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On Call: Veggie Haters

Q. Our 2-year-old has started to refuse vegetables. Should we insist she eat them, or is this just a phase she'll outgrow?


A. Yes and yes. You don't have to push them in the clear-your-plate-or-else sense, but don't give up. I've talked to parents who got so discouraged by the squabbles over vegetables that they took them off the menu entirely. But the problem is that they don't always make it back on the plate  -- or when they do, they've become so unfamiliar, with "I-don't-like-this" connotations, that they never quite return to the mainstream of the child's diet.

Most kids these days don't get the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables  -- and this decline in healthy eating habits is a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic. That said, I've been the mom of four 2-year-olds. So I know how randomly stubborn they can be  -- and that food jags and refusals are common at this age. You have to pick your battles, and there are definitely days when fighting over vegetables could catapult everyone over the edge.

So don't fight, but keep veggies on the plate. And vary them, because you never know which one might appeal to your child. Offer dips, ketchup, grated cheese, salad dressing, or other things to make them more interesting. Mix them in soups and stews. Be sure to eat them yourself, to set an example. And make it clear to your child that you expect vegetables to be a portion of most meals.

My son Zack has never been a big vegetable eater, and when he was little that "portion" was sometimes just a pea or two. But we stuck it out, and now that he's 12, it's grown to a few spoonfuls  -- and he'll also eat a salad. He's not always happy about it, but the clear message we've given him throughout his life is that vegetables aren't optional.

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