Constance Marie’s Blog: The Kid Versus the Vegetables

11/05/2012 at 07:02 PM ET

Constance Marie's Blog: Kid Versus the Vegetables
Halloween bunnies – Courtesy Constance Marie

Look who’s back! We’re thrilled to say hello again to Constance Marie, our original celebrity blogger!

The actress, mom to daughter Luna Marie, 3½, with fiancé Kent Katich, stars on Switched at Birth, which returns Jan. 7 to ABC Family.

She’s also one of the celebrity voices narrating beloved children’s stories for Little Golden Records, available now at Walmart.

Marie, 47, can also be found online on Facebook and @goconstance on Twitter. If you’ve missed any of her past posts, check them out here.

In her latest blog, the actress shares her secret for getting Luna Marie to eat well.

In this corner, the all-time champion, Little Tommy, weighing in at 40 lbs.! And in the other corner, packed full of vitamins and gently sautéed in butter … Señor Green Bean!

I know this is a sore subject for many, many moms. Moms trying to get their kids to eat vegetables or eat healthy or just eat anything! As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was an overwhelmed, exhausted and totally terrified new mom who realized I was in way over my head. So, I dragged myself to a mommy group when my daughter was three months old. I admitted I NEEDED HELP!

One of the many great things about this mommy group was that it was run by a therapist. And while I was sitting there in a sleep-deprived, cracked nipples breastfeeding haze, I heard this therapist say: “If you make your child’s food intake a battle, it will be a battle you will be fighting with them for the rest of their lives.” I thought to myself, “Wait, what was that?!” It apparently was SO important she said it again, for which I was very, very thankful.

I wasn’t really sure what she meant by this, but I do remember watching many moms over the years. They tried to get their children to eat and the children really, really, really enjoyed saying “NO.” Thankfully, this mommy group therapist showed us an exercise and said, “We need to teach our children that their hunger needs to be more important to them than it is to their mothers. Thus ending the power struggle.” Oh! And she also added, “Whatever you do, be CONSISTENT!”

I realize a lot of children don’t like their vegetables. NEWSFLASH: I am a vegetarian. I also wanted to raise my child vegetarian — there was no way I was going to raise a vegetarian who hated vegetables. C’mon! That would just be wrong! I also learned that children eat how WE parents eat. Sad to say, if you want your child to eat healthy, we parents have to eat healthy too. I KNOW!!!! I’m not happy about it either. Gone are the easy, breezy, awesome days of “Do as I say, not as I do!”

So when Luna Marie was about seven months old, I used the exercise the therapist taught us.

Constance Marie's Blog: Kid Versus the Vegetables
Luna Marie starts to eat! – Courtesy Constance Marie

Full disclosure: I was completely terrified and a nervous wreck before I tried this, but I did it anyway.

I prepared some steamed broccoli. I put it in one large bowl in the center of the table. I put Luna Marie in her highchair. I grabbed two plates and set them down in the center of the table. Then I took a deep breath and sat down. I took one plate from the stack, put it in front of myself, left my daughter’s place empty, and started to serve myself some broccoli. I did not offer Luna Marie anything. I just sat there and ate my broccoli contentedly.

Of course, I hammed it up a bit like it was the greatest broccoli I had ever eaten in my entire life. (If anyone saw me, they would have called the acting police!)

Needless to say, Luna Marie did not like being ignored. She started to crane her neck to look into the bowl of broccoli like, I can only guess her thinking, “What is in that bowl that is so yummy and making my mommy so happy?” Her next thought, “Why isn’t she giving me any?!” And then the one I was waiting for, “I want some of that!!” Then there was a lot of baby pointing and whining to which I responded innocently, “Oh! You want some broccoli?”

That was exactly the moment I was waiting for. DING! DING! DING! DING! The first round goes to Mama!

She learned that if she wanted to eat, she was going to have to make sure she got some. I wasn’t going to force it on her. If she didn’t eat, she would just have to wait until the next mealtime.

Of course, if she didn’t eat I moved up the next mealtime a little. But I never told her that! I wasn’t going to give away my secrets. That would have wrecked my entire master plan! She didn’t have to feel hungry for long, but she did learn what her hunger felt like (In turn, I also learned how to breathe and tolerate the anxiety of knowing my daughter didn’t eat as much as I would have liked her to). And I only had to do this two times to get it to work.

