One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons shows an extremely displeased Calvin at the dinner table scowling and refusing to eat the "green stuff" on his plate. His ever imperturbable father doesn't miss a beat, nods his head, and says, "Good idea, Calvin. It's a plate of toxic waste that will turn you into a mutant if you eat it." This sounds like a great idea to Calvin, of course, and he immediately devours his entire meal with great enthusiasm. His mother looks on skeptically and says, "There has GOT to be a better way to make him eat!"
Indeed, one of the consistent struggles we encounter in our work counseling kids and families on healthy eating is how to get kids to eat more vegetables. Whatever nutrition beliefs you may subscribe to—low-fat, low-carb, high-carb, etc.—everyone agrees that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a good idea. They are packed with vital vitamins, minerals, fiber, and many other healthful ingredients that often have remarkable long-term health benefits.
Phytochemicals, a diverse class of compounds found in many vegetables, are believed to be associated with the prevention of several of the leading causes of death in the U.S., including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. If you can develop the habits of eating fruits and vegetables regularly in your kids while they are young, they will reap lifelong rewards.
Easier said than done. It's a rare kid that would rather eat a plate of steamed asparagus than a heaping bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs (Calvin's favorite cereal). Why is this? Don't they know what's good for them? In fact, there are many good reasons why cauliflower floret may seem about as appealing to your child as a trip to the dentist:
Need for independence
In the first three to four years of life, children are taking their first, cautious steps towards developing a sense of their own identity and independence. While they still feel a deep need for security and unconditional love, they also need to begin to assert their own wills and carve out some territory for themselves. But this is awfully difficult for three-year-olds, given their almost complete dependence on the adults around them. One of the few areas on which they can exert any influence is what foods are allowed to enter their mouths. And which foods are imposed upon them at the dinner table with the greatest vigor and most impassioned pleas? Spinach. Broccoli. Steamed carrots. Peas. If you are an independent-minded, progressive three-year old with a mind of your own, are you likely to get excited about these things? I don't think so.