Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

I Understand Why Kids Won't Eat Vegetables

It is time to stop selling vegetables as healthy, research shows.

Source: depositphotos/Dave_Pot

It's no secret that American children don't eat their veggies. Still, we are shocked every time we read the statistics: Kids are more likely to eat french fries than vegetables. One in five 1-year-olds don't eat any vegetables on a given day.

And the only thing we can think of to change the situation is to tell parents again how important it is that their kids eat vegetables. Question: Is it news to you that it's important for kids to eat their veggies?

I don't really see the benefit of doubling-down on the pressure parents feel to get their kids to eat more greens. It just creates a vicious cycle: Public health officials pressure parents. Parents pressure their children. Nothing changes. Could pressure be the problem? Hmmm.

I understand why kids won't eat vegetables. It's the same reason most adults don't eat vegetables. If it's good for me, it can't be good.

Health information, it turns out, reduces consumption. In other words, the more you talk up the healthy benefits of eating vegetables, the less your kids want to eat it. This is the downside of what I call, the medicalization of the meal. Vegetables = medicine = necessary = taste bad.

But here's something else to consider: talk up any benefit of vegetable consumption and you're "toast." In one study, preschoolers were told that eating carrots would help them read. In another, the kids were told that eating carrots would help them count. Did this make the children want to eat the carrots? Nope.

In case you think the problem here is the carrots, the researchers replicated the "counting study" with crackers. Cracker consumption went down.

The researchers concluded that making food instrumental in achieving a goal, any goal, relative to presenting the food as yummy, decreases consumption.

(After the study the children were told that neither carrots nor crackers could improve their reading or counting skills, so don't worry that the kids were mislead.)

If this food is useful, it cannot also be tasty.

The solution is obvious. Kids are hedonists. They only want to eat food they think will taste good. It's time to stop selling health and to start selling taste.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

About the Author
Dina Rose Ph.D.

Dina Rose, Ph.D., is a sociologist and the author of the book It's Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating and the blog It's Not About Nutrition.