Children Want Foods They Love? They've Got to Eat Their Veggies

Q. How, pray tell, does one persuade a 5-year-old to eat vegetables? We have tried every approach with our daughter, but nothing has worked. Help!

A: No doubt you've told your daughter about the inestimable benefits of vegetables, and no doubt you've discovered that young children couldn't care less. I'll just bet you've gone on and on about how wonderful vegetables taste as you shovel them into your mouth and discovered that young children are completely unimpressed by what you think is delicious. And I just know your daughter has shown you she'd rather sit at the dinner table by herself for hours than eat even one bite of broccoli.

Oh, and she's also demonstrated a remarkable immunity to all manner of threats and stories about the horrible, absolutely awful things that have happened to little girls who didn't eat their vegetable (e.g. hair loss, rickets, turning into boys). I know all this because when my daughter Amy was 5, she refused to eat anything that was green, and none of the above strategies worked on her. Promises didn't work either.

"Amy, darling," I would say, "if you'll eat one bite of green beans, Mommy and Daddy will take you and five of your friends to Disney World for a week!"

"I don't care," she'd say, her arms folded defiantly across her chest.

At which point I - being the impeccable psychologist that I am - would lose it: "Then you'll sit here until you eat every single one of those beans, even if it takes until Christmas!!! And that's my final word on the subject!!!"

"I don't care," she'd say, calmly. My children were immune to behavior modification.

Willie and I finally abandoned all attempts at modern psychology and employed a variation on "Grandma's Rule": When you've done what I tell you to do, you can do what you want to do.

We realized that Amy loved certain foods - roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, grilled cheese sandwiches, to mention a few. A-ha! At suppertime next, we dressed her plate with one teaspoon of mashed potatoes and gravy, two small bites of roast beef, and one green bean, cut in half.

"Amy," we said, "the new rule is that you have to eat everything on your plate before you can have seconds of anything."

Obviously, she didn't have enough on her plate to satisfy her hunger, not to mention that she would eat a plateful of mashed potatoes and gravy, hungry or not. Nonetheless, she ate the beef and the potatoes and said she wasn't hungry any more. We let her up from the table without saying a thing about the two pieces of green bean. An hour later, she said she was hungry. She wanted more mashed potatoes.

"We saved the green beans, Amy," we said. "When you eat them, you can have a wheelbarrow full of mashed potatoes."

"I don't want the green beans!" she shouted. "I want mashed potatoes!"

"And you can have all the mashed potatoes your obdurate little heart desires when you've eaten the green beans. Otherwise, you have to wait until tomorrow to eat. That's the new rule." (Note: This will not cause the child to expire.)

Finally, she ate the green beans, choking and gagging for dramatic effect. And from that day forth, she ate her two bites of green horrible thing - albeit always with great theater - and never went hungry for the foods she absolutely loved. Today, adult Amy is just shy of being a vegetarian.

That Grandma had some good ideas, you know.

Copyright 2001, John K. Rosemond

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