They Don’t Have to Inhale Kale: Tips from a Recovering Vegetable Nagger

Stop nagging and start playing.

“It’s a great source of Vitamin K,” I said reassuringly to my skeptical child. Any onlooker would weep at my lame attempt to talk about vitamins to a preschooler. And my other vegetable selling points weren’t much better. I felt like my kids had to model vegetable perfection because their mom was a public health professional. If my kids weren’t happily chowing down kale – I was failing them and my profession. It didn’t help that I was up to my nose in studies warning about the effects of childhood obesity. I felt as if I had a teeny tiny window called childhood to convert them to vegetables. If I didn’t make them into vegetable saints as children, I was sure to lose them to the devil of neon orange chips.

Let them play.
Photo credit: Chelsea Ellingson

One day I had a realization that changed everything: Kids don’t care about preventative health. They shouldn’t have to. Kids love novelty. Kids love games. They love to laugh. They love reassurance from trusted tall people. They love to be involved.

I started changing my approach. It was difficult at first to relax. I really wanted to educate these little people about heart disease prevention. However, they were more interested in learning how to cut a cucumber and make beards out of spinach leaves.

Are you in a nagging rut? See what worked at my house.

8 tips from my veggie nagging recovery plan:

  • Tip 1: Give them sharp, pointy objects. I taught them how to use knives, graters, and peelers. I was nervous about putting these tools into the hands of children. (And nervous that my Mother-in-Law would come knocking down the door.) But I learned that using a peeler is incredibly fun for a kid. Also, unless they were planning on gnawing whole produce for the rest of their lives, my kids would have to learn how to use them. They love being involved and can cut up most of their own veggie snacks. But I won’t lie: Sometimes they still gnaw.
  • Tip 2: Give them a job in the produce aisle. Instead of always placing the veggies in the cart – I invite my kidlets to do this job. “Hey, you with the hair! Grab some celery.” It was interesting to see what happened after they were allowed more freedom to look around and touch. They started requesting things like parsnips.
  • Tip 3: Give them taste bud freedom. Allow them to try vegetables that you don’t like. I know it’s hard to prepare veggies that you didn’t like as a kid. But I’m constantly surprised at what my kids request (and eat) when I keep an open mind. Our fridge is full of things like radishes and Brussels sprouts. It forces me to learn new ways to prepare them, and I’m starting to like them, too.


  • Tip 4: Give them permission to just like. They might not inhale kale. They might just like kale. And that’s completely okay. Don’t let your friend’s Instagram feed make you feel like there’s something wrong with your child if they aren’t begging for broccolini and drooling over daikon. Your kids will have a few favorites. Don’t get hung up if they don’t love every vegetable.
  • Tip 5: Give them a low-pressure table. I don’t get ruffled when there’s pushback about trying a new vegetable or other food. I take the pressure off by saying, “Just sample it. You don’t have to like it.” I won’t bug them again during the meal, and I don’t take it personally if they don’t like it. By hearing, “you don’t have to like it” was a huge game changer for my most stubborn eater. He has “sampled” on several occasions and finished the entire serving.
  • Tip 6: Give them attention, not a lecture. I stopped preaching about the powers of vegetables and just enjoyed being at the table with my children. The best stories and jokes roll around the table when mom isn’t a stressed mess. I let the veggies speak for themselves. Great roasted vegetables are perfect. They don’t need some annoying commentary.
  • Tip 7: Give them playtime. Allow your inner vegetable muse to take over. Give crazy names to veggies based on your child’s interests. Asparagus can be fairy wands. Finely grate carrots and call them sprinkles. I want my kids to have a truly enjoyable experience with food. (Need more ideas? Read this post with 40 ways to play.)

Finely Grate Carrots and call them SPRINKLES! Let your kiddos sprinkle them on bagels, pizza, or sandwiches.

  • Tip 8: Give them convenience. I put carrots, mini bell peppers, and celery in the lower parts of the fridge. Kids are like anyone else and take what’s easy at eye level. We go through a lot of carrots, and I don’t have to say a word.

Your approach to selling vegetables doesn’t need to look like a medical textbook. It actually shouldn’t. It should be fun, positive, and non-judgemental. In the end you’ll meet your objective of raising veggie likers. I’ve learned to tone down my professional health talk and veggie nagging. So I was surprised when my five-year-old recently asked as he twirled broccoli and pasta around his fork, “Mom, is there any vitamin K in this broccoli?” We promptly looked it up.


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2 Replies to “They Don’t Have to Inhale Kale: Tips from a Recovering Vegetable Nagger”

  1. Fab tips – I’m the overbearing anxious mother about many many things but pushing the veggies onto my 7 yr. old is one thing I’ve been pretty laid back about (and I’m a dietitian 🙂 As a result, she will sometimes have dessert and then go back to eating her broccoli (I usually keep her dinner plate out so she can snack on it for a bit if she wants.)

    Is she a huge veggie lover and super adventurous eater? Not at all. But I’m hoping the constant exposure over the years will eventually pay off (hey, I never really loved the veggies either when I was a kid 🙂

  2. Great tips, thanks you!

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