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just eat the GD vegetable

I’ve struggled with my kids’ eating habits since they were old enough to say no to the food they are offered. In fact, I’ve struggled enough that I’m ashamed to say that I find it difficult to be happy for parents whose kids eat vegetables. I’ve been in situations where I’m commiserating with another mom about our kids’ eating, and then the other mom will ruin it by saying something like, “Jack won’t eat brussels sprouts…unless I cook them with bacon!” I mean, come on. I could coat brussels sprouts in a thick chocolate shell and sprinkle them with Legos and my kids still wouldn’t touch them with a 12 foot pole.  I also enjoy it when other moms say stuff like “Have you tried putting ranch dressing on the vegetables? My kids love that!” No, it never occurred to me to put ranch, or butter, or maple syrup, or balsamic, or cheese on the vegetables. Bitch, please.  I’m no amateur.  I’m sure Finn would love cheese-covered vegetables, if he ate cheese.

Recently, when I watched my friend Kathryn offer her daughter Charlotte (below) some beautiful unpeeled carrots with the green fronds still attached to them, I felt a stab of envy, and then, self-loathing. If those carrots had been offered to my boys, they would likely have looked at them with confusion before asking what they were. Where did I go wrong? Why was I such a bad mom?


carrots apparently produce beautiful children like charlotte. i wouldn’t know

Most of my low points as a mom have been spent wrestling with my kids over food. My very lowest moment, which I am very ashamed to write about here, happened when I was struggling to identify new protein sources for Finn, when he was 4. Because he ate beef, I stupidly convinced myself that I could make him like pork tenderloin. I carefully roasted it in the oven covered in a delicious apricot glaze, and cut him five small pieces. I asked him to eat them. He refused. I asked again. He refused again. The sun began to set, and the food got cold. But I was determined. So we sat there. For an hour. Finally, angered and scared at the prospect that my kid would refuse food for the rest of his life, I lost my mind. I turned off the lights in the dining room and left him in the dark, hissing that he should “have fun with the monsters.” Hysteria ensued. He ate three pieces of pork while sobbing and gagging. He ate the pork, but the price was too high.

Now that Finn is almost six, I’m working overtime to figure out ways to get him to eat vegetables. Finn will willingly eat peas and corn, but I can’t even feel good about that, because apparently peas and corn barely qualify as vegetables given their high sugar content. That’s right, peas and corn are the new Count Chocula. This past winter, we discovered that Finn likes the napa cabbage we cook in shabu shabu. I doubt cabbage has much nutritional content either, but I’ve nonetheless eaten a lot of expensive shabu shabu in the last six months, just so I could get him to eat the cabbage. I once also got him to eat a piece of zucchini that was in a miso soup. Once. Anyway. You know you’re in trouble when you can recall every instance of your child eating a vegetable in his entire life.

Last weekend, my friend Mollyanne listened to me agonize over my kids’ food issues, and took me firmly in hand.  At our house for dinner, she disappeared for 20 minutes and then came downstairs with the chart below, which she put together with Finn. He chose all the options, and for the last two days, he has been excited to look at his chart and make his lunches with me. Yesterday, his vegetable came back untouched. Today, he ate his veggies, although they were peas. Tomorrow, we try cukes.


I am grateful to my friend, who sensed my genuine distress and guided me by taking action. I’m also hopeful. And hope is a lovely emotion to feel after so many months of despair.

33 Comments Post a comment
  1. Richard Allen #

    You might want to try this test on him to see if he’s a super taster, in which case, you’ll probably want to stop pushing so many vegetables, and if he isn’t (more likely) then you can start being pushier because he has no excuse. Although, it sounds like it might be difficult to get a child to cooperate in the process.

    September 4, 2013
  2. LOL! Great article. This is a daily struggle in my house…for years.

    July 3, 2012
  3. Wandering Voiceless #

    “Bitch, please.” HYSTERICAL.

    I’m sorry I’m so late to this conversation, but here are my two cents for what they’re worth:

    Jennifer with her message from the universe is actually on the right track: LET. IT. GO.

