Matt Damon: How I Get My Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

09/24/2012 at 05:00 PM ET
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

When it comes to cooking, Matt Damon admits he’s no master chef. But he has discovered the secret to getting his kids to eat their vegetables.

“I’m a terrible cook, but I do a little bit of it at home,” Damon, 41, tells PEOPLE at New York’s Cooking Live fundraiser, held Tuesday and benefiting the Family Reach Foundation. “I’m relegated to kids’ fare and I can make more of the functional stuff.”

Case in point? A favorite dish the Elysium actor frequently makes for daughters Isabella, 6, Gia, 4, and Stella, 23 months, as well as Alexia, 14, only contains three ingredients.

“I cook pasta with butter and steam broccoli,” says Damon. “It’s all about getting enough healthy food in front of them every three hours.”

The trick to vegetables, the Oscar winner says, is that “it’s all about starting early.”

My wife [Luciana] and I introduced it to them at a very young age and they just don’t know any different,” he admits. “Luckily, I found out all three of my youngest girls love broccoli. There are times where I can’t get them to eat protein or a little piece of fish because they are going crazy over the broccoli. Sometimes they’re the ones bribing me to eat more of my vegetables.”

Especially when it’s Brussels sprouts being served — Damon doesn’t like the taste.

“That was always a tough one for me — and I was never crazy about cauliflower either,” he shares. “But I grew up eating a lot of salad. My mother made a salad with every single meal we had, so I was raised thinking that’s how you eat. It’s a good balance that I’m trying to teach to my own kids.”

— Paul Chi

FILED UNDER: Exclusive , News , Parenting

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sillyme on

I wish it always worked that way. I was really good about giving my son lots of vegetables and salads when he was growing up and he seemed to love them. Now that he’s got his own money he’s eating fast food (burgers, fries, pizza) ever chance he gets. Maybe he’ll come to his senses when he’s a little older.

Lau on

I wish it worked that well for everyone! As far as I know, my mum introduced me to vegetables at a very early age, and even though I had no problem with them in the first few years, I just started generating an aversion for them and now I hardly like any =S

Becky on

I think he sounds like such an awesome Dad..I’m lucky that my two (twins 10) still love most veggies..I cut brussel sprouts in half, cook in a frying pan with garlic, butter, a little cajun seasoning and crumbled bacon..My family loves it..

Anonymous on

sillyme- Did you also allow your son the occasional burger, slice of pizza, etc. when he was growing up? If so, that could very well be why he’s going crazy eating those things now. Banning junk food just tends to make kids want it more once they have their own money!

twitchitt on

When I was a kid, my mom was very strict about nutrition and eating healthy, so when I moved out on my own I guess I felt deprived of delicious junk food and I just loved to buy processed foods, fast food, white bread, junk food, etc. I went on like that for several years and at some point I decided I needed to grow up and start eating healthy again. Now I am pretty strict about healthy eating habits, just like my mom was.

Lynette on

I struggle too when people say the trick to getting their kids to eat vegetables is to start early. Both my kids ate vegetables fine as a baby and neither touch them now. But I hated them too as a kid and hardly ate them and I love vegetables now. So I have hope for my kids yet and just keep trying.

Catca on

I’ve been fortunate to have the same experiences as Matt. I kept the junk food away figuring there was no need to rush introducing that, they’ll get plenty when they get older, particularly when they start school.

I also made all my son’s baby food and added spices to everything I pureed. He’s 2 1/2 now and also loves broccoli and gets excited in the produce aisle of the supermarket, not the cookie aisle. I can even order off the adult menu in restaurants and share with my son which is much healthier than the fried chicken strips, pizza, hot dogs or greasy hamburgers that are typically on the kids menu.

I don’t know if this would work for all kids, or even how long it will last that he loves eating so healthy, I suspect I just got really lucky.

Cassie on

Good for him!

More parents should understand the importance of a well balanced diet as opposed to one filled with fast food, processed junk, etc. Sadly, considering the climbing obesity rates, many don’t follow through.

