One Trick to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables - picture of young girl holding up carrots from garden
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One Simple Trick to Get Your Kids to Eat More Vegetables

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A few months ago, I realized I had been treating my kids like second-class citizens. While I always go out of my way to make Greg and I delicious, healthy meals from scratch, I had gotten in the habit of choosing “fast and easy” when it came to what the kids were eating.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have always made my kids eat fruits and vegetables. Always. And even though I’m cheap as hell, I spend a ton of money on fresh fruit and veggies at the grocery store every month. The big problem is what my kids have been eating as their “main dish.” Instead of having what we’re having, I’ve been making them peanut butter and jelly, homemade mac-n-cheese, or plain spaghetti, etc. to go with their sides of fruits and veggies.

For some reason, my kids have been living with the illusion that they only like to eat ten or twelve things. So when I would make something like vegetable soup, falafel, salad, or stir fry, they would turn up their noses and demand I make them something else.

I have to admit, they were seriously wearing me down until a few months ago. I absolutely hate arguing over what we’re eating for dinner every night. I mean, what’s worse than cooking for an hour only to hear someone complain about it the entire time you eat?

Eventually though, I snapped. Not only did I get tired of making two (sometimes three) separate dinners every night, but I got sick of my kids not eating the healthy and nutritious main dishes I was taking the time to prepare. So, I implemented a new dinner program that meant everyone would eat the same thing. And it worked almost right away, and with almost no effort on my part.

How I Got My Kids to Eat More Vegetables

I’m sure you’re wondering what this magic dinner formula is right about now. Brace yourselves; it’s a doozy. Here is the exact process I used to get my kids to eat whatever I put in front of them.

  • Step 1: Make one meal for dinner. (Make it healthy and nutritious.)
  • Step 2: Don’t make other stuff. (Seriously. Don’t.)
  • Step 3: Tell everyone: “This is dinner. Now EAT!” (Ignore their sad little eyes.)
  • Step 4: Ignore requests for other food. (Less talking and more chewing, please.)

Amazingly, that was all it took. When my kids asked to opt out of vegetable soup, beans and cornbread (or whatever), I started saying: “Nope, this is dinner. Eat it or starve!” Sometimes, I even said it in my crazy, scary mommy voice.

And I stopped feeling bad about it – even when they went to bed hungry at first. I mean, they weren’t scary hungry or in any danger of starving…but they definitely did not load up on vegetarian chili or tofu scramble when we first implemented this new strategy. Nope, they’re pretty stubborn. They are my kids, after all!

Eventually, they did start to enjoy the dishes I had been making Greg and I all this time. And now that it’s been a month or two, they’ve made their peace with eating what everyone else is having – whether they want to or not. I mean, my six-year-old is now a self-professed lover of beans! Beans!  She even asks for beans for dinner, as well as lentils, which she calls “little beans.”

Why Was I Afraid to Take Control?

As parents, we have control over what our children eat. After all, they can’t eat what we don’t buy or prepare for them. And if we’re really against them eating junk food or stuff that isn’t that great for them, we can just not bring it into the house.

So, why is it so hard to tell them no?

I have to admit, it was mostly laziness and complacency on my part. After working a full day, the last thing I wanted to do was argue over who was going to eat what. And since my kids are at school all day, I don’t want to spend my evenings mad at them either.

But honestly, that’s the wrong approach to take. Being a parent means more than making kids happy all the time. It means doing whatever is best for them – whether they are happy about it or not. And yes, it means not letting them eat peanut butter and jelly as an entrée every night for heaven’s sake. Because, gross! What kind of parent does that?

Oh, wait. Apparently, me.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, I’m extremely happy with how things have turned out. My kids have gotten used to chowing down on hippie vegetarian food for dinner every night, and I’m spending a lot less time arguing with them over it. As a bonus, our mac-n-cheese and PB&J consumption has gone down considerably.