I also need to tell you — my daughter eats five times a day. Because she is a vegetarian, she needs to eat more often. I have also read that it is healthier to eat smaller meals throughout the day. On a typical day, Luna Marie eats breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner.

Constance Marie's Blog: Kid Versus the Vegetables
Digging into noodles and lima beans – Courtesy Constance Marie

The other thing I learned was to course the meal out.

First, I served the vegetable. Then, I served protein. In our case — beans, tofu and veggie meat.

Then come the yummy carbs … ya know, all the things kids/moms crave! Lastly, the fruit. Another main point — keep the rest of the meal hidden in the kitchen because if kids see there’s something else, those little suckers want that instead, thus continuing the power struggle!

I am not a nutritionist or a doctor. I am just a mom trying to give my child a balanced meal. Raise your hands if you hear me.

And we parents know that it can be so hard to follow our own rules, especially in today’s modern age of no time, limited budgets, prepackaged foods with lots of chemicals and sugar in everything!

The last thing that I learned was a very simple rule. My kitchen is not a restaurant and I am not a chef. Let me say that again. I am SO not a chef. I THINK CHEFS AND COOKS ARE SOME OF THE MOST UNDERRATED, UNDER-APPRECIATED AND TALENTED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD — and I am NOT one of those people! My daughter knows we eat what I have prepared and that’s it. If she’s really hungry, she will eat what I have made. If she doesn’t want to eat what I have made, she does not have to. But that’s all there is. It’s her choice.

I grew up the daughter of a single mom with very limited resources — we had what we had, and if I was hungry I ate it. There really was nothing else … so I have applied these lessons to Luna Marie. She knows if she doesn’t like what I have prepared, she has the choice not to eat it. But she WILL be hungry. That is her choice. And I use all my strength and patience to be okay when she says, “NO THANK YOU.” (Yes, she is that polite when she rejects my cooking.)

Every once in a while, I also hear, “I don’t like this!” But I’ve learned that you have to introduce a new food to a child at least 10 times before making a proper evaluation of whether they truly do not like that food or if they are just in a mood. If my daughter consistently hated something after 10 times, I would remove it from the menu but try to make up the vitamins with some other kind of food.

Honestly, in the beginning it was a complete learning experience for me too. I realized that I was measuring my worth as a mother by whether my child ate or not. I also learned that as a mom, it is almost impossible not to do that.

Constance Marie's Blog: Kid Versus the Vegetables
Amongst the squash – Courtesy Constance Marie

I know that to some parents this approach to food may sound hard-core, but I also know it worked for me. It has saved me so many struggles and a lot of worry. Both my daughter and I know what to expect at meal time. As a result of this, Luna Marie is an amazing eater! (Just like her mama…) Yes! This worked for me and I do not take ANY credit. This was taught to me and now I am sharing it with you.

My daughter eats green beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens, spinach, raw beets etc… she will eat all of them. And the best part — she actually likes them! That part I had no control over. Luna Marie learned she doesn’t have to eat her vegetables if she doesn’t want to, but she will not get to the next course if she doesn’t.

Also I have her eat vegetables with lunch and dinner, because come on, none of us really want to eat vegetables for breakfast! Unless it’s spinach … in a yummy omelette sautéed with garlic in a little olive oil and some cheese … Wait! I digress! (I told you I love to eat.)

I know I will not be able to control what my daughter eats for the rest of her life, but I can for now! I also know that someday, after she has lulled me into a false sense of security, a mealtime will come where Luna Marie’s head will spin all the way around and peas will come flying out at me like The Exorcist. Children are these little feisty creatures that are constantly evolving and we as parents are constantly having to adjust to that. DAH-MIT!!!

I learned somewhere that the first five years of your child’s life are so important and set the stage for how they will live in the world … Also, that that’s the time when you as a parent get to set their eating patterns.

Our children can accomplish amazing things if they just have a healthy body fueled by healthy food. Whatever you choose to do — and however you choose to do it — I wish you all the strength and courage in the world because you’re going to need it. Being the rule-maker is hard. I also applaud you for taking the time to read and research how other moms do things! It truly does take a village.

