"My child won't eat vegetables." This is one of the complaints we hear most from parents. It's not just limited to picky eaters either. We all know vegetables are full of important vitamins and minerals, so it's no wonder it's frustrating to parents when kids consistently exclude this food group. As pediatric dietitians we try to understand the kids perspective, so here we dive into why vegetables are such such a tricky food for little ones and what you can do about it.
Reason #1: We are wired to prefer sweet flavors because our bodies and brains run on glucose. Veggies tend to be on the bitter side and don't satisfy that inborn desire for sweets. This is why a child who eats endless amounts of fruit still might not have an interest in vegetables.
Solution: The good news is there are some vegetables that have sweeter flavor profiles like carrots, sweet potatoes, corn, butternut squash, and sweet peas. We like to call these the gateway vegetables. If you have an especially stubborn vegetable eater, consider starting with one of these. Roasting also results in a sweeter vegetable due to the caramelization that occurs. Simply drizzle chopped veggies with a little oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and enjoy!
Reason #2: In a world of processed foods, kids have become accustomed to knowing exactly what to expect when they bite into something. Flavor, texture and freshness can vary greatly from one tomato to another which can be challenging for routine loving littles.
Solution: Vegetables taste their best when they are in season and at the peak of ripeness. While you can't make every tomato taste the same, you can buy the best tasting tomatoes. Check out your farmer's market for in season and local vegetables which will likely taste much better than something that traveled halfway around the globe before it ended up in your shopping cart. In the grocery store you can usually find signs advertising "in season" and "local" near the front of the produce section.
Reason #3: Preparation methods can impact the palatability of vegetables big time. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but the plain, steamed cauliflower like your mom made is still not a culinary delicacy.
Solution: There's a reason green beans and creamed spinach always taste amazing at a nice steak restaurant. Fat. Fat coats the tongue, masking some of the bitter taste in vegetables. Keep this in mind when preparing vegetables for kids and drizzle a little olive oil, melted butter, or cheese sauce over them to create that same flavor masking effect. This is also why veggies and dips like ranch pair well together! Parents are often hesitant to add fats to vegetables, and while it does seem kind of counterintuitive, young children are developing flavor preferences and the more we can get them to eat a wide variety of flavors, even with added fats, it can lead to a more diversified palate.
If you have a stubborn veggie eater keep in mind, that it may take 10-20 times of offering a new food before a child decides to eat it. And if they don't? That's okay too. By just observing you eating a variety of vegetables your kiddo will become familiarized with them so they'll seem more approachable when he or she is ready to take a bite. If you have an extremely picky eater or have concerns about your child’s health or growth patterns it might be time to work with your pediatrician or a pediatric dietitian. You can read more about our services right here if you're looking for one-on-one support!