Your child may be missing out on a key food group
Toddlers are more likely to eat French fries than green vegetables on a given day, a U.S. survey reported.
Despite expert recommendations to consume a vegetable with every meal and snack, many toddlers go days without eating them – a habit that can put little ones on a road to continued poor nutrition into adulthood.
“Kids will often refuse to eat their vegetables, but the key for parents is to be persistent and keep trying,” said Dr. Matt Smiley, a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “For parents, their job is to provide the opportunity to eat, but it’s the child’s job to choose to eat or not to eat. You can’t force them! The important thing is to make the mealtime process a pleasant, fun experience and not a battle.”
Smiley offers the following tips:
- Focus on how the foods taste, their sensory qualities (crunchy or smooth) and how they help our bodies. This gives kids some degree of control in the eating process because parents are in charge of what goes on their kids’ plates, but the kids are in charge of choosing what to eat from that plate.
- Don’t use dessert as a reward for finishing vegetables; this communicates that some foods are “better” than others.
- Instead of saying, “See, that didn’t taste so bad, did it?” try saying, “Did you like it? How did it taste? Was it crunchy or smooth? Which one was your favorite?” Phrases like these make your child feel like he or she is making the choices and shifts the focus toward the taste of the food rather than on who was right or wrong.
- Instead of saying, “Please just try one for me,” try saying, “This is called a radish; it’s crunchy like a carrot. They grow from the ground.” This changes the focus from eating for parents’ approval to the sensory qualities of the food and where it comes from.
- Keep offering different types of vegetables and trying different preparations (raw versus cooked, for example). Ask your child which way tastes better to them.
- Involve the child in the food preparation process. Plant a vegetable garden together. Ask your child to pick one or two new vegetables at the grocery store. Prepare meals together; ask the child to clean the vegetables, put them in a bowl or use kid-safe ceramic knives to help chop the vegetables with supervision. Kids will be more likely to try something if they are involved in growing it, choosing it or preparing it.
- For older kids who have become a bit set in their ways, don’t associate eating vegetables with garnering approval or earning love. This can lead to the child having unhealthy attitudes and beliefs about food and themselves.
According to the study, one in four 6- to 11-month-olds and one in five 1-year-olds had not eaten any vegetables at all on the days they were surveyed. Some 26 percent of 1-year-olds ate French fries the day before the survey, compared with just 7.5 percent who ate dark green vegetables and 17 percent who ate deep yellow vegetables.
These results were pulled from data found in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a study of food and beverage consumption among children from birth to age 23 months conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2005 to 2012.
The percentage of 1-year-olds eating canned or frozen fruit decreased by more than 10 percent between 2005 and 2012, and consumption of dark green vegetables decreased by more than 50 percent, according to the study.
Two bright spots in the study: Fruit juice consumption among some infants decreased, and Mexican-American toddlers are drinking soda less often.
About the Author
Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital and Advocate BroMenn Medical Center. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.