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Why don’t kids eat more veggies?

I have been reading a lot about kids and vegetables with one key question in mind: How do we get kids to enjoy veggies and eat more of them? There is no easy answer to this question. It is a complex problem with biological, social and cultural components.
How do we help Henry to develop a love for vegetables?
First, we’re biologically predisposed to like sweet and salty flavors, but many vegetables are not particularly sweet or salty. Maybe that’s why salty French fries are the number one vegetable for kids. Acquiring a taste for vegetables takes repeated exposure. Babies need to taste a food as many as 15 times before it becomes familiar, but a child over two may need to try a food 90 times before accepting it. Many parents give up after offering a vegetable only a few times, assuming that their child does not like it. In a 2008 study, almost one-third of infants and young children do not regularly eat even one serving of vegetables on a typical day. A 2004 study found that a similar number of children between 7 and 24 months did not eat any vegetables.

Second, social factors such as family routines and peer behaviors influence whether children will eat their vegetables. When children see others eat a food, they are more likely to want to try it. Similarly, parents tend not to offer their child foods that they do not enjoy. If you don’t like green beans, then your child is likely to never taste them. Additionally, it is very difficult to change a child’s eating pattern after the age of 2. If parents establish healthy eating habits for their child at a very young age, it is much easier to continue those trends when the child is older. Food preferences begin very early. A 2002 study found that children tended to like the same foods at age 8 as they did at age 4.

Third, cultural factors are weighted against healthy food choices. School lunches are notorious for their lack of healthy food offerings. Restaurant kid’s menus are filled with chicken nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches. Fast food restaurants don’t bother to offer good vegetable choices. When was the last time you saw an appetizing vegetable side dish other than fries with ketchup on your favorite fast food menu? 
Is there any hope for preventing Henry from becoming a future ketchup addict?
And television, possibly our biggest cultural influence, can have detrimental effects on what kids eat. Numerous studies have shown that watching television is strongly associated with obesity and poor eating habits. The combination of junk food advertisements, mindless snacking and time spent as a couch potato does not encourage a healthy lifestyle. When children snack while watching tv, they are most likely to eat sweet and salty junk food not vegetables. By the time dinner is ready, they have already filled up on snacks and have no interest in eating a balanced meal.

What to do about it?

The good news is there are lots of ways to encourage your child to develop healthy food habits and learn to love veggies. I’ve decided to launch a new weekly feature on this blog: Tuesday Tips for Picky Eaters. Every Tuesday I will focus one tip to help prevent your child from becoming a picky eater or turn your picky eater into an adventurous omnivore. We'll test them out on Henry too, but I'm interested to hear how these work at your house too.

This week’s Tuesday Tip for Picky Eaters: Offer veggies first.
Start each family meal with a vegetable appetizer. You might want to think of it as the soup or salad course. As we learned with Henry when we offered him zucchini alongside a piece of toast, the zucchini went untouched. When we put vegetables on his tray first, he happily munched away.
Henry eats more veggies when they are offered to him before the rest of the meal.
Kids are hungrier at the start of a meal so they are more likely to eat what they see first. A 2010 study found that offering preschoolers vegetables as a first course resulted in them eating more vegetables, and doubling the portion size of the veggie appetizer led to the preschoolers eating even more veggies. Plus, eating vegetables and fruits at the start of a meal will helps kids feel fuller with fewer calories.

There are lots of ways to keep it simple such as a vegetable soup, green salad, carrot salad, halved cherry tomatoes in vinaigrette, celery sticks filled with cream cheese, or a raw vegetable platter. If you’ve already planned for two vegetable side dishes with dinner, then just serve one of them before you start the rest of your meal.

Try it out this week and let me know how this works for your kids.

Comments

  1. I 100% agree with offering veggies first. I (most often) will prepare a small veggie snack to put out for my littles WHILE I'm preparing dinner. They smell the food, it let's them know dinner is on it's way and they are hungry NOW. EXCELLENT!! Here's some edamame, carrot sticks, and tomatoes -- have at it!! And they do.

