When children enter their toddler years, they tend to become more stubborn and independent - even when it comes to what they eat. Many times their refusal to eat something has little to nothing to do with the food but everything to do with their mood. Forcing a food can result in frustration and anger for both parent and child and cause children to develop a negative attitude toward vegetables in general.

Be Persistent

Vegetables are essential for good nutrition in growing children, but sometimes even the most dedicated and ingenious parents cannot convince their offspring to partake of that food group. In that instance, the best course to follow is a combination of persistence and patience. Continue to offer and encourage without forcing. Try to fortify your child's diet with fruit since it contains many of the same nutrients and fibers as vegetables. Don't be surprised if, over time, your child suddenly starts to eat some previously unloved food. Young children go through many phases of likes and dislikes.

Keep up all your good work. The day will come when the cauliflower goes into your child's mouth and not into the wastebasket.

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