Americans don’t eat enough vegetables because we think they’re scary.

No joke.  According to The New York Times, we’re a nation suffering from Vegetable Anxiety!

OK. I think the article was a little tongue-in-cheek, there’s been no new diagnosis added to the DSM, and the article was in the Dining section, but we can’t dismiss the article entirely out of hand. The main point is quite valid: Produce gives us performance anxiety.

  • We don’t know how to prepare vegetables.
  • Our knife skills are poor.
  • Vegetables go bad so quickly.

All told, the pressure to consume fresh produce really puts us off.  Read The New York Times article.

Vegetable Anxiety may well explain an adult aversion to vegetables, but what about kids?

Kids don’t eat vegetables because:

  • They never develop a vegetable-eating habit.  The once-a-day-dance (battle?) around broccoli isn’t enough.
  • The vegetables kids are exposed to don’t taste good.  Instead, they’re bland and boring.

The prevailing parenting advice, that kids like bland (and boring) food, is plain wrong. 

Research shows that kids who eat foods high in sugar, salt and fat—the basic “Child-friendly”  diet—end up seeking out these kinds foods in order to achieve a “flavor-hit.”  They’re going for the high!

Read My Toddler Used to Eat Vegetables.

Most parents I know easily accept “marginal” foods in their kids’ diets—chicken nuggests anyone?—because they offer some nutrients, but they won’t flavor-up vegetables.

I think two things are at play here:

  1. A general desire not to sully “healthy” foods.
  2. A specific desire to compensate for all those “marginal” foods with something really healthy.

These are good goals. Still, my advice is to make vegetables as tasty as possible. Helping kids develop a lifelong love of vegetables is too important. In this case habits trump nutrition.

Advice from the NYT professionals:

  • Reasonable applications of fat (bacon bits, butter, cheese, oil) make vegetables instantly palatable—Katie Workman, author of “The Mom 100 Cookbook”
  • When in doubt put it on top of a pizza—Jenny Rosenstrach, author of the blog and cookbook “Dinner.”
  • Boiling and steaming is the least flavorful way of cooking vegetables.—Michael Natkin, author of “Herbivoracious.”

Don’t be afraid to “mess up” vegetables. Cook them in whatever way you want.  Simply remember three rules.

  1. Vary the cooking method, the flavorings and the condiments.  Read End Picky Eating with The Rotation Rule.
  2. Serve vegetables frequently throughout the day.  Read Fruits and Vegetables For Every Meal and Every Snack—Every Darn Day.
  3. Be happy with The Happy Bite.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~