    Now...during dinner, they will often turn their noses up at steamed or cooked veggies, but as a mom -- I know they have eaten well today. I know they had fresh berries and homemade applesauce, homemade pancakes/waffles, or fresh eggs from our chickens. Lunch generally consists of a sandwich on homemade whole grain bread with homemade peanut butter and homemade jam, cheese, cucumber/carrot sticks, and for a treat, they'll have homemade sorbet or popsicle. So, by dinner, I know that they've eaten well and if they don't want steamed/cooked veggies after having a fresh veg snack...I don't push it. HOWEVER -- we always take 2 "no thank you" bites...just to be sure we really don't want it.

    As a result, I have two VERY healthy and adventurous children unafraid to eat what's in front of them. And if we're going to have french fries, Mommy made them from her potatoes -- in her kitchen with homemade ketchup. If they're going to eat from McDonald's...it won't be because Mom took them there!!

    Great job, Holly! I truly think people underthink what they are feeding (or not feeding) their kids. Not everyone makes their food like I do -- and I don't expect it. I do expect that they think about what goes into their kids --both food, and education, and media -- because what goes in...comes out.

    I am really enjoying reading your journey with Henry. You and Jeremy are pretty awesome.

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  2. Thanks for following our story and for your great comment. It sounds like your kids are eating some very tasty food! May I ask how old they are?

    We've talked about getting chickens too, but we haven't made that leap yet. Our yard is fairly small and there are quite a few cats, opossum and racoons in the neighborhood.

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  3. My kids are 5 (Curtis) and 2(Terryn) years old. We also have a very small back yard (10x20), and we face many of the same obstacles. In fact, there was a raccoon walking down the middle of the street last night. It was so big, I mistook it for a Black Lab at first! (He's eating well too...somewhere.)

    Anyway, I LOVE having our chickens. We have seven laying hens: Fanny, Jenny, June, Madge, Penny, Ruby, and Molly. We get between 5 and 7 eggs per day. When we decided to take the plunge, we looked for hens that were: cold hearty, notoriously friendly breeds, and excellent (eggselent...haha) layers. So, we ended up with Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Americaunas. (The Americaunas lay blue and green eggs! The others are varying shades of brown.)

    My husband built our coop so that it would be safe from intruders, and thus far, it has been highly successful! We have come out to some muddy paw prints on the outside of the coop, but seven happy hens on the inside. There are all kinds of designs to use. My husband drew his own, but you can look on backyardchickens.com for some great ideas.

    Other than being food producers, they really are some of the easiest pets in the world to own. In the morning, we open the door and they hop out and roam their yard. They eat all of our left overs (except chicken, because I just can't bring myself to do that). And at night, they put themselves to bed at dusk, and we just close the door to protect them from predators.

    I have had a LOT of questions about the cost effective nature of owning chickens, and truly, up front, it can be an investment. The chicks are about $1-$2 each...so that's nothin! The Chick Start food is less than $10. But the coop is where you run into the investment. Our coop cost $100 to build. You can buy pre-fab coops for about $300 new. However, if you use Craigslist for a deal, you want to make sure that it is completely sanitized inside...you never know why they don't have chickens anymore. Once you have your coop and are rolling along, the only expense is feed ($16/3 months) and shavings ($8/3months).

    I'm pretty sure you didn't ask for all of this information, but I just LOVE having our hens. In the fall, we open our garden and they eat down the rest of the foliage and fertilize for the next year. (As a result, my tomato plants are producing 30-40 fruit at a time!!) So, yes, it is worth it. They don't take much energy, space, or time. I hope you do take the leap, and I hope you love them!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Sarah for the recommendations. If we jump into raising chickens I may come to you for advice and will definitely post it on the blog. Right now Jeremy is angling for a dog, but either way I think we need a fence first.

    And I agree with your earlier comment that the biggest obstacle to kids eating well is that their parents are not paying attention. You have to be thoughtful and make it a family priority. Even if you're not making all of your kids' food, you still have to read the labels, model good eating habits, and provide healthy and delicious options.

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