— Constance Marie

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Showing 28 comments

Sasha on

this was awesome and maybe my favorite blog yet. I love reading Constance’s posts and love the idea of implementing courses for the kids.. keep her around!

caryn on

not sure how i feel about raising children vegetarian. while i believe everyone has the right to do what they want with their own children – you can not get the proper needed protein from beans or nuts. it’s not opinion, it’s a fact and so important for growing children. they’re also not the same type of protein…

i also feel bad for children who play at other kids homes and can’t partake in the bbqs or things like that bc their parents made a decision for their childhood based on their own adult preferences. it’s hard enough growing up in modern society, making your kid different in my opinion and of course it’s only my opinion is tough.

the post was great though and constance seems great as well.

Alexa on

I’m so glad you spoke about getting your daughter to eat healthily, especially as a vegetarian! I’m a vegetarian (which I get flack for from my family at every meal) and I hope to raise my children as vegetarians, or at the very least healthy people who have a balanced diet not made up of fast food and junk food.

It’s fantastic to finally hear of someone who did it without forcing anything on her child!

Raini on

Thank you so much for this for I have been going thru a very difficult time with my 15 mo old and his lack of eating. He’s never been a great eater and is on the thin side as far as weight. So of course my reaction is to fatten this kid up, ha! Easier said than done.

Mealtime has become the most stressful time and some days we succeed but mostly it’s an uphill battle that I don’t win. My son usually cries and screams at the dinner table and I want to do the same. I keep thinking he has to be hungry so why isn’t he eating?!

I’m going to try what you do b/c he is usually seated 1st and has a plate infront of him first. Maybe if I hold it from him he will want it more…fingers crossed this works!!!!

Kim on

This was a great post to read for me also! I am really struggling with feeding my 2 year old.

We’re not vegetarian, but I still want to try some of the things Constance has suggested and see if we can make some progress. I really hope it’s not too late to reverse some of the bad habits that I have unfortunately led my child into with meal time.

betty on

@caryn, you may want to double check where you are getting your “facts’ . A vegetarian or Vegan diet if done properly with grains, legumes, dairy (if vegetarian) etc. is more than enough protein and actually more easily digestible protein, without all unhealthy fats from animal protein. Have to wonder why there is such an obesity problem in the Unites States and it certainly isn’t from eating a plant based diet.

Our family is Vegan (largely due to allergies and ethics) and we are the healthiest family in our circle of friends. Rarely a cold, my daughter who is 3 has never had a stomach bug and is in the 90 percentile for height and weight!! A shining example of health!

Jenny on

Awesome!! I could not agree more with her blog 🙂 we are not vegetarian but we do & always have followed those same rules in our house & our kids are pretty good eaters & the best part is that they eat healthy b/c that’s what they know, broccoli is everyone’s favorite veggie in our house!! Thanks for the blog!!

Claire on

I admit that I bristled when I read the title for this blog and wasn’t optimistic about it. It seems all the parent/food/veggie blogs end with something like, “So she eats Mac & Cheese at every meal and won’t touch a veggie! What’re you gonna do? LOL!!” which I can’t stand.

But I was VERY impressed with Constance Marie’s attitude towards healthy eating. I loved all her ideas and am so glad that she didn’t fall into the “kids just don’t like veggies and there’s nothing you can do about it” trap that so many other parents fall in to.

And to Caryn, I agree with Betty. You need to check your facts. No one, child or adult, who was eating an otherwise healthy diet, ever died from not eating meat. I have several vegetarian or vegan friends who are extremely healthy, muscular, and fit.

Try eating some peas, lentils, or grains. Quinoa has 14 grams of protein per 1/2 cup! Lentils have 18 grams per cup! Tofu has 11 grams per 5 ounces! Eat one cup of brown rice mixed with one cup of broccoli and you’ve just eaten 10 grams of protein! You do NOT need animal protein to be healthy. Period.

summerlin on

This was a great article and the methods used- ingenious! I do not have children, but I have always been a bit horrified at how meal time is handled at some of peers’ homes-fast food on a regular basis, lots of yelling & whining getting the kids to eat.

I think back to my own mother- she also was not a short -order cook- what came to the table is what you ate, meal time was at the table and not play time, lots of fruits and veggies. We were never forced to eat anything, but if you didn’t eat what was there, you didn’t eat. Period. Over time, I think my brothers and I learned that salad is not so bad, brussel spouts are tolerable, and mushrooms not so icky. Ironically, I love all these foods more now as an adult!

Sandy on

I have three kids and I, too, fight this battle. We aren’t vegetarian, but I try to rely on as many whole foods as I can and avoid the pre-packaged foods as much as possible (although I’m not perfect!). We have a limited budget, but you can do it with a little planning.

