A friend of mine was telling me the other day how his 6 year-old son loves fruit and vegetables and how he regularly eats steamed broccoli or carrots as a snack! My friend says he’s been giving vegetables to his son as snacks since his boy was a toddler so he’s never known anything else. Cue me feeling like a bad mum. My 8 year old daughter is very picky and doesn’t like vegetables at all, and I feel like I’m to blame. I used to give my daughter rice cakes or plain crackers as snacks rather than fruit and vegetables. I feel I should have been a bit better at sticking to my guns and giving her more vegetables when she was younger. Is it too late to try and introduce more vegetables – or are tastebuds fixed at an early age – and how do I go about it? I’ve tried offering different types of food but she just refuses to eat anything green or healthy! Any advice would be appreciated.
Dr Emma Haycraft says:
You mustn’t feel like a bad Mum as the good news is that it’s never too late to introduce new foods into a child’s diet or to help them learn to accept and like a wider range of foods; I was 27 before I started to like olives!
The key is exposure – what I mean here is to keep offering fruits and vegetables to your daughter. Do this over a period of time (weeks and months) and try to offer the fruits and vegetables in different ways, for example, some of us love carrots raw but don’t like them boiled. This process of exposure – or repeated offering – can take time, so keep at it but never force or pressure her to eat a food. However, gentle encouragement to pick up, smell, lick or try the food can all help to make children more willing to eat it.
You mention that your daughter isn’t keen on green food which is really common. Green vegetables are often bitter and so tend to be less easily accepted by children, so she may need to ‘learn’ to like such flavours. Repeated tasting is the best way to achieve this so include green vegetables with meals or as snacks and see how you get on. We’ve developed a free ‘exposure monitor’ to help parents keep track of how many times they’ve offered a food and whether it was eaten or enjoyed. If you might find this helpful, you can access it here.
It’s not uncommon for children to point-blank refuse to eat foods when they’re offered at mealtimes and it’s important that mealtimes don’t become a battleground or unenjoyable for the family. With this in mind, there are lots of other things you can do outside of a mealtime to help increase your daughter’s healthy food intake, such as involving her in meal preparation, shopping or cooking. Children are more likely to eat food they’ve been involved in preparing. You could also have a family challenge where everyone has to find out as much as they can about a fruit or vegetable – maybe citrus fruits or cabbages – and introduce or offer those foods as meals and snacks throughout the week.
So, keep offering fruits and vegetables in different forms, include your daughter in meal preparation/shopping, praise and encourage her when she does try new food, and above all, keep mealtimes relaxed and happy. It might take time for her to learn to enjoy new foods but offering them and encouraging her to try them in a low-pressure way has been shown to be really effective. Good luck!