Quick question: Should you lie when children ask what is in their food, just for the sake of getting them to eat vegetables?
My short answer is no, because they need to learn that healthy food can be delicious.
I admit that there have been times I didn’t tell my daughter that the pizza crust was cauliflower, or that the “red pieces” were bell peppers, or that the “green stuff” was spinach. But I made a decision at some point that I needed to be forthright and disclose to my daughter what she is eating. If she doesn’t know what she’s eating, how will she ever learn that the vegetable is tasty? It would be like getting love letters from a “secret admirer” and never learning their identify. Plus, I wouldn’t want someone to lie to me about what I’m eating, and I feel my child deserves the same respect.
At first, I feared that admitting to the vegetables in the food would result in my daughter refusing to eat, however, that is very rarely the case. Instead of blabbing on about how I approach it, I’ll give a run-down of some typical dinner conversations she and I have had at the dining room table.
Daughter: “Mommy, what is this?” Studies food with a mix of interest and hesitation.
Mommy: “It’s soup with kale and potatoes.” I leave it at that. I don’t make any comments about its taste or that she may not like it.
Daughter: Takes a bite, thinks it over. “I like this.”
But sometimes, it doesn’t go so smoothly…
Daughter: “Mommy, what is this?” Studies food with a mix of hesitation and disgust.
Mommy: “It’s cauliflower rice with peas, carrots and tofu. Sort of like Chinese food.”
Daughter: Doesn’t taste it. “I’m not hungry.”
Mommy: “OK, when you are hungry, this is what you’ll have.”
OR she might say:
Daughter: “I don’t want to eat this.”
Mommy: “This is dinner and this is the only thing you will have for dinner.”
OR she might say:
Daughter: “I don’t like cauliflower.”
Mommy: “Just try it.”
Occasionally I will make food that is too spicy or has odd textures, and on those nights, I make her a separate meal, but not because she demands it. If I determine that dinner should be fine for her to eat, that is her only dinner option for the night. It’s not an argument at all. It’s actually completely left up to her to make the choice. Don’t want to eat? OK, but you won’t be snacking on fruit later. I don’t back down from saying that if she eats, she will eat the dinner I made, and she has never gone to bed hungry.
When the decision is left to the child, it gives him or her some control. This not only makes dinnertime more peaceful, it encourages my daughter to try lots of vegetables, herbs, flavors, and ethnic foods. And sometimes she doesn’t love the food, and you know what? That’s OK, too. But she has to at least try.
What do you do to successfully encourage your child to eat healthy foods?