by Wyatt Myers
June 14, 2010
Some babies love vegetables. Unfortunately, my son is not one of them. When I visit him at daycare during snack time, I’ll often notice an untouched pile of green beans and carrots on his plate while the other kids’ plates are clean.
It seems like no big deal; my son doesn’t like vegetables. He’ll learn to, just like I did. Then again, his flat-out refusal to eat any of the healthy stuff on his plate is enough to make me question what I’m doing wrong as a parent. Is he getting enough nutrients from other foods? Is there any way to “trick” him into eating his veggies?
I figured I wasn’t the only parent whose baby is a picky eater, so I reached out to some nutrition experts for their advice for veggie-averse infants.
1. Start with veggies first. This age-old advice has been questioned by some, but the experts I spoke with agreed it was a good idea: When you begin introducing your infant to baby food, start with the vegetable flavors first (save the fruits for later). “Babies tend to develop their taste for sweeter foods quicker than for sour and salty foods,” says Heather Russell, R.D., a pediatric registered dietitian at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Paterson, New Jersey. “That’s why I usually recommend parents start providing vegetables before fruits when solid foods are appropriate to introduce to the child.”
2. “Load” the spoon properly. Once you have introduced both vegetables and fruits, there’s a simple strategy for keeping them interested in the vegetables. “One idea that works is to ‘load’ the spoon with a vegetable first and dip the spoon into the fruit in order to ‘lead’ with a sweet fruit taste on the spoon,” says Linda Heller, R.D., clinical nutrition manager of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and editor of Infant Child Adolescent Nutrition.
3. Don’t give up. Children’s complete and utter refusal of something they don’t want can be maddening, but you just have to keep trying…over and over and over again. “It takes a child on average seven to eight offerings before he might actually try a new food,” says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and co-author of Expecting 411, Baby 411 and Toddler 411. “But don’t make it a big deal; just offer—do not force. Otherwise you can bet your child will refuse.”
4. Sneak them into “fun” foods. While it’s certainly not easy to “trick” a baby, you might be able to persuade yours to give vegetables another try by sneaking them into foods they like. “Apple sauce and pureed bananas blend nicely with just about every vegetable,” says Heller. As they grow older, you can “hide” them in fun foods that kids already love. Some examples include pizzas, casseroles, quesadillas, or omelets. Or get even sneakier, says Russell, and puree the vegetables into sauces, spreads, and soups. “Many children like to dip raw vegetables into a variety of dips such as salad dressings, yogurt, and even peanut butter,” adds Heller.
5. Offer them enthusiastically. Eating food is supposed to be fun, not a chore, so when it comes to getting your baby excited about food, it’s all about presentation. “Face your child while feeding and offer the vegetable enthusiastically and with a smile!” says Heller.
6. Be a good role model. Of course, if you want your child to eat healthy, you need to do it, too. After all, your child is much more likely to want to eat what’s already on your plate. “If vegetables are prepared and offered on a daily basis, there is a better chance the child will eat and incorporate them into their diet,” says Russell.
7. Empower them. Finally, as your children grow older, you can keep them involved and excited with healthy eating simply by giving them more power. “Encourage the child to pick out one new vegetable they would like to try each week,” says Russell. “This allows them to feel like they are making their own decisions and not just being told what to eat.”
My 14-month-old isn’t mature enough to choose his own veggies yet, but I did notice a positive development over the weekend. As I was working on this post, sure enough, my son dug his hand into a fresh garden salad dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and began to munch happily away. Maybe there’s hope for him after all!
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