When Children Say 'No' to New Foods

When it's time to eat vegetables, does your child do the Brussels sprout pout?

Well, don't give up. It can take eight to 10 tries before children accept a new food.

Children are born with a natural preference for sweet foods and develop a liking for salty foods at around 4 months. That's combined with an innate suspicion of foods unknown to them. But if a child rejects a food at first, it doesn't mean they'll always dislike it.

Conditioning affects food choices. If a food is served in a positive context, at a party or during a holiday, children make a positive association with that food, especially if it is a fatty, sweet food. But vegetables are often presented in coercive, negative contexts: "Eat your vegetables!" If the entire family eats fruits and vegetables, your child will develop an appetite for them. You should set a good example for your child.

Some cooked vegetables can smell and taste very strong, especially to children, who have more taste buds than adults.

A lack of fruits, veggies

The USDA recommends 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily for an adult. Smaller servings of raw leafy vegetables, other vegetables, or vegetable juice may be sufficient for a child. For better approximations of a child’s requirements visit the USDA's website.

If your child doesn't like Brussels sprouts, maybe you should offer broccoli instead—or any vegetable that provides vitamins, minerals, fiber, and carbohydrates to fuel a healthy, growing body.

Serve them lots of fruit, too. It has the sweetness children crave and gives them the nutrients they need.

What to do

Here are some tricks to get your child to try the green stuff:

  • Experiment. Try different vegetables in different ways, like standing broccoli florets in mashed potatoes and calling them "little trees in the snow."

  • Don't overcook. Steam vegetables lightly so they taste better.

  • Teach by example. If you don't eat vegetables, your kids won't either.

  • Shop with your children. Let them pick a vegetable they like.

  • Watch them grow. Go to a farm where you can pick your own, or plant a garden.

  • Serve finger foods. Cut carrots, celery or green peppers into dipping sticks and serve with a low-fat dip. For younger children, remove strings from celery and don't serve small pieces of raw vegetables. They could be a choking risk.

  • Add color. Use red bell peppers, bright carrot strips, and different types and colors of lettuce. Bake shoestring "fries" out of deep orange sweet potatoes.

  • Keep trying. They might eat those green beans next time.

  • Don't reward or threaten. Dangling dessert in front of them as a reward merely teaches them to want sweets more. Threatening punishment has the same result—it puts vegetables in a negative context.