Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That means Kids Eat in Color® gets commissions for purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, Kids Eat in Color® earns from qualifying purchases. All opinions remain my own.
Standing in the bathroom, Eric’s mom looked in the mirror to give herself and quick pep talk. “You can do this. Just put the cabbage on the plates and breathe,” she said to herself.
Eric gave his mom almost no problems. He was not a bother to his older brother, and he willingly helped out with his younger sister. Eric was overall a great kid. His mom just couldn’t understand why he would often act out at dinner.
Tonight was stewed cabbage night. Stewed cabbage was the family’s favorite side dish–everyone except Eric loved it. Eric’s mom couldn’t really remember when the selective eating began, but it felt like it was getting worse every day. And now, Eric’s younger sister seemed to be picking up some of Eric’s behaviors.
Eric’s mom plated the food and called the family to eat. Each child’s plate was placed in front of them. Before she could sit down, she saw Eric making faces and sticking out his tongue as if to gag.
Eric asked, “What is this? It smells just as bad as it looks.”
Eric’s sister began to copy him and make faces of disgust as well. Eric’s mom shouted suddenly, “Everyone WILL eat their cabbage tonight, and will not make faces!” She felt bad for yelling and knew something needed to change, but she felt exhausted and didn’t know what to do.
We know that feeding kids can be so tricky. We want to help you get out of these food battles. Reversing picky eating is a long-term process, and we’re here to help you do that! Here’s our guide to help you teach kids to eat cabbage. You’ll learn:
- The benefits of cabbage for kids
- How to serve cabbage to picky eaters
- How to talk about cabbage to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what cabbage does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with cabbage
The Benefits of Cabbage for Kids
Cabbage comes in many varieties and can be purple, red, white or green. Its leaves can be crinkled, wavy or smooth. Cabbage is good for kids and cheap, and that’s why Eric’s mom served it as a side at dinner.
Cabbage has many health benefits for kids and adults. One benefit is aiding in wound healing, since it is a good source of vitamin K.
Cabbage also has vitamin C, which also helps to heal wounds and repair damage to cells.
Another cabbage benefit for kids is that it contains iron, which is important in the production of red blood cells.
How to Serve Cabbage to Picky Eaters
Cabbage is a versatile and affordable food to serve to kids. It can be cooked and eaten warm as a side or in soup. Cabbage can also be served raw in salads, slaw, or on tacos for a nice crunch. It can even be fermented into a sauerkraut and kimchi.
Knowing different ways to serve cabbage to picky eaters can be very helpful. Often kids need to be served a new food multiple times and in multiple ways to help them try and eventually like it. If your kid refuses to eat cabbage, keep serving it.
When offering your child a new food, we suggest serving it in a micro portion. These are very small, pea-sized tastes of food. Serving micro portions helps your child to feel less overwhelmed, and it reduces pressure to eat the food if they are not ready. Micro portions can also help your family reduce food waste.
Alongside serving micro portions, we also recommend not pressuring your child to eat a food. Pressure can overwhelm your child to the point of refusal.
Pressure is not always obvious. Eric’s mom pressured him to try cabbage by placing a regular-sized portion on his plate and saying, “Everyone will eat their cabbage.” Serving a regular portion may not seem like pressure, but it is. Pressure can also look like:
“Take one bite and you’re all done.”
“The whole family likes cabbage, and you will too once you give it a try.”
“If you don’t eat your cabbage, you can’t leave the table.”
On the family’s next stewed cabbage night, Eric’s mom can serve him a micro portion of cabbage without any pressure, so he won’t feel so overwhelmed and can try the cabbage when he is ready.
How to Talk About Cabbage to Get Your Child to Try It
Picky eaters often speak negatively about the foods they are not familiar with. Phrases like, “it smells bad,” “this feels yucky,” or “that looks scary,” may be common to hear from a fussy eater. When picky kids talk negatively like this, they are less likely to try a new food.
To help break this habit, you can model a new behavior for your child. Modeling can be thought of as showing your child what behaviors they can do. Incorporating neutral words into your vocabulary would be a great start! Your child will be able to learn neutral words and phrases about cabbage by hearing you do the same.
It won’t make them love cabbage overnight, but it’s a step in that direction. Here are a few examples of descriptive words you can use to teach kids to eat cabbage:
- Green or purple
- Slippery (when cooked)
- Big sound (if raw)
- Small sound (if cooked)
- Big smell
The next time Eric’s mom serves the family’s favorite side dish for dinner, she could tell Eric, “This stewed cabbage has a big smell and looks wavy.”
How to Help Your Child Understand What Cabbage Does in Their Bodies
Again, the way we talk to selective eaters is so important. With good intentions, many parents tell kids that foods, like cabbage, are “healthy” because they want the best for them. Kids, in response, may refuse to eat cabbage because they don’t understand how a food is healthy. Or, they may generalize and equate “healthy food” with “not-tasty food” based on previous experience. What we can do to get kids to eat cabbage is to help them understand what the vegetable does in their bodies.
Here are some age appropriate messages you can share that teaches your child about the nutritional benefits of cabbage:
Age 0-3: Cabbage helps your boo-boos get better.
Age 3-5: Cabbage has vitamin K, which helps heal cuts and scrapes.
Age 6-11: Cabbage has vitamin K, which is a vitamin that helps our bodies form blood clots so we don’t bleed too much.
Age 12-18: Cabbage has a specific type of vitamin K, the K1 type, that is used in a process in our body that leads to our blood clotting.
