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Why Do Children Hate Vegetables?

by Brenda Mao

Generally, we know that most children hate vegetables – maybe you were one of them. Growing up, hopefully, you found that vegetables weren’t that bad. But why did we hate them in the first place?

First of all, genetics plays a role. Some people just have a natural aversion to vegetables, even though the majority of people might not taste anything out of the ordinary. These people are called super-tasters, and they find flowering cruciferous vegetables extremely bitter and disgusting.

Cruciferous vegetables are very nutritious, but also contain glucosinolate, which produces a bitter oil when cut, chewed, or cooked. Children may possibly taste this bitterness more strongly than adults, and may avoid it out of natural instinct (in nature, bitter tastes are usually a sign of toxins).

As we grow up, we build up a tolerance to the bitterness in many vegetables, similar to how people might not like dark chocolate or coffee when they first try it, but slowly grow to enjoy it. In the wild, animals will test a new food source by consuming a little bit, and waiting to see if there are any negative effects. They repeat this process ten to fifteen times, after which they become confident that the food is safe. Humans operate in a similar way – the more you eat or drink something, the more you grow to tolerate it. Moreover, taste bud sensitivity decreases with age.

Besides genetics, child psychology is also a factor. As a child, we tend to associate processed foods like cake, candy, etc. with positive feelings because they usually appear at events like holidays, parties, and more. Vegetables are associated with a more negative feeling because our parents are usually nagging us to finish them at mealtimes. Thus, processed foods are viewed as a reward. 

To reduce this aversion to vegetables, there are several methods you can try:

  • Reducing the bitterness: certain preparation methods like caramelizing, braising, and sauteing, in addition to adding fat, sugar, and salt can reduce bitterness in vegetables. However, make sure you don’t add too much.
  • Make the food more familiar: studies have shown that children are more open to eating raw vegetables when it’s paired with a dip that they enjoy.
  • Create a neutral or positive association: don’t introduce vegetables as a punishment. Try to offer a vegetable dish first, so children are more willing to eat it. 
  • Repeat exposure: at the end of the day, this is the most effective method. Just don’t overdo it – if someone doesn’t like broccoli, don’t give them a giant plate of broccoli. Try incorporating it into a dish that you know the child likes. 

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