Why is getting kids to eat vegetables is a classic mealtime battle? Well, kids taste buds are sensitive and they are learning about foods and textures with every meal. Finding vegetables for picky eaters does not need to be a mealtime battle any longer!
Does your toddler literally pick out every pea in the mixed dish to avoid eating it? Or have you ever sat down at the table and your older child says, “Eew, green beans again” and you find that your younger toddler resists eating them even though you know they love them? That can really test your patience at the end of a long day, right?
If you are wondering how to get your child to eat vegetables, I am here for you! There are many options for vegetables for picky eaters, and you will learn ways to prepare and serve them. Most importantly, this article will help you remain positive and confident when you include vegetables as a part of the meals and snacks for your kids.
Why are veggies a harder sell than fruit?
Evolutionarily speaking, our taste preferences lean toward sweet over bitter, so it makes sense that we would prefer fruits over vegetables, especially as children when we are still learning new flavors.
However, today, sweet means full of sugar. Added sugars are found in many processed foods. If a person focuses on consuming whole unprocessed foods, an array of fresh flavors is available. In this sense, many vegetables have a sweeter profile that one may assume. For example, sugar snap peas do not have sugar added to them, but they sure taste sweet!
For this blog post, I’ll cover a few general strategies for helping your child to develop a positive experience with veggies. And then, I’ll share my lucky thirteen vegetables you can try with your kiddo. Let’s start with the tips, first.
Resist the temptation to bribe your child
As much as you may want to some days, you cannot force your child to eat. When you’re at the table, try your very best to take the pressure of eating away. Even the vegetables.
Vegetables should not be used as a reward for a sweet treat or dessert later. You can choose to let your child know if dessert is an option that day or not, but do not let the vegetable or meal consumption drive a reward. Using food as a reward has negative impacts on children’s perceptions and long-term food preferences.
Try to steer clear of the “just one more bite” saying. One more bite of broccoli isn’t going to make much of an overall difference. Your child may not feel like eating much that day and may be full. Making them eat a bite is not going to help them like the food.
This can be a little controversial. My advice is not to hide vegetables in the food without telling your child they are there. Do boost vegetables in foods, but make sure you talk about it. For example: “Can you believe these meatballs have shredded zucchini in them to help keep them moist and give an earthy flavor?” or “This sauce has diced mushrooms in it to give it a cool flavor called umami, which means delicious!”
If you try to hide vegetables into sauces, smoothies, or baked goods thinking that it will help your child eat more vegetables, you may be able to enhance their nutrient intake by a little bit, but you are not exposing them to the actual vegetable. It is not wrong to “hide” vegetables and I’m certainly on board with adding nutrients. I am also an advocate for explaining to kids what they are eating. You’ll lose your kiddo’s trust if they feel tricked with food.
Practice what you preach
Set a good example by eating vegetables too! Our kids observe how we experience our meals, and they learn what to do by watching us and our actions.
Talk about the food on the plate and its characteristics. For example, noticing that the carrot is crunchier than the cucumber or that the color of the green beans is bright is fun for kids to think about! They may enjoy feeling the textures of their food too, and that is okay!
Vegetables have a variety of nutritional profiles. We know they are healthy, but have you considered why? Vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. Overall vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals. They also contain antioxidants and fiber. Including these nutrients in your daily intake of food reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, obesity and more.
Once you are familiar with what a vegetable has to offer nutritionally, you can teach your child about vegetable superpowers – more on that below!
Keep trying! It can take up to 15 positive exposures for a child to accept a new food. An exposure is defined by the time that a child is experiencing a food item with a meal. Exposures are usually spaced out by a day or two. Touching, smelling, tasting, and playing with food all count as exposures!
And note: forcing a child to take a bite won’t count as a positive exposure…it is just shooting yourself in the foot to have your child associate that vegetable with an uncomfortable experience.
Here are some of my favorite tips to help you be confident when feeding vegetables to picky eaters.
Don’t stress about it. The more relaxed you are about eating, the more comfortable your child will be about eating!
Keep trying! Each time a food is placed in front of a child to eat is considered an exposure to that food. Sometimes kids may not even touch the food, while other times they may go straight for it and gobble three servings. Each exposure is different – have confidence that progress will happen over time!
Allow curiosity. Your child may touch, poke, smash, smell, lick, or play with the food. It is all okay. They are experiencing the food and learning about it. When they feel comfortable and are ready, they will try it!
Offer a very small portion. Small portions work well because they are not intimidating to kids. You can even try a pea sized portion (literally for peas!) and see how your child reacts. If they eat it and want more – great!
Get your kids involved. When your kids know how the food is prepared and has had a chance to help, they are much more willing to try new foods!
Tips for serving vegetables for picky eaters
My main advice is to keep it simple!
Offer vegetables with a dip. At our house, we love dipping veggies into hummus, guacamole, and ranch.
Serve vegetables as appetizers. Do you find that your kids get a little snack-y before dinner? If they do, set out a plate of veggies for them to nibble while you are finishing up meal prep. It’s a win-win situation where they eat some veggies, and you don’t have hangry children leading up to mealtime!
Serve vegetables with breakfast! I love doing this and find that my kids love the savory additions to their breakfast meal. Some favorites include avocado (sliced or mashed on toast), cherry tomatoes, and spinach + onions cooked with scrambled eggs.