Cabbage Food Activity
To overcome picky eating and get kids to eat cabbage, another strategy we recommend is food play. Food play allows your child to interact with the new food in an approachable way. For selective eaters, new foods can trigger a reaction of their fight or flight system, which might look like a mealtime meltdown. By allowing kids to interact with food through play, by looking, touching, smelling, and eventually tasting, they can become desensitized to the new food. The new found comfort (or at least decreased fear) of the food will be a big step towards your child trying and maybe even liking a new food.
Food play activities don’t have to be complicated or take up a lot of time and mental energy. Your child may need to start with looking at cabbage before they are able to taste it. To get you started, we have a cabbage food activity for you.
You and your child are going to create a Cabbage Comic Book. Be sure to mention that this food activity is for having fun together. If your child is feeling apprehensive, reassure your child that there is no pressure for them to play if they do not want to.
Cabbage Comic Book
- Cabbage, washed and dried
- Drawing paper
- Coloring pens/pencils, or markers
- Ruler and stapler, optional
- Have your child make up a cabbage character and a short story.
- Have your child draw out their cabbage story in comic book format.
- Decorate the characters and pictures with the raw cabbage.
- Staple pages together and share with family and friends.
For variations and more ideas, get Food Play Every Day: 102+ Food Activities for Kids!
Thanks for Being Part of Our Community That’s Teaching Kids to Eat More Foods!
About Kids Eat in Color
Kids Eat in Color gives parents the tools they need to teach their kids to eat veggies and try foods without a battle! From introducing new foods to a picky eater, to reducing meal-time stress, to taking off some of the burdens of meal planning, shopping, and cooking, we are here for parents.
Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN
Alli Delozier, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Laura Petix, M.S., OTR/L
Erinn Jacobi, M.S., OTR/L
Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed
Baylin, Jonathan. “Behavioral Epigenetics and Attachment: The New Science of Trust and Mistrust.” The Neuropsychotherapist 1, no. 3 (2013): 68–79. https://doi.org/10.12744/tnpt(3)068-079.
Benson, Jeryl D., Carol S. Parke, Casey Gannon, and Diane Muñoz. “A Retrospective Analysis of the Sequential Oral Sensory Feeding Approach in Children with Feeding Difficulties.” Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention 6, no. 4 (2013): 289–300. https://doi.org/10.1080/19411243.2013.860758.
Berk, Laura E. Development Through the Lifespan. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc., 2018.
Bodison, Stefanie C., and L. Diane Parham. “Specific Sensory Techniques and Sensory Environmental Modifications for Children and Youth with Sensory Integration Difficulties: A Systematic Review.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 72, no. 1 (December 2017). https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.029413.
Case-Smith, Jane, and Jane Clifford O’Brien. Occupational Therapy for Children. Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby/Elsevier, 2010.
Cooke, L. “The Importance of Exposure for Healthy Eating in Childhood: A Review.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 20, no. 4 (2007): 294–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-277x.2007.00804.x.
Copple, Carol, and Sue Bredekamp. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs: Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2008.
Guo, Liyuan, Hong Zhu, Chengjun Lin, Jianhua Che, Xiujuan Tian, Shiyu Han, Honghui Zhao, Yumei Zhu, and Dongwei Mao. 2015. “Associations between Antioxidant Vitamins and the Risk of Invasive Cervical Cancer in Chinese Women: A Case-Control Study.” Scientific Reports 5 (1): 13607. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep13607.
Hagan, Joseph F., Judith S. Shaw, and Paula M. Duncan, eds. Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents (Pocket Guide). 4th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017. https://brightfutures.aap.org/Bright%20Futures%20Documents/BF4_POCKETGUIDE.pdf.
“Iron: Fact Sheet for Consumers.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 22, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/iron-consumer/.
Kramer, Paula, Jim Hinojosa, and Tsu-Hsin Howe. Frames of Reference for Pediatric Occupational Therapy. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2020.
Kubala, Jillian. “9 Impressive Health Benefits of Cabbage.” Healthline. Healthline Media, November 4, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-cabbage.
Mikstas, Christine. “Benefits of Cabbage.” WebMD. WebMD, September 11, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/ss/slideshow-cabbage-benefits.
Milestone Moments: Learn the Signs, Act Early. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health & Human Services USA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/MilestoneMomentsEng508.pdf.
Min, Kyoung-Chul, and Yoo-Im Choi. “Review of Effectiveness Sensory Integration Therapy on Feeding and Oral Function of Children Focus on Single-Subject Research Design.” Journal of Korean Society of Occupational Therapy 29, no. 1 (2021): 101–13. https://doi.org/10.14519/kjot.2021.29.1.08.
Minihane, Anne M., Sophie Vinoy, Wendy R. Russell, Athanasia Baka, Helen M. Roche, Kieran M. Tuohy, Jessica L. Teeling, et al. “Low-Grade Inflammation, Diet Composition and Health: Current Research Evidence and Its Translation.” British Journal of Nutrition 114, no. 7 (2015): 999–1012. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114515002093.
Papalia, Diane E., Ruth Duskin Feldman, and Sally Wendkos Olds. Human Development. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009.
Parham, L. Diane, Gloria Frolek Clark, Renee Watling, and Roseann Schaaf. “Occupational Therapy Interventions for Children and Youth with Challenges in Sensory Integration and Sensory Processing: A Clinic-Based Practice Case Example.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 73, no. 1 (January 2019). https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2019.731002.
“Preschooler Development.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002013.htm.
Roley, Smith Susanne, Erna I. Blanche, and Roseann C. Schaaf. Understanding the Nature of Sensory Integration with Diverse Populations. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed, 2007.
“Vitamin C: Fact Sheet for Consumers.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 22, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-Consumer/.
“Vitamin K: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 29, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/.