How do you get your toddler to eat veggies? Every parent goes through a phase when all efforts to get their kids to eat vegetables fall flat.
So today I’m sharing 10 no-nonsense tips that will help you raise a confident vegetable eater – and help you avoid falling into the trap of making two separate meals for as long as your kid lives in your house.
We all know how important it is to find a way to get our children to eat veggies if we want to set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.
Toddler years are crucial for this: kids at this age haven’t yet lost their sense of curiosity, plus they haven’t picked up negative vibes towards veggies from siblings or friends.
Yet this is also the time when a lot of parents give up after running into initial trouble.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario that I’ve seen play over and over:
A mom has tried putting broccoli on her kid’s plate a few times, yet every time it goes untouched. Her child is much more excited about foods like nuggets and french fries.
So to avoid wasting food, effort and money (and cut down on tantrums), after a while she stops with the vegetables and offers way less nutritious stuff that at least her kid will eat.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to shame anyone here. I understand that we all have our circumstances. What I’m trying to say is, often parents give up their efforts too soon, or two quickly.
If you’ve found yourself on the brink of giving up, take a look at my ten tips below.
From my own experience with my veggie-loving toddler to scientific studies from a health psychologist’s lab, I’m sure that you’ll find at least a few tips that will work in your situation.
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How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Veggies Once and For All
1. Eat vegetables yourself
Vegetables are way more likely to register as a regular part of your family’s daily menu when toddlers see their parents eat them often.
Most kids don’t get into the mindset of “vegetables are yucky” out of nowhere – parents and other family members don’t realize that they are setting a bad example when they refuse to eat vegetables themselves.
But if you “program” your kids differently from the start by showing that veggies are OK, you might get a different result.
2. Show your toddler where fruits and veggies come from
A good way to get your kids to eat their fruits and vegetables is to show them where those have come from before they become the chopped and mashed stuff on their plate.
If you have a vegetable garden, take your kids there regularly, and try to get them involved. Show them how to put a seed into the dirt; let them hold a watering can, etc. (It’s OK if you have to redo those things later.)
A few weeks ago I took my 2.5 year-old daughter to help me plant some peas in our garden. She was fascinated to see them sprout a week later, and I’m sure she’ll be just as excited to eat them once it’s time to harvest.
No garden – no problem! Take your toddler grocery shopping (once it’s safe to do so again), and let them pick fruits and veggies with you. My daughter loves putting produce into our shopping cart – she usually throws it in as hard as she can, so I only let her do that with harder things.
3. Serve a vegetable course first (when kids are the hungriest)
Hungry kids are way more likely to eat foods that they would otherwise scoff at. I found this idea in Bringing Up Bébé – a book by Pamela Druckerman where she talks about the differences between French and American styles of parenting.
In one chapter, Druckerman shares her observations on why French kids are much better at eating a variety of foods (including vegetables) since an early age instead of the same ol’ chicken nuggets every day.
In short, she notes that French parents introduce their kids as early as it is reasonable to the same foods they eat themselves, and don’t back down if at first some foods are rejected.
She also shares the trick of offering vegetables as a simple first course before meals when kids are still hungry. Nothing fancy – some sliced cherry tomatoes or grated carrots with a touch of salt and oil will do while you’re getting their main dish ready.
This resonates with the findings of Traci Mann, a health psychologist from University of Minnesota. Mann and her team have researched the behavior of school-age children to see which way of serving vegetables gets kids to eat them best.
Mann’s team compared the amount of carrots kids ate when those were offered next to other foods, and when carrots were served by themselves in paper cups before the main course.
Sure enough, the second way of serving carrots turned out to be way more successful: it “tripled the amount of carrots the students ate, likely by keeping the vegetable from having to compete with the yummier, less healthy foods that they will get in the cafeteria later.” (Source)
Also see: 7 homemade plant-based baby food recipes for kids 6 months and up (baby-led weaning approved!).
4. Keep offering vegetables even if kids don’t like them
It is considered that kids need to be exposed to a new food for up to 14 times before they get used to it.
The first few times it may stay untouched, then they’ll take a little bite, then eat a whole piece next time, and who knows – they just may be on the way to eating the whole serving.
If you still strike out with a particular vegetable after a few attempts, wait a little while before reintroducing it, and try something else instead. Or offer them the same food a few weeks later.
That was my daughter’s story with mushrooms.
