To hide or not to hide: the vegetable question

My 3-year-old is currently going through a growth spurt. He is super tired, super hungry and super emotional all at once. I consider it training for when he’s a teenager. When I picked him up from preschool yesterday I read his little take-home slip of paper that lists what he ate that day. I was unsurprised to see that he had eaten all of his lunch and been given seconds. But what made my heart sing was that he had eaten his cauliflower.

Historically, cauliflower has not been his jam. He’s big on broccoli – can’t get enough of the stuff – but supposedly he thinks cauliflower is broccoli’s albino cousin and he isn’t in to it. It can get frustrating and tiring serving something over and over again that your child doesn’t eat, and it’s super tempting to give up and not serve it at all. But that would be a mistake. What preschool proved yesterday was that it takes repeated exposure before kids accept things. A lot of repeated exposure.

It can get frustrating and tiring serving something over and over again that your child doesn’t eat, and it’s super tempting to give up and not serve it at all. But that would be a mistake.

At home, my son has probably been served cauliflower three times his entire life. It just doesn’t feature much on our repertoire of recipes and the few times we’ve had it, my son has snobbed it entirely. That’s fair enough: it was new. In caveman times, the best way to avoid poisoning yourself when you were a toddler who could forage for food, was to stick to what you knew. So a lot of toddlers go through a neophobia phase, where they are not keen on new foods. The key here is to basically ignore the fact that they ignore the new foods, and keep eating them yourself. Show your children how yummy they are and how much you enjoy them (you can also see more tips on feeding kids in this post).

While I was not very diligent about giving my son repeated cauliflower exposure at home, luckily, preschool had my back. He has probably been served that meal, with the cauliflower on the side, about 15 times (my math might be dodgy here but it’s a ballpark figure). Yesterday, the day finally happened that he picked it up and ate it. All of it. Yes, it totally helped that he’s growing hard and was super hungry, but don’t write it off as a fluke just yet. I’ll tell you why.

Later on, we were telling stories at home and I asked him what he liked to eat. “Broccoli, steak, peas, cauliflower, potato…”

“Do you like cauliflower?”

“Yeah, I love cauliflower.”

I actually served cauliflower that very night and he ate a piece… before he had a meltdown that he was too tired to eat and he wanted to go to bed and why was I not cuddling him?! Oh the joys of growth spurts.

My point is, when parents ask me about hiding veggies (by grating them or chopping them really small, even blitzing them in a food processor and then hiding them in mince or pasta sauce), they often say it with a grain of pride. They throw their chests out and I feel them thinking “My kid eats veggies.” Now, I’m not against this practice per se, because I think it gives parents peace of mind to know their kids are eating some vegetables, and it’s great to boost the vegetable content of your meals… but I don’t recommend it as the only thing you do. If that’s the only way your child is exposed to vegetables, they don’t even know they’ve been exposed and they can’t learn that veggies are safe and yummy.

We need to give kids repeated exposure. We need to role model eating our veggies. And we need to learn not to take it personally when they don’t eat it, or they spit it out. It’s not necessarily because they don’t like it, it’s just that they’re still learning about that particular food. Keep persevering and role modeling for them. Serve it again and again and again and again and again… Because one day, it might just get eaten.

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