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Should You Force Kids to Eat Their Broccoli?

Parents are anxious to have children eat healthy.

At the dinner table, you can feel the battle brewing. Broccoli is on the plate. Your child looks you in the eyes, squints with determination, and lets you know—it’s on. Those veggies aren’t going down without a fight.

Today’s focus on healthy food can cause parents to feel more pressure and anxiety surrounding what their kids eat. The question then becomes how much should you force it? To what degree do you press the issue with your kids at mealtime?

The following are some guidelines that can help keep healthy eating a priority, but also keep the dinner table a happy place.

Don’t Force It

If you find yourself dreading meals with your kids, it’s time to pull back. Turning the dinner table into a battle station may lead to other issues with food later on in life. You want eating the right foods to be a pleasant experience, not a command. Lower your frustration and anxiety about it, and chances are your kids will be more relaxed and receptive.

Keep Introducing New Foods

It’s been shown that it can take a dozen or more times of introducing a new food before children get accustomed to it. So don’t give up if they don’t like something the first time. Even one or two bites of a veggie can be a victory for you as it slowly builds their acceptance of that taste.

Reward Healthy Eating

Some parents are above bribery. I’m not. Call it positive reinforcement if it sounds better. Offering a treat like a lollypop or a nonfood incentive like stickers for eating something healthy can work on occasion. It is best to do this only on occasion though. You don’t want your kids to consistently associate healthy foods as not a treat.

Remember one of the best rewards is your praise. Help them to feel proud of themselves for eating delicious foods that will make them grow healthy and strong.

Give Kids a Sense of Control and Choice

A popular opinion among mental health professionals is that children shouldn’t be offered separate meals. They should eat the meal that everyone else is eating. After all, it can be impractical and indulgent to prepare separate meals for the entire family. And if kids know they can wiggle out of what they are supposed to be eating they will.

However, I practice this strategy with moderation. Some days are designated as family meals, but some are free days. On family meal days, try to make a couple of things the kids don’t absolutely hate and attempt to offer as much choice in the matter as possible.

For snacks, offer a wide range of healthy options for children to choose from.

Eat The Way You Want Them To Eat

The only real way to win the healthy eating war with your kids is to do it yourself. If you are persistent and consistent about serving the food that you want them to eat, eventually they’ll eat. It will be slow. It will be sporadic. It will try your patience to the last degree, but it will happen.