That’s a refrain that rings out in homes all over the country at least once each day. Well, in most homes with kids.
Forcing kids to eat vegetables is one of the prerogatives of parenthood. And veggies are good for kids — they are among the healthiest ingestible substances — chock full of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and more. So we parents are within our rights to be jerks about making offspring eat plants.
Some of today’s parents may give their kids choices about which veggies to eat, or perhaps don’t even make them eat veggies, though I think that may be termed child abuse (can you say, “heli-cop--ter”?). That said, most of us have vegetable horror tales from our own childhoods. And I say, hell yeah to that — more fodder for the therapists.
Here are a few examples of abuse via Brussels sprouts I've collected: A good friend of mine here in Asheville says her Dad used to threaten to duct tape her and her brother to the kitchen chairs and use a slingshot to shoot mashed potatoes mixed with veggies into their mouths. And he was a wacky enough parent that these two thought he might actually follow through. So they ate their vegetables.
My middle sister admits that she used to drop squash and peas down her high-waisted flowered underpants when she was a girl (though her husband says she still wears the same panties —they're just no longer full of spinach). Then she’d go flush the hated veggies down the toilet. Or surrepititously feed them to the dog. Who must’ve been starved because my dog won’t eat squash if it’s fed to him on a silver platter with a side of beef tenderloin.
My sister adds: “I used to hide food in my underpants all the time. I probably hid salmon croquets in my underpants, too.”
But we’re not here to talk about fishy undies. We’re here to talk about vegetables.
According to research, there may be a reason kids hate veggies. Children’s taste receptors are more sensitive than adults, and a portion of the population may be supersensitive to bitter flavors (they're called supertasters). Veggies can taste bitter, especially the cruciferous ones that all of us hated before we met MSG, like broccoli and cauliflower and cabbage.
But there are ways to get your kids to eat these foods, even the yucky ones. One way is to mix them with foods your kids already like to eat. So chop up some red peppers and onions in really tiny pieces and put them in pizza and spaghetti sauce. Or puree them and add to chicken soup.
Or serve them raw with dips. Kids love to dip stuff — into peanut butter, ranch dressing or piles of Parmesan cheese. In fact, in my opinion, adding cheese or cheese sauce to any vegetable makes it better. And I’m no longer a kid. In most areas of life.
Also, don’t either punish your kids for not eating their veggies or reward them for doing so. We’ve all heard the stories about children being forced to sit at the dinner table for hours into the night until they ingest their overcooked Lima beans (which I still think are nasty). That probably isn’t gonna persuade them to enjoy these health-promoting foodstuffs. I’d say just lay on the cheese sauce and don’t make a big deal out of it.
And rewarding kids for eating certain things teaches them that those are punishments they need to survive in order to get that damn chocolate brownie.
Like most kids, I wasn’t a huge veggie lover. But nowadays, I crave spinach. And tomatoes. And even, occasionally, broccoli. So there’s always hope...