Ever wonder why vegetable intake is notoriously low despite the constant news reports and advice about how much we should be eating them? Why do so many people say they don’t have time to eat vegetables? And why does research point to kids’ believing vegetables just don’t taste good?

Well, I think it starts with a type of “negative veggie conditioning” that starts at the earliest of ages. Think about all the ways children learn that these wonderful foods aren’t very enjoyable. Here are five examples of how this happens.

1. Vegetables are not linked to eating enjoyment: From a very young age, children are told to eat vegetables for health reasons. Some are even told their hair will grow long, they will grow taller or their muscle size will increase by eating greens. But kids don’t value health yet, they value taste and satisfaction. And when they see eating doesn’t bring the benefits they are told, they become wary. (Wait, Dad has been saying I would grow big muscles for years now, and it hasn’t happened!)

2. Nagging naturally repels: When selling health doesn’t work, nagging, pushing and prompting are often tried. “You need to eat your vegetables.” “Why didn’t you touch your vegetables?” All of a sudden, just seeing veggies equate to dread in a child’s mind. Everywhere they go people are trying to get them to eat vegetables. (If everyone is nagging me to do it, they must not be that good!)

3. No one is forced or bribed to do something enjoyable: So, after nagging, if the kid still isn’t eating vegetables, it’s time to take action. It may mean X number of bites before they can leave or the realization that dessert will not be allowed if they don’t eat at least some of their veggies. In the child’s mind, this strategy further confirms vegetables’ undesirability. (I can’t leave or eat dessert until I get the eating veggies part over with!).

4. When all else fails, sneak them! We see the sneak veggie strategy on commercials and in popular books. But when kids find vegetables in their favorite dish, it’s often the deal breaker. (Now I know it’s true. Moms is hiding them in my food!)

5. Over-praising kids for veggie eating: Rewarding kids can take many forms, including praise. Research shows kids praised for doing something they already enjoy experience decreased internal motivation to keep doing it. This can backfire as pointed out by Gwen Dewar, PhD on Parenting Science.

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