Listen, if you haven’t yet watched How to Dad‘s YouTube Channel, you are missing deadpan humor, adorable kids, and surprisingly helpful parenting tips. Checking it out is worth a few minutes of your time – most of his videos are less than 5 minutes long and they always make my day. But today, I’m going to talk as a dietitian about what I like in this video. ↓
This video illustrates so many true things about teaching kids to eat vegetables – intentionally or unintentionally I’m not sure – but let’s break it down. How to Dad is trying to convince his toddler to eat a plate of broccoli and carrots with varying amounts of success.
She starts out by biting a carrot, and then putting it back on the plate without eating any
This is normal and good and it is how kids explore new foods. Any exposure to new foods is a step in the right direction. Licking, biting, touching, or even just smelling a new (or less liked) food gives a child more experience with a food and means they are becoming more interested or less scared of it. Even if they spit it out, it’s still progress. (And teaching them to politely spit out food can take some of the pressure out of trying new foods)
When the vegetables are covered with cheese or ketchup, she just eats the cheese and ketchup
There’s nothing wrong with using other preferred foods to make vegetables more palatable, but know it won’t always work. Kids will eat what they want. Same goes for hiding veggies – it might work, but kids are also pretty smart and might just see right through it.
“Pounding the table” doesn’t work
In this video it results in oh my goodness tiny adorable table pounding! But in real life, ordering or forcing kids to eat vegetables is more likely to result in a power struggle than learning to eat vegetables. They might eat them, but they’re more likely to view it as a chore than to learn to enjoy eating them, and who likes chores?
They play with their food
This has varying degrees of success – in fact most of the play doesn’t result in eating any vegetables, not until the end of the video. However, it does have the advantage of increasing exposure to and familiarity with the food (see point 1)
She eats the broccoli after watching her dad eat it
This is HUGE. Kids learn by watching and imitating you. If they never see you eating vegetables, they’re much less likely to want to eat them. On the other hand, if they see you regularly eating vegetables along with all other foods like it’s no big deal, they’re likely to grow up learning that vegetables are just something you eat, like hamburgers or toast.
She is having fun
Obviously these two have a positive relationship. Even when the dad is “pounding the table” she thinks its a fun game. And every interaction, even the ones that don’t result in eating vegetables, is happy. Obviously it’s unrealistic to expect you to have 100% happy moments with your kids (especially with a toddler), but making mealtimes an overall positive environment by having positive conversations, promoting good table etiquette, not creating power struggles, etc. can make a big difference in promoting an overall healthy relationship with food, not to mention trying new foods.
She eats the most vegetables when How to Dad isn’t even paying attention to her
The food is there in front of her, but there’s no pressure on her, and no one’s trying to get her to do anything.
There are a lot of attempts and not a lot of actually eating vegetables
Studies show kids may need to be exposed to a food up to 20 times before they even try it, not to mention liking it or eating it regularly. Being exposed to a food can eating it, but it can also include playing with the food, helping prepare the food, and smelling it, touching it or licking it (see the first point). It may seem like kids will never eat new foods, but don’t give up! If they never see it or interact with it, they will surely never learn to eat it!
I know it can be hard and frustrating, but you can do it! They can do it! You’re just helping them practice the skill of eating new foods, which like any skill, takes practice!
In summary, what should you learn from this?
Keep serving the vegetables, keep eating the vegetables (and let your kids see you doing it), don’t make it a big deal, be prepared that it might take a long time, and know that that’s ok.
Note this also applies to any other food that you want your kids to learn to eat, just substitute “fish”, “beans” or “croissants” for vegetables in the article above 🙂
If you’re looking for more information and encouragement on this topic, I also recommend checking out feedinglittles.com or following @feedinglittles . Great accurate information (they are a dietitian and occupational feeding therapist team), practical tips, and overall great positive attitude!
Want to read even more? Here are more resources: