Image provided by the author.

Once, when our son was 2 ½ or so, we were having lunch at a “self-service” – a widespread type of restaurant here in Brazil where you serve yourself and pay according to how much your plate weighs. To this day I recall what was on his plate: the common Brazilian rice-and-beans duo, mashed potatoes, corn, a slice of pineapple, and an assortment of leaves and veggies.

Shortly after we started eating, a little girl sat down with her mother at the table to our right. They each had a dish with a large slice of chocolate pie covered with whipped cream. It didn’t take long for the girl – who seemed to be slightly younger than my son – to notice him and his colorful plate.

“Mommy, I want what he has.”

“Eat your snack,” her mother responded.

The little girl stared at her plate, and then at my son’s. “Mommy, I want what he has.”

“Daughter, you have chocolate pie!”, her mother said impatiently.

Soon the girl started crying. My son (that dreamy kind of kid) remained oblivious to the scene. The mother ate her pie hastily – and then her daughter’s – and whisked the wailing girl away.

When I eat out with my son, we often get wide-eyed stares at his plate.  They ask, “How do you get him to eat vegetables/fruit?” I also respond, “I like to eat vegetables/fruit myself.”  The person will often sigh and say, “My son/daughter hates eating vegetables/fruit.”

Depending on how eager the person seems in getting the child to eat more fruits and veggies, I ask: “Do you eat fruit/veggies?”, and the person will usually say something like: “I eat some salad at lunch” or “I have fruit juice in the morning.” Then (again, depending on how interested the person really seems – I don’t want to be intrusive!) I ask the fatal question: “But do you really like fruit/veggies, or do you just throw some on the plate to say you did so?”

Sometimes the person will firmly state that she (it is almost always the mother) truly loves to eat fruits and vegetables. However, more often than not I will get… a sheepish smile.

I know that eating issues are extremely complex, and several factors can be involved. Nevertheless, I do believe a parent’s example is a huge influence.

Persistence also counts. Sometimes kids just have to be offered certain foods over and over to acquire a taste for them (it took me 25 years to start liking sugarcane juice!). And when that doesn’t work, not offering the hated food might do the job.

I remember my son hated watermelon. When he was three, I started a high-raw vegetarian diet, and a few months later I was on a predominantly fruit-based diet. I began my day by cutting a watermelon in half, sitting in the hammock, and scooping out the flesh with a spoon until I was full. I never offered any to my son. It didn’t take long before he started to hop into the hammock with his own spoon. It became a daily ritual. We would eat, talk, and contemplate all of the interesting stuff that happens in the piece of forest that starts where our terrace ends.

On the other hand, when I got pregnant for the second time (a pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage and changed my eating habits all over again), I couldn’t stand the green smoothies that were also part of our daily diet, and soon my son didn’t want any either.

Now that our baby daughter is beginning to eat foods other than breastmilk, I am once again evaluating my diet and trying to come to terms with what is the best way I can eat  in order to set a good example for my children. I confess it has not been easy, but that is a story for another day.

Overall I believe that leading by example, and not forcing the issue, will often lead our children to start mirroring our own healthy eating habits.

How do you encourage your children to eat healthy, even when they might not want to?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Eco Ziva of Brazil. 

Photo credit to the author.

Ecoziva (Brazil)

Eco, from the greek oikos means home; Ziva has many meanings and roots, including Hebrew (brilliance, light), Slovenian (goddess of life) and Sanskrit (blessing). In Brazil, where EcoZiva has lived for most of her life, giving birth is often termed “giving the light”; thus, she thought, a mother is “home to light” during the nine months of pregnancy, and so the penname EcoZiva came to be for World Moms Blog. Born in the USA in a multi-ethnic extended family, EcoZiva is married and the mother of two boys (aged 12 and three) and a five-year-old girl and a three yearboy. She is trained as a biologist and presently an university researcher/professor, but also a volunteer at the local environmental movement.

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