Raising kids who love to eat their veggies

I often recommend the “just one bite” suggestion. The rule states that your child must have at least one bite of everything on her plate, which will gradually allow her to discover that some foods are not so bad.

by Dr. Philip Wazny — 

“Ewww! I do not like vegetables!” Unfortunately, I hear this comment all too often from the many children in my practice. On the one hand, it is not terribly surprising, since infants start out eating very sweet-to-the-taste breast milk or formula and then are expected to simply switch over to more bitter-tasting vegetables, somewhere between six and 12 months.

On the other hand, it is universally understood that vegetables are a necessary and healthy addition to children’s diets and can open a world of fresh and delicious flavors to their developing palates. Are there ways to help children enjoy vegetables and other foods that are good for them, but are not commonly asked for? Read on and I will share a few of my secrets.

Kids need somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 calories a day to maintain healthy tissues, proper hormone production, a healthy immune system and the production of enough energy to keep up with their active lifestyles. Unfortunately, many children consume unhealthy sources of calories which can lead to illness, fatigue and developmental delays. Major culprits include the sweet and less-than-nutritious food choices that are inexpensive and all too available.

A recent study showed that one-third of a child’s daily exposure to mass media (i.e., TV, radio, the Internet, etc.) contains food of some sort in the message. Of that time, a significant amount is devoted to promoting cereals and sweets. So it is little wonder that children are frequently asking for unhealthy snacks, especially sweets.

Delaying a child’s exposure to sweets for as long as possible will prevent his/her taste buds from becoming accustomed to sweet foods. In fact, research has demonstrated that consistent exposure to non-sweet foods will improve a child’s desire for them. In other words, if kids are not regularly given sweets, their taste buds will not miss the sweet taste when it is not found in the good foods they do eat.

A wonderful mantra in the field of parenting is “lead by example.” Kids who see their parents eat in an unhealthy way are much more likely to eat poorly themselves. If children see their parents eating healthy foods, studies have shown that children are much more likely to eat healthier foods.

I often recommend the “just one bite” suggestion. The rule states that your child must have at least one bite of everything on her plate, which will gradually allow her to discover that some foods are not so bad. At first, you might have a little trouble enforcing the rule, but be persistent and your child will stop fighting it — I promise. Plus, it is a great way to introduce a new food every three to four days and to get kids to try new foods on a regular basis. Do not force your child to eat more than one bite, but insist on at least one.

Recent studies suggest that it takes more than 17 exposures to a food before a child will potentially like and ask for it specifically. Most parents try three to four times at most and then give up. Be persistent and get children involved with actively participating in food choices and preparation. The next time you take the kids to the grocery store, allow them to pick out any fruit or vegetable from the produce section they want and help them prepare it.

Many small children love dipping their food, which can be a great way to get them to eat raw vegetables or something that they typically will not eat plain. Try hummus, natural (unsweetened) peanut or almond butter, unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon, black bean dip or yogurt. All of these dips, in addition to being great tasting, provide a number of healthy ingredients, including protein, fiber and good fats.

Family meals together are another important aspect of getting kids to eat a healthy diet. Numerous studies have been made touting the benefits of eating together as a family, including less obesity in both parents and their children. In addition, a Columbia University study found that kids who had meals less than twice a week with the family were three times more likely to try marijuana, and two times more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

Healthy nutritional choices for children need to be paramount to ensure that they get the nutrients, vitamins and co-factors their developing bodies need. As parents, we have the opportunity to be nutrition mentors to our children as we lead by example, offer creative and healthy food choices and are actively involved in their food selection, both at the dinner table and at the grocery store.

Most importantly, remember to have fun while buying, preparing and eating food — these can be some of the best memories you and your family will have.


Dr. Philip Wazny is a naturopathic physician whose focus includes natural hormone balancing, pediatrics and pain management. He is in practice at Integrative Health in Scottsdale, Ariz., along with Drs. Alan Christianson and Ann Lovick. 480-657-0003 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 2, April/May 2012.

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