Since the age of 3, my oldest daughter has refused to eat all vegetables. About two years ago, my husband and I finally grew tired of the nonsense and developed a system that has miraculously worked. Though it's involved tears, gagging, whining and an incredible amount of patience, we're finding success. Here's what we've done.
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Look, we all blow it sometimes as parents, and some of us even admit it. I'll admit it. I admit it readily. Birthing a human didn't turn me into some sort of perfect version of myself and therefore, I still make mistakes, and I made a huge one with my first child: I somehow let her dictate what she eats and ended up with a super, super picky eater.

As in, she eats no fruits or vegetables readily. Yes, you heard that correctly. Have fun judging.

She will drink fruit smoothies and juices, and we have found ways to sneak these foods into her diet, but on her own, if left to her own devices, her diet would consist of zero vegetables, fruits or berries.

Meat, starches, legumes, dairy. And that's it.

If she saw a veggie in her food she would avoid it.

No, I am not proud of this.

In fact it's mortifying and horrible, and I learned my lesson. My second kid, her little brother? Yeah, he's practically a vegetarian and my third kid eats a very balanced diet. And I know where I went wrong with my first child: Though I started out introducing a wide variety of fruits and veggies, over the toddler years I let her dictate what she wanted/liked best. She slowly migrated away from fruits and veggies toward other foods. I don't know how we let that happen. Terrible people, I guess. Anyway she is now 12 years old.

About two years ago we realized something had to change. This is the foundation of her entire life. We won't always be there to make her kale smoothies or sprout lentils for her.

So I read a bunch of stuff online and talked to a bunch of people and began the long, long, long process of introducing one new food a day to a kid who would literally gag at the first bite.

How it changed

The first thing we did was start researching with our daughter the amazing health benefits of veggies and fruits. We read about how they cure and prevent disease, cleanse the blood and provide vital minerals and nutrients found nowhere else. She read all about what they did for her body and how important they were. She is a very logical person and this information went a long way in helping her understand why she must integrate these foods in her diet for her life. It had to be an agreed-upon method. She had to maintain a personal interest and motivation for any real changes to occur. The last thing we wanted was for her to feel forced to eat something, and while we were 100 percent stubborn on enforcing "the rule," we came up with the rule together.

Every night at dinner she would take one bite of a fruit or vegetable before she could eat the rest of her dinner.

Together, as mom and dad and kid, we decided: Every night at dinner she would take one bite of a fruit or vegetable before she could eat the rest of her dinner.

Sometimes she sat there for a solid hour. When she finally took the bite her eyes would water and she'd gag. Sound like cruelty? Well, maybe, except that a lifetime of poor nutrition seems way more cruel than a single bite of food. And she could eat it in any way: with water, with other food, etc. The point was not to trip on power. The point was to retrain her mind and body to desensitize herself from the block against these foods.

This went on for a year at least, until finally she was eating certain new foods without much problem: kale, sweet potato, cut up carrots or zucchini in soups or curries.

At that point we increased the amount to two or three bites, which we continued for a few more months. Now we're up to three to four bites before every meal rather than just dinner.

A couple of days ago she ate three roasted Brussels sprouts. Yesterday she ate a sandwich with bell pepper in it. She likes raw spinach (well, I'm using that term loosely… maybe hates less than other veggies?).

Her hatred of fruit is still vast, but we're getting there. In the meantime she drinks freshly made juices with her dad.

Small steps

I realize this doesn't sound very impressive, but to finally have a kid who's capable of eating some vegetables without gagging and retching is a remarkable thing. If you have a seriously picky eater you understand what I'm saying. It's been a lot of work but it's worth it.

While it's reasonable for a kid to not like a food or two, it is not reasonable that a kid wouldn't like any veggie or fruit. At that point, it's a problem.

And if you're the parents of a baby or toddler, stick to your guns when it comes to food. When I notice my baby/toddler not liking a food, I serve her that food exclusively until she eats it again. While it's reasonable for a kid to not like a food or two, it is not reasonable that a kid wouldn't like any veggie or fruit. At that point, it's a problem. I've had a lot of success putting the "unliked" food on my toddler's plate and saying, "When that's gone you can have (whatever desired food)." Works every time.

And man it's easier than the alternative.

More on diet

Healthy foods your kids won't hate
Gluten-free diet: Hype or health?
How to avoid the kid diet

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