Dee on

I introduced all the good stuff to my son too and he absolutely detests them now at 2 yrs old. I cannot even get him to eat cucumbers but he will overdose on yogurt and cheese. He does not like sweet things ie: cake, ice cream, candy etc. but refuses to eat veggies.

The only thing that works is putting them in soups otherwise they dont go past his throat…..which is such a shame because I eat veggies by the boatload 😦

JM on

from when my kids started to eat solids my philosphy was always just that they eat whatever we’re eating. i don’t make a big fuss over it so basically, they also just don’t know any different.

i think the key is to not ban junkfood. my kids have the occasional pizzas, burgers, chips, biscuits, sweets etc. i just make sure they think of fruit and veg as treats too. i don’t go ‘today is a special day so you get to have ice cream’. i just say ‘today we’re having ice cream for dessert’. other days i say ‘today’ we’re having fruit salad for dessert’. they eat carrots as snacks just as happily as biscuits…

of course there are one or two foods they each don’t like and as long as they understand that i am not running a restaurant and won’t cook them individual meals. they don’t have to like everything, they just have to have a balanced diet.

BlueSkidoo on

It’s actually not all about starting them early. It’s about personal taste and preference. He sounds like a great dad, and I’m glad they found what works for them. But the fact is, there is no one answer for every child, you use trial and error with each individual and do what works for you.

Today on

LOL…pasta with butter and steamed broccoli…Are you my hubby ?

Lamenstein on

always fed my daughter what I was eating and she never complained. Her favorite foods now are chicken breast, zuccini, broccoli, meatloaf, roasts, ect, ect…she goes to sleepovers and shes asking for seconds of veggies while the kids she’s with have to have gross mac and cheese made for them because they wont eat the good food. I just dont keep the chicken nuggets and pizza in the house, so its not even an option.

mikesgirl on

Both my husband & I are great eaters & his boys are great too. Very adventurous and love veggies. Our babies are the worst eaters you’ll ever find (they won’t eat cheese, spaghetti & meatballs or even ice cream). I truly think there’s no rhyme or reason at all!

I will agree about the junk food observation above, but for me it was soda. My mom never let us have soda & I spent most of my late teens & early 20’s with a 32 oz.of in sdfa my hand! 🙂

NW Mama on

Hang in there parents, kids go through phases of not liking certian foods they loved as babies/toddlers. My daughter decided she did not like any kind of burger, mashed potatoes, spaghetti, and corn. Now she is 19 and loves all the above. Their tastes change as they grow, but they are always changing, so be diligent and offer the “good stuff” (veggies, fruit etc.) and they will come back to liking all foods, and trying new ones with out a fuss.

Lea on

I agree 100% When my oldest was really young we started with the healthy, and more adult foods. My youngest is only four but we have done the same process with him. Rarely do my children turn down a vegetable. They are less likely to finish what ever meat is on their plate than anything else. More than once a parent has walked up to me in the produce isle and asked do your kids always ask for broccoli? My answer, well my son does. It is his favorite snack. My daughter prefers tomatoes and bell peppers.

I have never made a big deal out of “junk food” They get things like pizza but we make it at home and add veggies to everything. Just last month we had the opportunity to try a Japanese steakhouse for the first time. The people beside us were surprised when my four year old son tried everything that our party had and begged for more zucchini and mushrooms. I may have just been lucky but I would like to think it was conscience effort that has my children asking for the healthy stuff by name when it is side by side with other options.

Connie on

I agree with JM below – nothing is off limits as long as you have a balance within the day. We are the clean your plates type of parents either. Sometimes I’m more hungry than others and kids are no exception.

Our rule was that if you didn’t eat a good dinner than you didn’t get dessert or the treat (when our kids were toddlers). A treat could have been apple slices with peanut butter or a chocolate cookie, it didn’t matter. If they just picked at dinner because they weren’t hungry and then were hungry later, the could eat their re-heated meal, and still not have the treat. Not a punishment, just teaching them limits and choices.