    I am a huge believer in kids are more naturally in tune with their environment and their bodies than us adults who know everything about everything. They will eat what they need to eat when they need to eat it. They will not starve or suffer from malnutrition. I promise.

    On the other hand, if faced with constant struggles and squabbles over what you insist they must eat versus what they feel like eating, they will grow into food — and thereby self-image — issues which will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

    Now, having said that, I also firmly believe in the previously mentioned “hide the nutrition” notion. Puree the spinach, the broccoli, the yams, the cauliflower and the brussel sprouts (whatever they won’t eat), and hide them in the mashed potatoes, the meatloaf, the scrambled eggs (the whatever else they will eat).

    And, yes, I’ve been there, in a similar dining room situation, and hated myself for it. Which promptly made me realize there were other more important battles I wanted to fight with my kids, and food wasn’t one of them.


    July 2, 2012
  4. FB #

    Tonight my 9 year old explained to his grandmother (my mom) that the reason he couldn’t finish his (extremely f*&ing expensive) tri-tip is because he only eats steak when it’s medium rare. I left the room.

    June 28, 2012
  5. The strange thing is I have very clear memories of what it’s like to see this from the child’s perspective, over 40 years ago. I remember what it’s like to be really hungry but feel real despair at being unable to touch what was put in front of me. At least once I was made to sit in front of food that I had apparently asked for and then refused to eat, but not vegetables on that occasion. Now I’ve realised that I was put off eating really easily by my father who was a very picky eater. He would actually spit out/dribble something he didn’t like so my mother had two children to deal with. Perhaps other children are influencing the way yours see food when they are away from you, if another kid thinks raw carrots are great today then yours may feel the same way until the other kid changes his/her mind about them. They’re at an age where they have very strong opinions about everything – they either love things or loathe them! I hated the taste of cooked carrots for years (still not much of a fan!) but loved them raw. I also hated pasta but it took my mother a long time to learn not to overcook it to near mush. I’ve seen your posts about food so I can see that your skill as a cook isn’t the issue! If they see you and your partner regularly eat and enjoy veg they might ask for some and try them. I feel sorry for parents who are put under such pressure to get things 100% right every time. As someone else pointed out your children seem to be thriving so if the only vegetables they want to touch are peas and carrots let other people have hang ups about that – you’re getting it right.

    June 27, 2012
    • i appreciate your comment because it put some focus back on what my kid might be feeling. it has to suck to sit there and feel compelled to eat something you’d rather not eat. i get that. and i’m not the kind of mom that needs to get everything right–but food is a particular focus for me, in large part because i love food, but also because i have such great memories of the korean food that my parents cooked for me and our family’s time at the table. and it is difficult not to get hysterical about nutrition given all the knowledge about food that we are fortunate, but cursed (on some level) to have access to. anyway…finn wears glasses. i grew up believing that eating carrots would help your vision. i know it’s irrational but it’s when i think about things like that, that it feels so imperative to improve my kids’ eating habits.

      June 28, 2012
  6. hallerwoman #

    Oh, Yoona! You KNOW I feel you on this one – all of it. Thanks for the total honesty. I never thought of sprinkling legos on veggies, but you may be onto something. The chart is a great idea – that MA is a clever one. May have to try it. I’ve been asking the kids to choose the vegetables they would like to eat at the grocery store – hoping for buy in that way, with little success… meaning, we buy a vegetable and then they don’t eat it come dinner time. I’m at a loss.

    June 27, 2012
    • suzanne, i thought of some of our conversations as i was writing it. we will get through it together. i think the grocery store idea is a good idea, although tate tends to pick out expensive vegetables, like endive

      June 28, 2012
  7. drivelology #

    I’ve been pretty lucky with both my kids in the vegie department.

    I do find that they’ll go through little spurts. One day they’ll like something, the next day it’s a no-go zone. My eldest is almost 11 and recently announced she doesn’t like carrots.

    WTF?! You’ve eaten them your whole life!