Thanks for sharing – it can be hard to put your “mommy” decisions out there for the public!

Christina on

I love this blog. I have a 2 year old almost 3. I too have had my ups and downs. He’s my veggie eater. I have a hard time to get him to eat any type of meat. He eats eggs almost every morning. The rest of the day it’s fruit and veggies. I try to get him to eat a few bites of meat at dinner. There’s time when he takes three and there’s time when he eats it all.

I know my son healthy and that’s what matters. I know teenagers who still fight with their parent to eat their veggies. I can say I’m a happy mommy when it come to my son.

mytwocents on

I am pregnant with my first baby and this whole eating thing makes me nervous! I will try & remember these words of wisdom when the time comes!

Stephanie on

I totally agree with you! While I am not a vegetarian, I am not a short order cook either. I have fed my kids pretty much everything we ate from the time they could eat table food to now.

I am not a short order cook. I cook dinner every night and if they don’t like it, sorry. That is all I make. I always have a side that they like so they can eat that and drink their milk.

A friend of mine used to make 3 separate meals: one for her and hubby, one for the daughter and the other for the son. Craziness!

My kids are 9 and 11 now but they aren’t afraid to try new foods.

Elise on

I’m so happy to hear she’s raising her daughter vegetarian! Vegan would be better, but at least there’s no meat! And anyone who says being a vegetarian as a child is unhealthy needs to do their homework, especially if one of their reasons is that the kid won’t “fit in.”

Really? So if all the kids are smoking you’d let your child do it? Come on, people, it’s 2012. Health and nutrition advocates everywhere are agreeing that vegetarian diets are healthy. And if you think they aren’t, look at the children of today – they’re overweight, have plaque build up, clogged arteries and high cholesterol before they even hit junior high! Stop living in the stone ages by saying vegetarianism isn’t healthy!

cb on

Can your toddler/child grocery shop or drive him/herself to get fast food?
No? Then there’s absolutely no reason s/he won’t eat healthy food, including vegetables of all sorts.

And there’s no need to hide the veges, either — the stupidest approach to healthy eating in recent years.

My son was not exposed to high-sugar or other junk foods. When he became a teenager, he experimented with junk foods briefly, then gave them up on his own. Just like any other bad habit, if you don’t develop it early on, chances are you never will.

cb on

Unless your toddler grocery shops or is able to drive to the junk food dens, s/he will eat vegetables of all sorts if you, the parent, serve them. That’s the issue here, not the toddler.

Anonymous on

Thank you for sharing your post has helped me tremendously. My daughter is 7 months and she is a very good eater. But I over analyze if she gets mad while I am feeding her and feel like I am torturing her by having her eat something she doesn’t like. When I was young I was forced to eat things that made me very unhappy. In retrospect, maybe my Mom, Step Mom and Father did not try hard enough to engage me to eat better. I refused to eat meat and vegetables for a very long time. Again thank you for sharing.

kripkeownsme on

What a fantastic blog, and I couldn’t agree with her more! I do the same thing with my two (almost three) year old. He can pick what he eats, but if he doesn’t eat his veggies, he’s not getting to the protein course (we aren’t vegetarians), and certainly not anywhere near the fruit. Knock on wood, it has worked so far.

guest on

Loved this blog! Thank you!!!

Jess on

Thank you for this blog! I have struggles with both my kids on food and I will try to give this a shot to some degree. Since they are older, it may not work just as well. I disagree to those saying vegetarian is not healthy for a child and that the protein subs are not the same. I eat meat. My 4 year old daughter, will not touch it. I have learned to fill in the gaps and she is healthy and strong. If you do your research, there is no problem with it.

Lee on

poor kid, she’s going to be hating her mother when she gets old enough to discover real food in the real world her mother is not going to be able to protect her from, and then from fear and rebellion she will hide food, real food in her room, and will turn out to be as big as Carnie wilson from the rebellion of getting back at her mother for all thoe years she depreived her of having the intelligence to decide fro her self what types of food she loves. Food only feeds the stomache, but only the father Jesus can give good health…Amen…

Mindy on

I guess I don’t really understand the whole “getting your kids to eat vegetables” things. My husband and I ate vegetables before we had kids. We continued to make the same kinds of meals when we had kids. We made vegetables, we served vegetables, we ate vegetables, the kids ate them. No drama, no pretending to have a veg-gasm, no disguising them.

