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I am sure there are children out there who do like munching on broccolis and feasting on spinach, but most of the children I know don't like veggies. Mine are especially suspicious of anything resembling a vegetable (especially a green one). We never force them, we don't bargain with them and we keep offering them vegetables at every meal (we eat with them and they see us eating lots of fresh veggies). However they refuse to even try (they're 18 months old) and if they are only given vegetables, they'd rather not eat at all that giving it a go. Their diet is otherwise good: they are happy drinking vegetable juice and in general like eating fruits. They also eat wholemeal foods, grains and cereals as well as proteins (meat, fish and dairy products).

I am wondering why (my) children don't like vegetables. Why don't they have a natural instinct to eat stuff that is good for their body?

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I like the provocative question title (but meaningful question); it begs to be answered! Anecdote: my toddler absolutely loves broccoli, carrots, and cucumber, even to the point that he'll eat all that he can see before even touching anything else :-) –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 27 '11 at 20:22
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7 Answers 7

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Kid's taste buds get regenerated every seven days on average, while it's much longer for adults. Therefore kids really dislike food with a strong taste (like spinach).

Humans tend to avoid vegetables, which are often bitter, for reasons of evolution: Bitter-tasting foods were often not good for health (Cooper 2002; Guinard 1996).

Should we force children to eat vegetables? It is best to choose vegetables they like and as and when they grow up, bring in other vegetables. Forcing children to eat certain foods could develop real dislikes they keep all their lives. For a long time I could not stand canned tomatoes because I was repeatedly forced to eat tomato soup (which I hated).

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thanks, interesting point on the evolutionary background around bitter-tasting foods. And I agree with the not forcing (I was forced to eat spinachs (...) at school and it's one of the very few things today that I cannot stomach!). –  Aqua lullaby Dec 22 '11 at 6:34
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Apologies for "necrobumping", but I just wanted to give an example of this. My mother was a childminder (think babysitter for 10+ kids, in our home) and had problems with children whose parents had given into the "s/he doesn't eat vegetables" situation. The kids would flat-out state their disgust of veg (even salad!) they'd never even tried before. The trick was to give them stuff like raw carrot sticks, lettuce, cucumber, etc. and turn making their meal into a game - faces and such. Funny how quick their distaste for veg disappeared. –  Polynomial Sep 5 '12 at 10:55
    
Another problem is how you cook the stuff. Veg tastes bland or just plain nasty if you don't cook it right. Boiling it half to death makes it taste like nothing, and undercooked green veg can be very bitter. If you cook it wrong, the kids aren't going to like it. Same goes for most foods, really. My fiance's father is in his 40s, and is still an incredibly fussy eater due to his mother being utterly incapable of cooking. She made mashed brussel sprouts once. Need I say more? Grab a cooking book and give a few recipes a go! –  Polynomial Sep 5 '12 at 10:59
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I agree with not forcing. It sounds like you are doing everything right. (ask your pediatrician about a vitamin as they are not eating veggies currently). They will eat vegetables eventually if you keep offering and modeling.
I found that my kids prefer raw veggies over cooked veggies, you could try that. As well, surprisingly enough, my youngest child (also 18 months) loves frozen veggies directly out of the freezer!

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Please keep in mind that the question is "Why children do not like vegetables", and not "how do I get my children to eat vegetables". As it stands, your answer does not address the question. –  Beofett Dec 23 '11 at 15:34
    
I disagree with the premise, kids DO like veggies. –  morah hochman Dec 23 '11 at 17:22
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Then, per this discussion on our meta, you should not have answered the question at all. "I don't agree", not matter how detailed or justified, is not an answer to the question. At best it should be a comment. Most importantly, it is never appropriate to post an answer that does not directly answer the question asked. That is the point of StackExchange. To answer questions. –  Beofett Dec 23 '11 at 17:28
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My rule is: you can't say you don't like something before having tasted it. So children must taste everything they're offered, unless we already agree they hate it. Once they've tasted it, it's perfectly OK to refuse. Surprisingly often, they will change their minds.

