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Ayala Laufer-Cahana, M.D. Headshot

3 Things to Think About Before You Urge Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies

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AYALA LAUFER CAHANA MD
Ayala Laufer-Cahana, M.D.

1. Sales pitches don't work

New research reported by Matt Richtel in the New York Times finds that the best way to "sell" food to kids is to serve it and say absolutely nothing. So OK, you can say that the peas are delicious, that neither helps nor hurts, but telling kids the food has vitamin C, omega 3, is good for their eyesight and will make them strong actually diminishes consumption of said wonder food. The claims devalue the food, research finds.

2. Constant reminders make you a nagger

Do you enjoy being nudged? Criticized? Neither do your kids. If you've never told them that eating vegetables is good and tasty go ahead, but if you've already said it before, trust that the tune's already playing in their head. Kids are self-aware creatures from very early on, have excellent memory and unless you really have new information that they don't already possess, what's the point of pointing at their perceived failures?

If your husband ever decides to pick up his socks it won't be because you reminded him yet again -- your opinion about dirty clothing in plain sight is already known -- but because he decided so himself. Same goes for kids -- don't nag! It might feel good for a brief moment to hear the ring of words you truly believe in float in the air, but it facilitates nothing but a bad atmosphere.

3. Pushing veggies is a bad memory in the making

  • "No dessert until you finish your vegetables."
  • "You won't leave the table until you eat your carrots."
  • "Mom worked really hard to make this meal."
  • "I spent good money on this organic broccoli."

Sounds familiar? Parents resort to all kinds of pressure, rewards and punishments in order to get their kids to eat well, and most of these well-meaning efforts involve veggies.

A study looked at how college students look back on these experiences, and found that -- no surprise -- students' emotional response to these efforts was negative 95 percent of the time: They felt anger, fear, disgust, confusion and even humiliation.

So, it's an unpleasant memory, but maybe tough lessons result in good eating habits? Quite the opposite! 72 percent of the students in the study wouldn't willingly eat whichever food they were pushed to eat with the above coercion methods. Pressuring children to eat a particular food actually reduces their liking and intake of that food.

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Kids are smarter than most people think. I suggest that our working assumption should be that ours are smarter than us. So what gets them to listen, really listen? Our biggest advantage is really in life experience, the ever-elusive "wisdom" we acquire, and above all the commitment to consistently behave like a grownup, which many times boils down to thinking before we speak and sometimes choosing to shut up.

Serve veggies, early, varied and often, eat them yourself, and let that act speak for itself.

Dr. Ayala