Space Carrots and Broccoli Brains – my son is having none of it

An example of a delicious dinner my son would never eat in a

An example of a delicious veggie dinner my son would never eat in a million years

My son does not eat vegetables. No way. Not having it. Not going to make me. The last time he put a vegetable in his mouth -and actually chewed and swallowed it- (yup, those are counted as steps in our house), was a pudgy fistful of peas when he was just over a year and a half old.

Around that time my husband and I unwittingly turned what may have been a short non-vegetable-eating phase into a two-and-a-half year battle.

Side note: our son is now four and apart from the occasional macaroni and cheese, pancakes, muffins or banana bread recipe that I secretly mash carrot, cauliflower, sweet potato and spinach into, he continues to pass on vegetables.

But at the time when my son first stopped eating veggies, my husband and I were confounded. We tried jokes, sock puppets, singing the Daniel the Tiger song ‘try new foods because they might taste good’, taping a colourful picture of Canada’s Food Guide plate next to our table, whispering that eating broccoli could possibly give him special mutant super hero powers, one of which makes Mommy and Daddy talk silly all night. We talked to our daycare provider, our family Doctor and other parents. We arranged vegetables into fun shapes like caterpillars, spiders and my son’s favourite, a garbage truck; we even covered veggies with toppings our son loves like cheese and peanut butter but to no avail.

So, my husband and I dug in and upped the ante by increasing our own intake of vegetables both at breakfast and as a snack post daycare/pre-supper. We borrowed a kid-sized apron from a friend and made our son the house chef. (Painfully ironic -his favourite thing to do was chop vegetables and fruit in order to make “the biggest salad ever” but he never ate any of it!)

Not giving up, we invited his friends over for lunch on the weekends hoping that their broccoli-eating ways would rub off on our son (who watched them in awe as they ate vegetables and then continued to skip his); and we made special trips to the library to pick up books on picky eating or vegetables like Veggies with Wedgies ; I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato; and I Really Like Slop! (Still three of his favourites to read).

We could get him to sing, craft, cook, look at books, play games, and talk about vegetables but for the life of us we couldn’t get him to eat one.

As you can imagine, our worry and concern grew along with our frustration. We’d talk quietly to each other late at night: how long can a kid go without eating a vegetable before…something bad happens? Are these habits paved for life? Is there a way we can turn this around? And inevitably we’d finish with the end-of-the-line, self-flagellating thought pattern of most parental concerns: did we mess him up forever?

This late-night worrying syphoned gas out of our tanks and we grew tired in our battle for healthy eating.

We learned that one toddler-turned-preschooler pitted against two educated, deeply-caring, pulling-out-all-the-stops parents is no match…for the parents. Because after a while our fun, sing songy jokes about space carrots and superhero broccoli powers turned to a tone more akin to pleading – beseeching, cajoling and nagging him to please just take one bite of that zucchini stick. Look, it’s dripping in ranch dressing; you can barely recognize it as a vegetable! To our most futile bribe– you can have an extra book at bedtime, 10 minutes of Paw Patrol AND a green popsicle if you just eat one bite of those %&$#?@! carrots.

Mind you, we never cursed but the stench of our desperation was worse, hanging in the air like diesel exhaust on a highway in January.

So, when my second son was just 10 days old, we started a parenting class because we wanted to take a big step back and get on a different path. In the class, we learned that with most parenting things, it’s not the child you change, but yourself. So, no more talking about food at the table, no more bribes. We started working on creating a relaxing (!), inviting, fun, environment where we pressed pause on all the chaos and come together as a family to eat, talk, and connect. (We still do occasionally use our forks as moustaches but there’s no one-bite-of-carrot-admission-fee-for-the-trick).

And… it’s kind of working. While it’s true – my son is still not eating vegetables, he hasn’t eaten a vegetable on his own accord for years, but in another way, eating together is no longer a battle, in fact most days it’s quite enjoyable.

To illustrate, one evening my son plucked a strip of red pepper off his plate, put it in his mouth, and bit half way down, before immediately spitting it out. I know no nutrition was actually consumed in this anecdote but you would have thought he ate an entire produce section for the whoosh of gratitude that flushed through my body. I was so proud of him to just try a vegetable on his own. I wanted to swing him out his chair in a celebratory dance but instead I bit my tongue hard and quietly noted that he tried it and then asked him if he saw any garbage trucks drive by his daycare that day and watched his face transform from a slightly disgusted frown to lighting up as he told me about a white Front End Loader.

This is not exactly the “success” I wanted. This is far from having a kid who snacks on baby carrots and is happy to find cucumbers and celery sticks in his lunch. But we hope that if we keep on making healthy choices in front of him, as well as providing healthy choices to him, and continue to include him in the grocery shopping, cooking and food preparation that maybe *fingers crossed* maybe someday not only will he try vegetables but that he will like them.

And in the meantime, thanks to the following list of resources, news stories and professionals who specialize in picky-eating, we’re better prepared for Round Two, ah whoops, I mean, creating more relaxing and enjoyable meal times!

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