If there’s one common question and concern among the parents I talk to, it’s always how to get kids to eat vegetables. It’s a stressful topic and parents always feel as if they have failed because they struggle to figure out how to get a child to eat vegetables.
How to Introduce Vegetables to Kids
I was stressed about it too! How do I figure out what vegetables kids will eat? What if my toddler won’t eat vegetables? And I’m a nutritionist. NO GOOD. So I took an approach that some may feel is extreme and made vegetables my main focus when introducing my kids to food. I knew fruit would be an easy sell (they’re hard-wired to prefer sweet flavors) so I served mostly veggies in the beginning so that they learned to like and eat vegetables right away.
This was a personal choice, but I will say that the more exposures you can give kids to vegetables BEFORE they start having stronger opinions about foods the better (the opinions can start around 12 months). You’re also teaching them from the beginning that vegetables are an important part of meals for everyone in the family.
How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables
There are a ton of approaches to get your kids eating vegetables. And certainly so many amazing resources out there to help with this endeavor. 🙂 Whenever I chat about healthy eating for kids, I like to share my philosophies and actionable takeaways that you can implement in an easy way. No matter what you’re trying to get your kids to eat, I always follow (and suggest) the division of responsibility.
But this approach is especially important when it comes to vegetables because you don’t want to be having battles over vegetables. The pressure and backlash are not worth the nutritional benefit they’ll get from one bite of broccoli. My goal when it comes to feeding kids is to teach them how to be “good eaters” for life.
Here are My Favorite Tips for How to Get a Child to Eat Vegetables
As I mention on my healthy eating for kids page, you should expect that kids will go through phases where they refuse the vegetables they used to happily eat. Keep putting them on their plates, and don’t turn it into a battle.
- Model it! Serve vegetables for the whole family. Lay the expectation from the beginning that vegetables are a standard component of meals. Make sure they see you eating vegetables. This is easier and better if you eat as a family!
- Make them taste good! This is important but often overlooked. No one wants to eat bland, steamed vegetables that are mushy and overcooked. Give them flavor and cook them in a bit of fat (olive oil, butter, etc.).
- Snacks. When it’s close to dinner time and my kids are hungry, I offer up raw veggies as a snack. Sometimes they complain and don’t eat any of them, sometimes they complain and come back a few minutes later ready for some veggies, and sometimes they happily eat them up! We always have baby carrots, persian cucumbers, and peppers on-hand so that I can quickly cut up a few things for them.
- Play the long game and don’t get discouraged. I always remind parents that teaching their kids to eat healthy foods is a long game. It’s not going to happen overnight. They have to learn to eat, just like they learn to read or do math. And this is where exposure comes into play. It can take children 15-20 (or more!) times to eat certain foods. Don’t give up after 2-3 times and say they don’t like it! And if they pick it up and look at it? Exposure. If they lick it? Exposure. If they take a bite and spit it out? Exposure. This can feel long and torturous. I just went through it with my youngest with carrots. Then one day out of the blue she just started eating them. I didn’t count how many times I offered carrots without her eating them, but I’d guess it was at LEAST 20.
- Don’t bribe them with dessert if they eat some vegetables. This implies that vegetables taste BAD and dessert tastes GOOD, which is not the ultimate message we want to send. And if you have memories of choking down brussels sprouts for ice cream, you may still hate brussels sprouts. Work to create long-term vegetable eaters!
How to Make Vegetables Fun for Kids
- Dips. Dipping has big appeal with toddlers and young kids (adults, too!). Serve vegetables with ranch dressing, hummus, or this healthy greek yogurt veggie dip.
- Get kids involved. Want your kids to eat more of their meal? Get them involved! I can’t stress how much of a difference this makes. It can be a small job like pouring their own salad dressing or stirring a salad to helping grow some vegetables in a garden, or sampling produce at your local farmer’s market.
- Veggie Buds Club. I absolutely love this monthly subscription that makes vegetables fun through games, crafts, and kid-friendly recipes.
Getting Toddlers to Eat Vegetables Recipes
When my kids were young, I made vegetable recipes just for them, but now we all eat the same meals. Want your family to enjoy vegetables? Find recipes that taste great!
Vegetable Recipes for Babies
- Roasted Curry Cauliflower Purée
- Minty Pea Purée
- Dilly Carrot Purée
- African Peanut Stew
- Broccoli & Cheddar Bites
- Cucumber & Avocado Salad
- Baby Bolognese (A vegetarian pasta sauce full of veggies!)
Vegetable Recipes for Families
- Tropical Smoothie with Cauliflower: I don’t like to hide vegetables (see below), but have your kids help make this smoothie!
- Healthy Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip: Dipping is fun! This dip goes great with raw veggies.
- French Green Beans (3 Easy Ways): Haricot verts are a favorite vegetable at our house, and simplicity is best.
- Simple Green Salad: A lot of times, I like to serve salads with the dressing on the side so they can dip the lettuce leaves into the dressing.
How Can I Trick my Child into Eating Vegetables?
I actually don’t recommend hiding vegetables! Simply put, because they aren’t learning how to eat vegetables. As I mentioned above, getting toddlers to eat vegetables is a long game and ultimately, it’s a skill that we want them to take with them into teenage and adult years.
If you are really concerned by their lack of vegetable consumption, focus on other nutritious foods (fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, etc.) and continue to offer, expose, and serve vegetables at family meals.