    I am totally in love with Christie’s “eat around” idea. Absolutely brilliant!

    June 27, 2012
    • the lack of consistency with kids’ eating is confounding. it’s a killer when something that has been working stops working. i appreciate all the ideas in the comments–i feel totally encouraged by them

      June 28, 2012
  8. You’re totally right–it’s mostly the inherent temperament of the kid. Our 5 year old takes one month per green bean, while his 3 year old brother is gleefully munching salad and asking for “more of those yummy carrots please!” WTH? Anyway, you are not alone in this fight. And we’re vegan, so we can’t even use that supposedly magical bacon trick. Or cheese. It wouldn’t work anyway, as you wisely point out. We must simply wait for them to grow up, I suppose.

    June 27, 2012
    • i like the temperment thing because it removes me from blame entirely. but maybe not. why couldn’t i have given birth to a vegetable eater? is it because i ate so many burger king whoppers during my pregnancies?

      June 27, 2012
  9. My girl pulls the same crap about refusing certain things at home but eating them at day care. And I second the smoothie/grind it up in everything tactic… though the latter only works some of the time. I hope Finn’s chart works out for him and you, it’s a great start! He’s not starving so you are NOT a bad mom… but you knew that already.

    June 27, 2012
    • i am a good mom. i’m not a great mom. i am convinced i can get the great mom badge if my kids start eating vegetables

      June 27, 2012
  10. Courtney #

    you are a great mom and I relate so much to everything in your post – even the mean mommy “watch out for the monsters” tactic. Do your kids like smoothies? throw a couple spinach leaves into a smoothie – they’ll never know! What about rice? blend a couple spinach leaves into the water or broth that you cook the rice in. Mommy wins!

    June 27, 2012
    • ah, the smoothie. yes we make smoothies. i’ve noticed that it helps if you involve them in the making of the smoothie, and if the smoothie is sufficiently sweet. tate will only drink them if we clink his glass and and say “cheers” as he drinks, which is demeaning, but even that isn’t working so great anymore. the rice tip is AWESOME. i make a pot of rice every couple days. i will blend the spinach in the rice. thank you

      June 27, 2012
  11. Christie #

    Ugh, food-pickiness really hits home. We made an “Evan the Food Explorer” chart when Evan was 3-4 years old, and he got a checkmark every time he tried a new food. Every 5 check marks, he got a treat (three choices: either a small toy like a playmobil figure, a great dessert, or a short video on youtube). This worked for nearly a year until he figured out I buy him toys, give him dessert, and let him watch videos on youtube anyway. It’s probably too late for Finn, but maybe you can still trick Tate into some vegetables through bribery?

    The one thing that still works for us is “the eat around”. I put the food in a circle around the outside of his plate, and he has to go in order (clockwise or counterclockwise). It’s mostly innocuous food like meat, bread, cheese, but I add some things he loves (fruit, peanut butter chips, etc.) and also just a few things he’s not crazy for. The trick is to put something he really wants next to something he won’t eat. So it might go: piece of sliced turkey…piece of cheese…strawberry…tiny piece of broccoli (the horror!).. .strawberry….strawberry….turkey…bread…cheese…and so on.

    This might be a “bitch, please. I’m no amateur” moment, but from another mom who has sat with her kid for 2 full hours waiting for him to finish a meal he abhors, thought I’d throw it out there.

    June 27, 2012
    • i have tried bribery and it works. i gave him something for every time he ate a vegetable, but it got expensive. then i moved to coins, which he could save up to buy something, but apparently the gratification was not immediate enough. but six feels old to be bribing a child to eat vegetables, and therein lies the rub

      the “eat around” sounds like no amateur move i’ve heard of. highly advanced. i am in awe of your strategic planning and attention to detail. i do think i’ll give it a go. thanks christie

      June 27, 2012
  12. I’ve heard the trick to all this is to not let your kiddos know you WANT them to eat whatever-it-is. As long as they know you are invested in Fill-In-The-Blank happening, they have the perfect fulcrum point to use to send you to the moon (and not in that good way).

