The War on Vegetables

My son refuses to eat Broccoli one night, but asks for it the next.


It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that there is a war against vegetables. Vegetables are still not popular or eagerly welcomed by our 4-year-old.  And let’s be honest, they are not cool. You can’t make billions from selling Carrots or Zucchini. You don’t see billboards of Movie Stars or Sports Heros smiling while holding a bunch of Collard Greens or looking sexy while taking a bite of a salad.

My little kids have just started to notice billboards. They ask me what they are about. Hmmm, that lady in a slinky red dress with a wine glass is selling wine. I answer with basic truth, and avoid describing what else I suspect is being sold like the sexy image or appeal.

But that is what got me thinking: peer pressure works just like advertising. Why aren’t we using it to fight childhood obesity or inspire everyone to eat better? Instead, I find myself censoring my kids from obnoxious cartoons or the networks that show them, because I don’t want them to beg me for every toy or new cereal or processed snack shown every two minutes.

During one of the first episodes of Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” TV show, you saw that the processed, prepackaged Public School lunches were cheaper that buying raw ingredients. We’re not talking Organic food here, just simple real foods that required more time to prepare than simply opening packages and using a microwave.

I know, I know that it’s true: eating real food that includes vegetables costs more time and sometimes money.  Yes, I also understand how marketing and economics works. That is why I am trying to train my kids to eat healthy and understand how important food is while they are young. Because the hard truth is that I cannot censor them from real life. A life full of clever advertising trying to tell you what you NEED. They need to learn to think critically for themselves in order to make smart choices.

If you are wondering how our little battle is going on at home, I have a report to share. We’re still using the same strategy I explained before. Our daughter just exclaimed the other day, “I love Kale, Mama.”  She likes it lightly steamed with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt. I wish I could say the same for her brother. His willingness to eat one of three vegetables changes from meal to meal. The other day we had a battle over broccoli.

I am working on a new plan of attack. His preschool has unused raised beds waiting for someone to use for gardening, and I am willing to make that happen. Hopefully peer excitement will ignite some willingness to try new vegetables. We’ve already spent the last two years gardening at a friend’s house and growing Kale, Peas, Broccoli and gleaning extra Collards, Red Peppers, Tomatoes and Strawberries. While my son has been willing to help harvest and enjoys digging in the dirt, he’s never wanted to eat any of it except the Strawberries.

And I’ve already got books on hold from the Library – full of how to teach your kids about nutrition – my hope is to learn something, but I don’t expect a perfect solution. As some really well educated folks have already pointed out, our national health crisis hasn’t been helped by education.

Maybe my battle will be helped by taking my son to see the movie: Mars Needs Moms, because supposedly it starts out with the Mom trying to get her son to eat vegetables. The truth is, I’m willing to experiment, but not beat myself up over this. One mom I know offered some comfort when she advised that it’s an age thing – here daughter magically started eating vegetables after turning 5.  I don’t know if anyone has the right answer for us, but I am willing to look for something that works.

5 thoughts on “The War on Vegetables”

  1. You’re so creative, Holli. Whenever Valor and I have kids, I’m definitely coming to you for ideas on these things. =)

    One thing on the veggies – developmentally, kids can have legitimate, this feels weird in my mouth and makes me want to barf, texture issues for quite a while in early childhood. You’ve said before that Cooper has some pretty strong preferences in life and that those preferences extend to food. Sometimes, the same reasons that kids struggle to sleep or get paint on their hands etc. are the same kinds of reasons that make them okay with a food one day and not okay with it the next. Each time they TRY the food, they are building neural tracts that make the food increasingly more acceptable to their sensory systems. So, every time Cooper just tries a veggie, even if the actual eating of it is unsuccessful, remember that you’re slowing building a railroad track in his kiddo brain that orients him to the smell, texture, taste of the food he has tried. Even a try, while it feels largely unsuccessful, gets him going in the right direction in terms of developmental steps in eating.

    I’m sure you’ve tried these things, but is he willing to touch the veggies? Have you tried “stacking” on his fork where maybe a piece of broccoli gets sandwiched between two pieces of something more palatable? Sometimes just that little introduction can get kids over the hump at one particular meal. When they don’t try it an don’t try it and don’t try it and it just sits there, the pattern of resistance builds up so much that you’re not even overcoming the food anymore – you’re overcoming the resistance.

    Anyway. Totally love all your creative ideas to help your kids understand food. Just throwing out a couple tidbits – keep in mind that I only know about feeding, but nothing about parenting or your kiddos, other than the fact that they’re super cute and cool. =)

    1. Your suggestions make a lot of sense. Thinking about it some more this evening, Cooper has always love routine and is sensitive to changes in his environment, even just noise. It helps me to think that I need to try persistently with variety…like letting him examine a new veggie and watch it transform in the cooking process, or even engage him in doing so.
      We have tried preparing some veggies in different ways, providing various textures. But, I think I should be more creative with that…not sure how yet. He doesn’t like food to mix or even touch each other, but does in something like a muffin or on pizza.
      The train analogy is really encouraging.
      Thank you for taking the time to explain that and for great suggestions.

  2. Oh, I typed “slowing building a railroad track,” but what I meant was SLOWLY building a railroad track. That’s a bit more clear.

    1. That makes a lot of sense. And, I didn’t even catch the typo:)
      I really appreciate your insight and experience. This just confirms a less thorough explanation of how many times you should have your kids try a new food that I just read in the book,”Disease-Proof Your Child,” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. I don’t really like the title, but am finding lots of useful info. I like your explanation better!

      Thanks for reading and sharing your insight:)

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