For a while she wasn’t impressed with them, but after I took a break from serving mushrooms to her and reintroduced them a month or two later, she finally got a taste for them. Believe it or not, she now demands mushrooms at almost every meal.
Whatever you do, try not to label your toddler a picky eater. According to Kelly Jones, a registered dietitian, “Labeling a child as a “picky eater” will likely only reinforce pickiness.”
If you get to the point where you start making a separate dinner for your kid just to keep them from throwing a tantrum, odds of exposing them to something new will grow smaller every day. So please don’t give up!
5. Cook the same vegetable different ways to find your child’s favorite
Another good approach to take here – to prepare vegetables in different ways to find the one your toddler likes best. Sometimes you’ll be surprised what you may find out.
Case in point: I’ve given my daughter cauliflower cooked and seasoned in a lot of different ways, yet she rarely ate more than a bite or two. Then once she asked for a raw, unseasoned piece of cauliflower I was getting ready to cook – and loved it!
I would have never thought that plain raw cauliflower would be the winner if it wasn’t for that chance.
6. Offer fruits and vegetables as a snack option
There’s something about offering fruits and veggies for kids to eat as a snack that makes them more desirable than when they are served as a part of a meal.
The cauliflower incident above is perfect proof of that. In fact, there are a few other foods my kid is more likely to eat as snacks: carrot sticks, radishes, drained and rinsed canned chickpeas, etc.
The best way to make this happen is to have veggies easily available when kids come by the kitchen to grab a snack. Put a tray of carrot and celery sticks, bell pepper slices, etc. in the fridge so it’s the first thing they see when they (or you) open the fridge.
Another way to make snacking on vegetables more appealing is to…
7. Offer dips with vegetables instead of chips
Let’s face it: too often toddlers are looking for bright, in-your-face flavors in their snacks, yet most veggies are pretty subtly flavored.
That’s why dips are such a lifesaver!
You probably already know what dips and sauces your little ones can’t get enough of. (Hummus? Pesto? Ranch dressing? Salsa?) So go from there, and swap out chips for fresh vegetables.
But what if they still insist on chips?
8. Offer veggie chips instead of regular chips if you must
Veggie chips may not be as wholesome as raw vegetables, but they can make a decent stand-in for fried potato or corn chips in a pinch.
What to look for in healthier veggie chips:
- – They are made with real vegetables, not just dusted in veggie powder;
- – Vegetables are mentioned as the first ingredient, and the overall list of ingredients is short;
- – The amount of sodium is reasonable (the younger your kids, the less sodium they need in their diet);
- – There’s still a good amount of fiber.
In our house, Terra brand of chips is quite popular – their original variety includes parsnip, taro, sweet potato, yuca, and batata. Our toddler also likes plantain chips, but we haven’t had a lot of luck with kale chips.
9. Bring out the hidden veggie recipes!
Hiding vegetables in regular foods just might be the way to get picky eaters to start eating their veggies.
Ways to hide vegetables in foods:
– Blend them into a sauce. Example: blend regular tomato-based pasta sauce with vegetables like carrots, peas, cauliflower, etc., and toss it with your child’s favorite pasta shape.
– Add vegetables to baked goods – think grated carrots, yellow squash, zucchini, etc. My daughter really loves my healthy chocolate-zucchini muffins, and so does everyone who’s ever tried them.
– Add vegetables to fruit smoothies – broccoli, kale, spinach, and peas pack a great nutritional punch without changing the flavor of the smoothie. This works best in darker-colored smoothies like the ones made with blueberries or cherries – otherwise your picky eater may get suspicious about the color.
10. No pressure
Whatever you do – please don’t pressure your toddler to eat veggies when they reject them! This actually applies to any other food they don’t like.
We all know how defiant kids can be – the more you want them to do something, the less likely it is that they’ll do it. As soon as your toddler figures out that it’s important to you that she eats her veggies, she will double down on refusing them.
There are a lot of harmful things in channeling a strong emotional response to food that can set up your child for a lifetime of love-hate relationship with what they eat.
Eating disorders, yo-yo dieting, emotional eating, etc. – most people who deal with those can trace the beginning of their struggles all the way back to their childhood.
So PLEASE try to act neutrally if and when your efforts to get your child to eat vegetables fail yet again. There’s always another time, another way of preparing that vegetable – heck, a whole world full of different vegetables to experiment with!
I hope these tips have given you a better idea for how to get your toddler to eat veggies. If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments!
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