Frustrated when your child refuses to eat fruits and vegetables? Learn how to get kids to eat vegetables — no more fussy eaters!
Getting kids to eat vegetables—or healthy food for that matter—can often be one of the biggest power struggles, don’t you think?
We worry whether they’re getting the nutrients they need, or don’t want to end up with a “picky eater” who needs a special menu.
Wouldn’t it be great if they ate vegetables with gusto (or at least curiosity)?
How to get kids to eat vegetables
Granted, vegetables aren’t always the top of the list of foods most kids ask for.
Sometimes, this is because the food hasn’t been grown well. A home-grown tomato tastes much better than one that traveled miles to the grocery store. But other times, kids’ reluctance to eat vegetables has more to do with how we phrase eating them. And this is good news, because now you can change how you offer vegetables in the first place.
After three kids, I’m happy to say that all my kids eat vegetables willingly. The journey wasn’t always smooth—there were mushrooms that somehow always ended up left on the plate. But they’ve developed a healthy relationship with eating new foods.
Take a look at what has helped them develop these healthy eating habits:
1. Keep offering your kids vegetables
Did you know that it can take nine tries before we finally learn to enjoy a food we once didn’t like? Imagine if you and I stopped eating certain food after a single so-so experience! I wouldn’t be eating sushi, tomatoes, or blackberries if that were the case.
Just because your child doesn’t take to a certain vegetable, don’t discount it entirely. You’re the one deciding the menu, after all. Sure, she might complain, but she won’t starve (skipping dinner is not starving).
One way to keep offering vegetables is to choose meals and snacks with at least one veggie in the ingredient list. For instance, don’t only offer mac and cheese—add some peas to the meal as well. And limit animal-based meals, which forces you to find recipes that lean toward vegetables and grains.
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2. Have your kids try the vegetable at least once
So, you’ve set a plate of chicken, broccoli, and rice in front of your child. As predicted, she ate only the chicken and rice and left the broccoli on her plate. What do you do?
Have her take at least one bite of the broccoli before moving on with the rest of her meal. You might say, “You don’t have to finish your meal, but take at least one bite of the broccoli. Then you can have your fruit.”
Don’t force her to finish the broccoli, as she’ll see food as a chore rather than a food to be relished. She might also stop listening to her body for cues letting her know that she’s full. But you can certainly ask her to take at least one bite, even of food she may not like.
3. Set a good example
Do you talk about vegetables like the Terrible Thing your child must eat before she can eat fruit or a dessert? Do you admit that vegetables don’t taste good, or that you don’t like them, either?
Kids follow our actions more than our words, so be open and willing to try vegetables yourself. If this is new territory, you might say, “I didn’t always eat vegetables, but I want to give them try with you.” That way, she knows that eating good food is a family affair, not one only kids have to do.
Read more about modeling the behavior you want to see.
4. Don’t call your child a “picky eater”
As innocent as it may seem, calling your child a “picky eater” only ingrains that message further. Words and labels can affect how she views herself. Hearing you tell others, “She doesn’t really like vegetables” confirms a sense of identity about herself that doesn’t even have to be true.
Being a picky eater feels like something that she’s born with, when food preferences can change. So yes, she might not take to many vegetables yet, but she isn’t destined to be a picky eater for life.
5. Cook with your child
I was dicing veggies for a meal when my twins asked for “samples.” I nudged a few carrot pieces their way, which I wasn’t surprised they liked. It’s carrots, one of the most kid-friendly vegetables ever.
But then I started chopping celery, and again they asked for a few pieces. Okaaaay… I thought, and gave them a few. And guess what—they ate the celery pieces like precious chocolate treats.
When I got to the bell peppers, I thought for sure they’d spit it out of their mouths. These are the veggies they usually leave on their plates. But because I was chopping it up, they again ate the bell peppers like candy.
Lesson learned: Get kids involved in the whole meal-prepping process. For instance, you can:
- Ask them to choose vegetables at the farmers market or grocery
- Have them help you cook the vegetables
- Grow a garden of vegetables (have them select seeds or starters)
- Offer vegetables while you prepare your meals (like I did above)
Kids are more invested in the meal when they feel like they’ve had a role in making it. By dinner time, I wasn’t surprised when my kids ate the carrots, celery, and bell peppers in their soup.
6. Talk about the benefits of vegetables
If the flavor of vegetables isn’t enough to entice your child to eat vegetables, perhaps hearing its benefits can. While we all know they’re healthy, go into more specifics on how.
For instance, let her know that vegetables help her run faster or jump higher, especially if she likes to be active. That they prevent tummy aches, and that she won’t get sick often.
Kids like to hear the reason behind why they’re asked to do something. Knowing vegetables offer many benefits they can relate to makes them more willing to try.
7. Prepare vegetables differently
Don’t discount a vegetable because your child has rejected it. Instead, see if you can prepare it different.
You might roast carrots for a softer texture and different flavor than if it were eaten raw. Offer celery and cherry tomatoes as finger or dipping food she can explore with her hands. Sweet potatoes and kale make for excellent baked chips.
And sure, sneak them in. I used to be a snob about sneaking vegetables into purees, sauces, smoothies, and patties, but I’d rather kids consume vegetables than not, even if we have to hide it.
8. Don’t give your child a choice
This might seem crazy, but I only offer my kids the same meal everyone else is eating. If someone doesn’t want to eat spinach chickpea salad, I’m not going to make them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Here’s another shocker: I don’t think it’s wise to pair a vegetable with a favorite food, as you might’ve heard. If I offer chicken nuggets and cauliflower, you can bet they’ll only eat the nuggets. But if I present them with a bowl of cauliflower soup, they have less options to turn the vegetable down.
Incorporate vegetables into the meal, and don’t make a different “kids’ menu” for fear that your child won’t eat. The more you normalize eating zucchini and brussels sprouts, the more she’ll see them as a regular part of her meals.
9. Don’t fight about eating
That said, the number one rule? Don’t fight about food. I learned my mistake early on—arguing only makes kids resentful. They form an unhealthy relationship with food and prize non-vegetables even more.
We all have our own food aversions, vegetable or not. I still don’t normally cook a meal with eggplant, and one of my kids wasn’t always keen on eating butternut squash.
It’s just food. Let it go, including power struggles or your disappointment about a meal no one eats.
p.s. Check out Rah, Rah, Radishes by April Pulley Sayre, a lively children’s book sure to change your child’s mind about vegetables:
Getting kids to eat vegetables takes mindful persistence.
Keep offering a variety of veggies, even in unique ways, and have your child try a food at least once. Get her involved early in the cooking process. Offer only the meals you want her to eat without giving her too many options.
And don’t argue about food—get her to eat healthy with a positive outlook and by setting an example to follow.
Get more tips:
- How to Raise Kids Who Want to Eat Healthy
- What to Do When Your Child Refuses to Eat
- The Best Children’s Books about Gardening
- How to Get Rid of Picky Eating Once and For All
- Unfair Reasons We Get Mad at Kids (And How to Change)
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