Try different preparation methods. For each vegetable you serve your kids, try serving it prepared in a different way. Your kids will likely be intrigued by the new preparation and serving style! You can try foods raw, cooked, frozen, cut in thin strips, diced into small bites, or shredded.
Simple changes to the vegetable can work wonders! I kid you not, my kids will devour a bowl of frozen peas and corn over cooked peas and corn! Also, I recently noticed my younger daughter hadn’t eaten bell peppers in a while, so I tried dicing them into small pieces – that evening she ate handfuls of them!
Use a toothpick. Sometimes a food will feel new and different if served with toothpicks instead of a fork or using fingers. This is especially helpful for kiddos who have sensory differences.
Now that we’ve talked about different strategies to try (and actually eat) more veggies, here are the top 13 veggies I recommend starting with.
13 Simple Vegetables for Picky Eaters
When served raw, their crunch is sweet and pleasant. When cooked, the sweet and smooth texture is so comforting especially in soups! Slice in thin strips for little fingers to grip and small mouths to chew easily. Try shredding and adding to salads or serve as a side!
- Superpower: Vitamin A to see in the dark and keep your eyes healthy!
Made mostly of water, cucumbers are great to help kids stay hydrated during hot summer months. They also contain small amounts of vitamins and phytonutrients that help keep us healthy.
- Superpower: Vitamin K helps clot blood – helps scrapes turn into scabs, protect our skin, and heal from within. Also supports bone health!
Did you know that of the bell pepper variety, the color and nutrition matters? Red bell peppers have more phytonutrients because they ripen longer on the vine and tend to be sweeter. Green bell peppers are essentially harvested early, before they have turned yellow and can taste more bitter.
- Superpower: Vitamin C helps heal wounds and keeps us healthy.
Peas pack a punch of nutrition including vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Served hot or cold, they are quite a versatile little legume. Your kiddos might love them frozen like mine do!
- Superpower: Plant protein prowess to help you grow strong, full of fiber to keep you full.
As a starchy vegetable, corn contains more carbohydrates than non-starchy vegetables. The dried kernel is considered a grain, and when processed, this whole grain is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Corn is quite a versatile vegetable! Serve it hot, cold, on the cob, from frozen, or popped and your family will enjoy this vegetable!
- Superpower: Fiber for gut health and phytonutrients to prevent disease and keep your body healthy
Edamame (soybean) is a versatile vegetable that is often processed into another product. However, edamame can be found at restaurants as an appetizer and is available at grocery stores (often found in the freezer section in shells or pre-shelled form).
- Superpower: Good source of soy protein to help you grow strong, full of fiber to keep you full.
From fresh, frozen, canned (no salt), green beans pack nutrition. They are easy for kids to eat by hand when raw and can easily be cooked and cut.
- Superpower: Full of fiber and folate – keeps you full and growing strong!
Mild tasting, this versatile veggie can be paired with most any dish to add nutrients and a smooth nutty flavor! I also love adding frozen cauliflower to smoothies to make them extra creamy!
- Superpower: Full of fiber, vitamins and minerals keeping you full and all parts of your body functioning well!
Easy to add to most any cooked food or salads, spinach is a great addition to any meal. Served hot, it can easily be stirred or blended with other veggies. When cold, it is a great salad base or dipper in dressing! When frozen, it is a great addition to smoothies!
- Superpower: Full of Vitamin A, spinach is great for maintaining healthy vision and gives your immune system a good boost!
Otherwise known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas can be added to most any meal to add plant protein and lots of fiber! Roasted for a crunch, they can be a simple snack or added to a salad. When added to cooked main dishes, chickpeas offer an abundance of nutrition packed into a little bite.
- Superpower: Full of plant protein to keep you strong and fiber to keep you full, this little legume is packed with nutrients!
The smooth texture of avocado makes it a great addition to sandwiches, topper for salads and tacos, addition to smoothies, and great for guacamole. While avocados contain more fat than other vegetables, they are full of healthy fats along with fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Superpower: Full of healthy fats to keep your brain working well!
Cute and fun to eat, cherry tomatoes can be eaten plain (cut for smaller kids) along with meals or snacks. They are great toppers for salads and tacos!
- Superpower: Tomatoes are packed full of Vitamin A and C supporting your immune system to keep you healthy!
Usually found in fall treats, pumpkin can be incorporated into foods year-round. You can add pureed pumpkin in sauces and baked into breads and muffins to add nutritional power!
- Superpower: Packed with Vitamin A, pumpkin is amazing for your eyesight and immune system, keeping your vision strong and your body healthy!
Okay, I hear you, but my kid barely eats vegetables
Keep in mind that every time you put a vegetable in front of your child – with no pressure to eat it – it counts as an exposure to the food! The higher the number of exposures, the more likely your child will accept the food. Remember that touching, smelling, tasting, and licking count as exposure.
Think about the colors you are serving at each meal. Variety is key and rotate the veggies too! Take it slow and remember that each baby step forward is perfectly okay!
Using these tips for how to incorporate vegetables for picky eaters, have confidence that little by little your child will eat more vegetables! Need more help, I invite you to contact me to get started.