Mary on

When my kids were small, they wouldn’t eat veggies. It was a struggle, salad they would eat, at least it was some veggies. Now as adults, they love veggies, my son is a chef and uses veggies as often as possible and cooks them in different ways. To this day he still won’t eat peas. The only meat my daughter will eat is chicken, and lots of veggies. Her 2 kids love veggies except corn.

Love her blogs, she and her daughter are beautiful.

Jaz on

It really bothers me when parents take the credit for their children eating veggies. I have one child that loves vegetables, can’t get enough and another that gags at the sight of them. I hated vegetables and fruit as a child, would rather starve to death than eat them and my second born is the exact same way. She will skip meals and doesn’t care. No amount of trickery or meal planning will get her to magically eat broccoli. You got a kid who likes vegies…good for you. Pin a rose on your nose!

Kym on

Jaz, Mindy, Lee…really?!

The Lord helps those who help themselves. Constance is helping herself and her child. The Lord is definitely assisting.

“Pin a rose on your nose”? As a parent you do what you have to within reason for your child.

Helping your child to be healthy isn’t an awful thing. I suppose the parents that give up and let their child eat chicken nuggets or PBJ at every meal is great because they don’t resort to “trickery.

Melissa on

I love this blog! Constance Marie’s blog is one of my favourites to read on People, I don’t know if it’s the style of writing or what, but I love it! Thanks for the tips!

I’m not a mom yet, but I know it will be very hard getting my kids to eat well, just because of my husband. I actually have to do the hated hiding of veggies in everything I cook for him, from cauliflower in the mashed potatoes to carrots and celery ground up in chili to beets in the brownies (surprisingly tasty).

I love using vegetables and whole grains in my recipes, but growing up his mother would be short order cook to her three children and make them whatever they wanted, in most cases 4 separate meals, one for each kid and one for her and her husband. Something that she continues to do today for her still living at home (go figure) 27 and 29 year old “kids”.

I’ve told him many times that when we have kids I need his support in making them eat healthy by example, and he’s not that young anymore, he is really going to have problems in the near future if he won’t eat healthier, but it’s all white bread, carbs, meat, potatoes and McDonald’s for him right now.

Any tips on getting a 33 year old man to eat his fruits, whole grains and veggies? 😛

Jane Hill on

Veganism is perfect AFTER the critical neurocognitive development has transpired. Until then, no way. During infancy (up until 3-5 years of age), fat ratio in diet should mimic human breastmilk (at 50%) with similar cholesterol values. Animal fats are critical for neuro development. The brain is 3/4 fat. Neurons ignite, fire and bathe in fat. Myelin needs fat. Infants and children, as you know, cannot eat a high enough quantity of fat from non-animal sources to even adequately make up the difference.

Infants and young children should have, in fact, very ample, full fat diets (think whole milk, cheese, eggs) with vegetables, legumes and grains following the fat dense contents.

Applying adult diets to young children is dangerous from an intellectual development standpoint. Any wonder why children are scholastically underachieving?

Ironically, I’m a vegan. I plan to transition my daughter to veganism starting at age 5. It won’t be easy but it’s worth it to make absolutely sure my daughter’s brain is nourished properly during these first 5 years when it’s building critical neurons and connections – development that ONLY happens now.

One of many scientific papers on the subject:

Elara on

Unless they have major food allergies, children don’t need to be coddled and pampered when it comes to food. Kids will eat what you put in front of them, when they are hungry enough. If you don’t want them eating junk, don’t buy it. Simple as that.

Things that work:

If you give your kid milk, don’t let them have chocolate milk. Make them drink it cold and plain, or not at all. All the chocolate does is make them think they can demand it. Don’t give in.

Cake and ice cream is not a necessity. Neither is soda pop, sugary juice, or cookies, candy or chips. Stop buying expensive chemical junk and put that money toward fresh produce.

Never give kids anything sweeter than a piece of fruit, and they will never know what they are missing.

Fix veggies you know YOU enjoy. If you won’t eat Brussels sprouts or lima beans, it’s not fair to expect your kid to eat it either. If they see you enjoying veggies, they will be more likely to as well.

Ban fast food burgers. If you go out to eat, go to a diner that serves a real meal. French fries do NOT count as veggies.