And all it took was one simple step: I quit treating my children like second-class citizens. Instead of making them what they wanted, I make one meal and everyone eats it or starves. It isn’t always easy, but when it comes to my kids, I know it’s the right thing to do.

As a side note, if you think meal planning is a total pain like I do, you might want to try a meal planning system. Check into something like “The $5 Meal Plan.” Instead of busting out your calendar and doing it yourself, you can spend just a few bucks a month to have somebody do it for you. It’s a nice time saver, and it will help to add some variety to your meals. That way, you don’t end up eating the same 6 or 7 things every week.

How do you get your kids to eat more vegetables? Do you follow the “eat it or starve” mentality in your household?

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12 Comments

  1. We follow this plan except when one of the kids is really sick. We have only had to enforce it a couple times since (knock on wood) my kids are good eaters and not picky. Will this change as they age? Probably, but we will continue to stick to the eat this or you can be hungry.

  2. Our daughter is still young (18 months), but we are trying to do a version of this. She has lots of language now and is always requesting her favorite food (cheese!!). Because I want her to be healthy (and not wicked constipated), I only let her have cheese once a day. We’ve implemented a rule that she eats whatever we cook or pull out of the fridge- she doesn’t get to choose (except for once a day when we give in and let her have some cheese). Once in a while she ends up not eating much supper because of this- but one look at her round tummy makes me feel like she’s probably not going to starve any time soon 🙂

  3. step 4 of process is absolutely true!!!, good plan!!!

  4. I’m still trying to get my teenagers to eat more vegetables. 🙁 They all seem to like different things. We follow the same cooking rule in our house one meal for everyone.

  5. Yeah, I have never understood the short order chef thing. We are far too lazy for that. We don’t make kids eat things they don’t want, but they do have to eat something healthy. They usually like some part of dinner but if they don’t they can have a banana or apple or leftovers from a previous meal.

  6. Can you write a post on how to ignore their sad little eyes? My son’s I can handle, but those little girls…

  7. I follow the same rule that my parents followed which is you can pick out whatever you don’t want to eat as long as you don’t complain. Of course, my son is a toddler so he doesn’t really know that he’s allowed to be picky yet. He just picks out what he likes and then asks for more (always more chicken, never more green beans).

  8. When I see their sad eyes, I kinda give up and prepare what they like. But, I think I have to adopt this kind of strategy. I am gonna be more stricter next year! And, I am looking for better recipes so that they’d like vegetables more.

  9. We are hit or miss on this. If we are eating some really intense Indian or Thai food that I was never exposed to as a kid, I might give them a pass after they try and let them fill up on rice. Sometimes they are surprised and end up liking it. I think the best takeaway here is that if something about my kids is driving me crazy, first I need to evaluate my parenting. That can be so hard to do when I just want to survive the day or meal but I have to remind myself of this all the time.

  10. I hear you, Holly! I’ve been through a similar issue with my daughter and, to large extent, still going through it.

    It’s even tougher when there’s just two of you because it’s easier to just go with what they want, even if it’s not exactly bursting at the seams with vegetables. She always ate what we ate, even as a toddler. Then… the divorce happened and she became very controlling with food. That was nearly 14 years ago and we still struggle with it. So, congratulations on putting your foot down and taking control. I wish I’d done that when this issue first arose. But, when everything else in their life is going to hell in hand basket, you just want to make them happy about something, *anything*. That’s my excuse anyway…

    Happy new year Holly (and Greg). I hope it’s a great one!

  11. We’ve been doing this since the beginning and after the initial battles, it’s been smooth sailing. I understand why some folks buckle, it’s hard to do a day’s work and then come back to fight at dinner. You just want it to be quiet… but the pain you avoid now becomes a bigger pain later.

    And kids will eat when they’re hungry. 🙂

  12. Another idea is to roast the veggies. Roasting caramelizes the sugars in the vegetables bringing out their sweetness. Kids sure do love them better that way.

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