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I learned to eat many foods at a residential summer camp which had a 3-bite rule. I was in my teens at the time, though! –  Melita Kennedy Dec 22 '11 at 17:25
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I think the taste rule is great, although I have picky nieces and nephews that make up their mind to hate a food before they even put it near their mouth. In this case, 3 bites may convince them that it's not so bad after all, but they're so stubborn that they will continue to refuse. In general, though, this is a great idea! –  Daniel Standage Dec 22 '11 at 17:51
    
Please keep in mind that the question is "Why children do not like vegetables", and not "how do I get my children to eat vegetables". As it stands, your answer does not address the question. –  Beofett Dec 23 '11 at 15:34
    
Good point. Well, I read that answer somewhere, apparently our taste changes quite dramatically over time and small children tend to prefer sweet more than older children or adults do, in general. –  reinierpost Dec 27 '11 at 22:41
    
Three bites is a good idea; we also give three separate chances at different times. Our children eat most things we eat on the first or second try and it rarely takes a third (exceptions being some particularly spicy or bitter foods, which we generally don't push) –  David Jan 1 '12 at 21:13
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Some vegetables are quite bitter, and children are sensitive to that taste. You can cook vegetables with fruit juices, or incorporate them into other food, or mash them, which will hide both the taste and the vegetable.

Not an answer to your problem, but people weaning their children need to know that introducing a wide range of vegetables early on helps avoid this kind of difficulty.

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Our tastes are affected by the other foods we eat. If eating food with sugars added to it, and grains (which are easily converted to sugars), your tastes will be over-saturated with sugar and thus vegetables will taste worse in comparison.

After adopting a Paleo diet (no sugar, grains, legumes, vegetable oils, or processed foods), my tastes changed drastically such that whole foods, including vegetables tasted much better and sugary foods tasted way too sweet. Note that this affect did not happen when I simply eliminated sugar, I had to eliminate grains and processed foods as well.

Basically if your kids don't like what is healthy for them, I would look at the totality of their diet, as they are probably used to eating a diet that is not healthy for them and therefore their tastes have adapted to it. And by "not healthy" I am including grains (whole or otherwise) which have many anti-nutrients and are hard for humans to digest (especially gluten).

To eliminate grains, since kids need a higher-carb diet than adults, you can replace those calories with starchy vegetables like squash and sweet potatoes.

Now, your question was "why do vegetables taste bad", not "why do snack food and sugars taste good", but as I've just outlined how they are related hopefully you will find this article relevant:

Why Snack Food Is Addictive: THe Grand Unified Theory of Snack Appeal

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+1 for Paleo and how it influences tastebuds. Adding this comment to maybe give that extra push to anyone reading this to go and research Paleo. I've seen quite a bit of (circumstantial, told via blogs) evidence that switching kids to a Paleo diet makes them better eaters (and nicer too). I know that my paleo-2-year-old eats a lot of foods other kids her age (at parties) refuse to eat. –  w00t Dec 27 '11 at 10:57
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I am a father of five, and all of our kids and most of their friends went through a stage where they refused to eat anything except one or two foods. This happened around age 2. They started narrowing their diet at about 18 months. It got to the point that one of my daughters would only eat canned pears and cheese. We contacted our doctor who told us that this isn't uncommon and most kids will outgrow it quickly. Sure enough all of our kids outgrew this after a few weeks (though it seemed MUCH longer to us at the time).

I don't know the reason they went through this. It has been suggested that they are going through a physical change as they move away from baby food/breast milk/formula and their brains are learning to process new information from the tongue and nose.

Another suggestion made by a professional in the field suggested that this is a safe way to assert their growing independence. They can safely say "no." Even better (from their perspective) if they refuse to eat particular foods, then (in some families) mommy and daddy pay lots of attention to them, playing airplane and choo-choo games. Lots of fun!

Based on the age of your kids, I would suggest offering them healthy foods, and just be glad they eat something. Don't play games to get them to eat, and don't cater to their every whim, but if they ask for something reasonable (our daughter at a slice of cheese every morning for breakfast) let them have it so they are taking in nutrients. Don't panic, and don't stress. Their tastes will grow and develop over time, especially as you continue offering different foods and modeling proper diet. Right now we are in the happy place where 4/5 of our kids love vegetables (the exception being -- you guessed it -- the 19-month old. Oh, and the 3 year old who insists tomatoes make her "sick and sad")

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+1 for not providing too much "fun factor" as a response. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 27 '11 at 20:25
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When I was a kid, like 6, I didn't have much veggie that I wouldn't eat . . . which I'm realising is an answer to a different question as i would eat them, but don't remember if I actually liked spinach, greens and mixed veggies. I do know that my current kids are all different in their (dis)like of specific veggies.

Anyway, I think the answer has more social factors than meets the eye. I won't eat very few veggies, so my elementary aged children have broad exposure. The 6yo started eating fried okra and steamed broccoli because, when younger (3 maybe?), her older bro and sis were tearing it up.

There's something out there that they'll like. Once you figure out what it is, tho, be careful not to pile it on. Peeled baby carrots every day for lunch will wear them out on it.

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