Both of my children are in middle teens and have great healthy diets knowing that no foods are banned, just make good choices throughout the day and treats are great too!

Beth on

I’m pretty sure most people start their babies on veggies early but that doesn’t mean they won’t be picky. I work in a daycare and many kids refuse to eat vegetables. I think it’s more about how you deal with their refusal to eat them. My daughter is 2 though and loves broccoli the best as well!

kvistad on

Matt. Just want you to know I love the movie We Bought A Zoo. You were awesome in it along with Scarlett Johanson. I hope you know your doing the right thing by making sure your kids eat their veggies. I made my family sit at the table for meals. I would ask each of them if their was any problems or need help in their school work. when they did we work on it. My boys friends thought it was cool to meals at the table so they got their family to do it. The parents found out a lot and it help them.

seycas on

Brussels sprouts taste great when you slice them fine line a cabbage, and then stirfry it with garlic and a little salt in olive oil. Just keep it crunchy, don’t overcook it. Love it.

Kristine on

If only it was a matter of exposing them to vegetables = no picky eater issues! My kids have eaten vegetables since they first started solid foods (because don’t all parents start them on veggies instead of chicken nuggets and pizza?) I was the toddler demanding more fresh spinach from the salad bar, my son says if he eats it “it will make me throw up all over.”

We always have a veggie they will eat with our meal. But we also understand they’re individuals who have their own taste preferences. I personally cannot stand cooked carrots and won’t eat them. My husband feels the same way about cauliflower.

ds on

when I was growing up you ate what was put in front of you or you didnt eat. There was nothing like how I get my kids to eat vegs.

Amy on

That’s how my parents did it (started us early) and now myself and my two brothers LOVE vegetables (we are ages 25, 30 and 32), 2 of the three of us have our own veggie gardens. My husband was not raised that way and I had to show him that veggies can be GOOD!

follow on

broccoli has clean protein 🙂

Nikita on

Love that man. So down to earth! And a good Dad to boot

Carrie on

I agree with JM. Once my kids were able to start table foods they ate whatever my husband and I ate. All 3 of my kids are great eaters. They eat a variety of foods and are always willing to try something new. There are a couple things each of them don’t like but who likes everything?!? I can’t stand it when parents only feed their kids ckn nuggets and mac and cheese because it’s all they will eat. Get rid of the junk food and they’ll eat when they get hungry enough!!! Because my kids eat the way they do I have no problem indulging a little if they ask for an occassional treat!!

bb on

The trick is not to introduce them to fast food and junk food first and be a good role model by eating healthy foods. Teach them that junk food is a treat once in a while and not part of a daily routine.

BRod on

If you know how to cook vegetables right, any kid will eat them.

Anonymous on

I wish it worked for me too. I’ve had my 2 boys and now my little princess. I’ve always had them start on healthy foods at an early age and I was pretty consistent with it.

Now that my oldest son has grown, he had gotten pickier and doesn’t like to touch greens. My second boy will eat just about anything but not too much veggies although he will eat some spinach, broccoli and maybe just a few more, depending on how it’s cooked. But he’s not big on veggies either. My daughter is the toal opposite as she doesn’t really care for rice or meats but anything green, she will eat. She opens the fridge and many times, I’ve caught her eating raw cabbage and celery stalks. Just today she asked for sushi rolls. She’s a heavy veggie eater and loves fruits, tofu and shrimps. I didn’t really work with her much on this even as a baby…just my boys.

I didn’t like veggies growing up but now that I’m older, I eat a lot healthier. My kids’ pediatrician even said you can’t force kids to eat them and that their palates do change over the years. All we can do, as parents, is to continue to promote healthy eating habits and exercise. To this day, I still cook with a lot of greens. But remember that all kids are different and they are very unique! Let’s be patient and continue to love on them!

Sunny on

I wonder how many people on here talking about how healthy they eat are 40 pounds overweight?

notsosure on

His kids must have no taste buds……..steamed broccoli and buttered noodles??? How BLAND!

