You’re not alone if you feel like it’s your nightly mission to get your child to eat vegetables. Or maybe for you, it’s trying to get your kid to eat a little more protein or variety. Whatever it is, it can lead to a lot of frustration, guilt, and worry, can’t it? I know, I’m in the same boat.
But I constantly have to remind myself that my job isn’t to get my daughter to eat something on her plate. As a parent, your job is simply to provide the opportunity for your child to eat. That’s it!
You’re in it for the long game, not the short game. Getting your child to eat a bite of broccoli is a short game win, but does it really help your long game strategy? Will it help your child actually learn to like (or, gasp, love) broccoli later in life? That’s what our ultimate mission as a parent is—to help our child enjoy vegetables as an adult instead of refusing to eat peas because, as a kid, they were forced to eat them before being able to leave the table (maybe you can relate?!).
Just like when a parent enrolls their child in various activities, they don’t force their child to play something they don’t actually want to do anymore. Sure, you can “get” them to play, but will it actually help them enjoy the activity? Most likely, it’ll only leave a bad taste in their mouth and they’ll resist doing it even more. Sound familiar to the dinner table?
If we get our kids to eat something at the table by pressuring or bribing, what’s that actually telling our kids? They’re hearing that foods are “bad” or “good” and maybe the broccoli isn’t something that they should like in the first place.
Here are some things you can do instead for a long-term win:
Remember that fruit also contains several of the same nutrients as vegetables. Even if your child isn’t as excited about vegetables right now, they can still get the nutrients they need by having a variety of different fruits. Vegetables don’t have to be the be-all, end-all for having a healthy child.
Lower the pressure at the table. This can actually help your child be more willing to try the foods. Rather than focusing on the food and the eating happening (or not happening) at the table, focus on conversation and the time spent together as a family. Would you want somebody watching you eat for the entire meal and requesting you to eat more of your veggies? Probably not.
Keep offering the vegetables and a variety of foods. So often parents tell me the short list of foods their kid will eat and that’s all they end up serving them. But our kids won’t learn to like new foods if they’re not given the chance to even see them. It’s still an exposure and a win if your child sees the food on the table, even if it doesn’t actually go in their mouth.
Remember your goal: You’re in it for the long-game. Trust your child to eat what they need and how much of it they need. We can only provide the opportunity. And that’s a really freeing place to be.
Kara Hoerr is a wife, mom to a 1-year-old, and a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in family and childhood nutrition. She’s originally from Iowa, but has called Madison home for the past 9 years. When she’s not helping families and individuals end mealtime battles or quit diets for good, she’s usually baking or cooking in her kitchen, running or biking on the Madison trails, or relaxing with a good book. She never expected to start her own business, but here she is with Kara Hoerr Nutrition. She offers nutrition coaching and online courses to help moms (and dads!) out at the dinner table. To learn more or to set up a free discovery call, email Kara at [email protected], or find her on Instagram.