Tips to Get Kids to Eat Their Vegetables
By Cherilyn Cecchini, MD
As a pediatrician, I’m often asked by parents for tips and tricks when it comes to convincing kids to eat their vegetables. Often, parents feel frustrated and as though their attempts to encourage their children to eat veggies backfire. Many admit they have given up entirely and no longer even try to introduce veggies into their child’s diet because it is simply too much of a hassle.
Children seem to be more amenable to fruit since it’s naturally sweeter, so this food group tends to present less of a struggle for parents, but can also come with some challenges. For example, some kids simply dislike the taste of certain fruits, like bananas, but may love other options, like blackberries. Other kids dislike the texture or the seeds of fruits (think strawberries or kiwi), whereas others aren’t bothered by them. Offering as many different varieties as possible allows you to learn what particular things your child prefers.
I always do my best to provide parents with simple, easy steps that may make mealtime less difficult. Here is a quick list of things to try if you need a new approach when it comes to convincing your child that veggies aren’t evil:
1. Spice It Up!
Spices are a great way to introduce additional flavor without sacrificing nutritional value by adding unhealthier options like butter or cheese. One particular product that I like is Italian seasoning. You can also try organic spices like paprika, Himalayan pink salt, garlic powder or turmeric, just to name a few. Just a pinch of one of these spices may entice your toddler to dig into those vegetables without making a big fuss.
2. Hand Over the Reins
Children love to be in control, especially when they are toddlers. So, give them the chance to select one vegetable from three options and ask them how they want to eat it. Would they prefer to have it sliced or diced? Would they like it mixed with another food item, such as rice or pasta? If they choose to mix the vegetable with another vehicle, such as pasta, this is a great opportunity to add additional nutritional benefits to the meal. For instance, you can swap in a product like nutritional yeast for grated cheese for a boost of protein and B vitamins. Sprinkle it over anything, including roasted veggies for a subtle flavor boost!
3. Reintroduce the Old as New
Often, kids will refuse to eat a vegetable the first time you offer it, but if you try again after several days have passed, they may be open to giving it a try. Reintroducing foods is a nice way to encourage children to reconsider whether they actually dislike the taste or not. Also, if you present the vegetable in a different way (steamed vs. grilled), that difference may be all it takes for the child to decide their original impression has changed. This variation is a great trick and many parents find it useful when they feel they have completely run out of options after they have introduced all of the vegetables they can think of and the child has refused them all. Another great option to sneak in greens and superfoods in a smoothie that includes both fruits and veggies. The vegetables will be masked in flavor, but the child is still eating them and gaining the nutritional benefits of both food groups simultaneously. Smoothies are also a very different presentation and consistency and many kids love them.
4. Involve Them and Model for Them
Having your child help prepare meals is another great way to encourage them to try new foods, including vegetables. Kids love participating in activities and if you demonstrate different ways to try the foods during meal preparation, they might want to do the same. If older siblings also model eating the veggies, this can serve as inspiration for younger kids to experiment and taste them, too.
Some children are pickier than others, so if proper nutrition is concerning for you, be sure to speak to your pediatrician about eating habits for additional pointers. A daily multivitamin is a useful way to ensure that your child is receiving adequate nutrition even if he or she is particularly picky. Look for multivitamins that are organic, gluten-free and gelatin-free. There are often different flavors to pick from so that you are able to select the best one for your child based on his or her preference.
Ultimately, don’t lose hope! Many children refuse fruits and veggies as they learn the different tastes and textures that they prefer and experiment with new foods. This type of behavior is to be expected as children grow and mature. Remember to try different flavors using spices and varied presentations and cooking methods in order to increase the chance that your toddler is intrigued. Hand over the reins when you are able to, get kids involved in meal prep when possible and model healthy eating behaviors whenever you can.