Sarah on

Wow my i love that man too.

JustMe on

Despite being raised in a very veggie filled house, I’ve never been able to stand most veggies. Something about the texture activates my gag reflex. I cant even eat lettuce on a burger 😦

Jules on

I always fed my boys veggies as little ones. Now that they are 9 and 11 they still like them but are also aware of my rule, eat what is put on the table or go hungry. It worked on me as a child and its working on them.

Jen on

My kids ate vegetables from the start and we have never fed them so-called “kid” junk food either, NO hot dogs, pizza, chicken finges, macaroni & cheese (yuck) no fast food crap either. If a kid is a picky eater it’s the PARENTS FAULT. We fed our kid regular food from the start as soon as they had their teeth and could chew, before that they ate alot of pureed vegggies so they already knew the taste of vegetables.. Aren’t you parents feeding your kids pureed veggies from the start and then right into the real?

Our kids eat what is put in front of them, they are helping us in the kithechen too learning to cook healthy. Any kid is a bad eater the parents caused it, the kid probably heard the parent say they don’t like something so the kid follows suit. Kids mimick their parents, learn from their parents, you have a problem child look at your own behavior!

Charli Mabriel on

Jen, your statements are judgmental, hurtful (for new parents who may believe you) and WRONG! Kids are going to be who they’re going to be. Pre-teeth I did only veggies – no fruit, no juice. My family’s attitudes toward food are very healthy. I am no hippy – let your kids rule the roost – mommy but I also refuse to let my babies starve. My pediatrician is well aware of their picky eating but knows – like I do – that they will grow out of it. Who are you to attack these other mothers, sharing their frustration with their kids eating habits?! Women need support, not your self-righteous babbling – there is no harder job that being a mom. I’m truly glad your road has been so easy.

JM on

Jen, unfortunately when i was at uni i remember you could always immediately tell the people who hadn’t been allowed any junk food (even hot dogs, mac and cheese, pizza etc) at home. they were the ones who then GORGED themselves on it when they left home and actually had a less balanced diet than the rest of us. you know, the forbidden fruit tastes sweeter and all. all of a sudden tehy were allowed to try all this new stuff and no one was stopping them and they just went overboard.

in my opinion getting your kids to eat healthy isn’t about controlling them, it’s about helping them to make healthy choices and understand why. junkfood doesn’t need to be forbidden for this to happen. my kids understand what is healthy and what isn’t and we rarely have any food complaints at all.

becky on

My kids are 7 and 5. I started giving them homemade babyfood rather than jarred baby foods. As a result, when I ask my kids what they want for dinner, I usually hear carrots, brocolli, peas, squash.. at their school, they make salads for the teachers, but make them available for the kids. They are more expensive than a regular lunch. The cafeteria called me one day. Freaked out because he was eating salads everyday and going thru his lunch account quickly.. when I asked, So? She was like “its ok that he eats salad everyday? I was just like “|ady, you just asked me I it was ok that my 7 year son eats salad!?!” When she realized that he actually likes salad, she asked me how I got him to eat it.. he also loves cole slaw.

When we got somehwere to eat, if they don’t have salad on the kids menu, I will order him a house salad and some grilled chicken to add to it, and the server give me the strangest look, then asks my kids if he really wants a salad! I was so pissed off one time whe. A server tried to convince my son to order pizza or a burfer instead of a salad, I complained and they actually comped our entire meal.. some people have a hard time believing kids like healthy food too!

becky on

Kids also learn from other kids. My sister in law in 40 years old and has hated mushrooms her entire life because a kid in her 2nd grade class didn’t like them. I had some shiitake mushrooms, and cut them up, sauteed them in fresh garlic and butter, and she loved them. When I told her what they were, couldn’t believe it. So, as much as we can try to feed our kids healthy, and teach them the importance of eating healhty, they can go to a friend’s house whose parents don’t think it is as important as you do, and they get junk. We can’t be with them 24/7.

Gel on

Matt is a great dad for his kids! He is kind of good model for many other dads out there.