The Great Veggie Battle: Getting a Child to Eat Vegetables

Courtesy of Alison Pipkalejs
Courtesy of Alison Pipkalejs

by alison pipkalejs

Today I experienced one of the most epic and common battles between nanny and child. I attempted to make a three-year-old little girl eat vegetables. I know, I'm a monster. I thought today is the day, let's make this happen.

Stealthy, calm, and nonchalant, I placed the peas and carrots, about ten each, on the plate in between the hot dog and cheese. I knew my charge would notice, but I didn't think a bloodcurdling scream would follow. "I DON'T LIKE THEEESESE!!!!" she informed me at a pitch only a dog could hear. I tried to reason with her and explained I had a freezer pop with her name on it, any color her little heart desired, if she could just try to eat some peas and carrots.

Her response? "But I don't like these." Right, but if you could just try a bite...

"But I don't like these!"

Okay, so my idea wasn't going quite as planned. She must have read Sun Tzu's The Art of War. I had to switch tactics. Good Cop has left the building; Bad Cop is in the house.

"Okay, so you are not getting a freezer pop unless you eat your peas and carrots," I said. We began to argue. There was a heavy sigh, eye roll, and a yell, but then I stopped. I realized I didn't need to be doing this. I am the adult. I can enforce the rules and I don't have to explain myself. There comes a point though when you have to ask yourself who's in charge.

This is a common scenario. Duking it out over eating veggies is one of the challenges of caring for a child. You have to stand your ground. You have to be the boss no matter what because if you give a kid an inch, they'll take a mile. Cliché? Maybe. 100% true? Absolutely.

There are other things you can do to make this battle happen less often and not be as explosive when it does. Here are three helpful hints I've learned over the years that are simple and effective.

1. Don't give out snacks in between meals and if the child claims they are "starving" you can offer fruit and see how hungry they really are. Works every time!

2. Sneak the veggies into their food by blending or mashing them. There are so many recipes now to make it so that your charges won’t even realize they’re eating vegetables.

3. Dessert is a treat, not a necessity. No veggies? No dessert. No negotiating.

We ended our great veggie battle that day with my little friend tossing the peas and carrots onto the floor. I sent her to her room. She yelled, cried, screamed, and felt the need to remind me that I'm not her mom. But no quicker than how she began her fit of rage, she stopped. I heard silence and then the pitter patter of little feet coming into the kitchen. "I'm sorry, Al-o-sin (I love how she pronounces my name). I shouldn't have done that. I don't deserve a freezer pop." It was over. Next time I will blend and mash until her tummy is full of veggies and she doesn’t even know it!

If you’re finding yourself stuck in a situation working with a charge who simply refuses to eat anything that’s healthy for them, remember to stay calm. There are going to be challenges of all sorts every day. Choose your battles wisely and remember who is in charge. You.