    So maybe you Jedi them a bit “these are not the vegetables you wish to eat” and see if that at least helps you get through one more day. (Disclosure:Both my picky eater kids are adults now – chronologically at least – and one of them is a vegetarian, the other still only eats carrots and those only with ranch dressing which can’t touch the carrots until she dips them. So….it “might” be something that is not so much about parenting as temperament….maybe…..).

    June 27, 2012
    • my kids are immune to my jedi mind tricks, which they view as pathetic and sad. i agree that much of it is temperment. finn, for all the wailing, can be prevailed upon to do something, eventually, given enough effort. but not tate. tate regularly takes me to the mat and leaves me crying uncle. and he’s not yet 3.

      June 27, 2012
  13. Kristin #

    Yoona – I adore you! (and MAF!! Who I used to work with and miss dearly) I cannot wait to try this chart…. veggies (dinner in general) has been the source of many tears from this mama! Thank you!!

    June 27, 2012
    • hi kristin! i wish MAF read my blog but he says he prefers to keep his worklife and homelife separate–lame. you should talk him into it. the chart is a little piece of magic. much solidarity, sister.

      June 27, 2012
    • kristin. it occurred to me that by MAF you meant mollyanne, and not MAF, which are the initials of an attorney i work with. i feel completely silly. the error is excusable once you understand that lawyers refer to each other at work by their initials, and so “MAF” is an acronym that is familiar to me, but only in the work context. anyway, i think you meant mollyanne, who i love and adore. hope to meet you one day. 🙂

      June 28, 2012
  14. Courtney #

    Joe has been bad about vegetables lately and he used to be fine. I don’t understand when things go backwards, and I don’t see why he doesn’t get that you can’t be a vegetarian who rejects vegetables. Cabbage is actually awesome for you, and most kids won’t eat it, so good job on that. What’s wrong w/ peas and corn anyway? They’re fine. Roasted asparagus has been a hit lately, and I think they like that they can just pick it up. Burgerville has killer fried asparagus right now; maybe that could be your gateway drug. That chart your friend did is a great idea. Nutritionally I think fruits and vegs are interchangeable, so just go heavy on fruit til they get there on the vegs.

    June 27, 2012
    • i love everything about this comment, which involves affirmation of my existing behavior and burgerville, two of my favorite things. i am heartened by the vegetable-fruit thing, because they do eat fruit

      June 27, 2012
  15. Jennifer #

    You are so funny! Just thought I would share my note from the Universe today. I think it can apply to your situation! 🙂 I inserted your name. You might want to print it out and paste it to your dinner table to remind you to let go.

    For all things and non-things that you may ever want, Yoona, understand that sometimes the fastest way to get them is to forget them, and to focus instead on just being the most amazing human being you can be. At which point all of your heart’s desires, spoken or unspoken, will be drawn to you more powerfully than a magnet is drawn to steel.

    Have an amazing day,
    The Universe

    And your kid just might eat his vegetables! Happy Day! ❤

    June 27, 2012
    • I’M not the problem. i love vegetables. my kids are the problem. but i agree that if i worked on perfecting myself, that might spill over into some positive changes for my kids. the process sounds super slow though

      June 27, 2012
      • Jennifer #

        Funny how we read that note from the Universe so differently. I didn’t see it as you loving your vegetables more so that the boys would love their vegetables more but rather as if you let go of the attachment to them eating more vegetables then just maybe they might start eating them on their own. One can always hope! 🙂

        June 28, 2012
  16. I wish I could offer words of advice short of my kids eat everything when they’re at nursery and seeing their friends doing it but insist on living on a diet of toasted sandwiches and biscuits when with me, I don’t know if the nursery are lying to me or if the pack mentality really is true.

    June 27, 2012
    • the dichotomy between what they eat at school and what they eat at home probably holds some keys to the puzzle. clearly they know they have me over a barrel at home. but what to do about it?

      June 27, 2012
      • I wish I could give you an answer, I just take solace in the fact that they’re at least getting proper sustenance from somewhere.

        June 28, 2012

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