13 Ways to Get Kids to Eat More Veggies

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I have learned a lot from raising my daughter, Claire, and from other parents/caregivers on our daily struggles to get our kids to eat more vegetables from the thousands of conversations over the years. There are definitely some common themes, successes, and failures that I hope can help you. Of course, I love sharing memories with Claire and with other parents on the EPIC battles I have had with Claire over something “green”! 

We are proud we raised Claire to eat a variety of foods, textures, colors, temperatures, and from various cultures and food groups! In her early toddler years I proudly exposed her to the many foods and tastes from my own Taiwanese background. At age 13, she still loves what her toddler palate was exposed to including noodles, dumpling/potstickers, broth, seafood, and some foods and treats specific to Chinese holidays that I have always loved.

When we went back to visit Taipei, it was so special for me to introduce her to foods that I crave until this day, all based on childhood memories. Eating vegetables were never an option growing up in Taiwan, every meal included fresh fruit and every dinner included at least 1 but usually 2 sautéed vegetable dishes. The Chinese do not like to eat cold foods, as such I was raised on cooked vegetables and I never knew of nor ate salad was until I was in college.  

Here are some common experiences shared by parents when it comes to feeding children vegetables: 

  1. Before age 3, many parents share that their child ate “everything,” including vegetables (cooked or in baby food preparations).

  2. As children approach 3 and after, suddenly there is a dislike for vegetables they used to eat.  

  3. Between ages 3-6, a majority of toddlers declare moratorium on eating anything “green”. 

  4. Most preschool aged kids may tolerate or like 1-2 vegetables. 

  5. Many children absolutely eat no vegetables, EVER! 

  6. Young children dislike salad. (There is a reason: they don’t have molars and crunching and managing raw vegetables is very hard and can even be a choking hazard in young toddlers!) 

  7. Most parents cook and eat limited types of vegetables as adults. 

  8. Children who are not exposed to new vegetables do not know what they are and won’t choose them when exposed. 

  9. Parents confuse “fruit and vegetable” juice as equally nutritious as real vegetables! 

  10. If your child refuses certain vegetables once or twice, don’t tell yourself he/she hates them and then never offer them again. 

Please, don’t give up the fight! Claire also protested and refused “greens” between ages 3-6, and I promise you an epic battle can still rear its ugly head. I remember when she was in 3rd grade, maybe 4th, one night I made spinach and she refused to eat any. My husband, Dave declared that when he was young, his mother wouldn’t let him leave the table until he ate the spinach. That night we decided we would be stern awesome parents and teach Claire the same.

There she was, her entire plate was empty except a couple of bites of sautéed spinach. I had just gotten home from another full day at the hospital, physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, and sweetly suggested to her that if she just finished her spinach, we can enjoy a bath together (she loved taking baths). I ran the water, got in, and no sight of Claire. As I lay there in water that was rapidly cooling, I felt sorry for myself and frustrated, about to cry over 2 bites of spinach, I felt like I failed as a parent. Finally, she appeared with a bulging cheek full of spinach, begrudgingly got into the tub and declared she didn’t have to swallow it! 

Here are some ideas to get your child to eat more veggies: 

  1. Many mothers have done what I do, which is to add finely diced carrots and zucchini into our meat sauce when making spaghetti sauce.  
     
  2. If your toddler loves grapes, but refuses vegetables, put one grape half on the fork along with the bite of vegetable, and get your child to eat vegetables that way.  

  3. Change how veggies are presented—boiled, baked in the oven, raw, steamed, sautéed, with dip, dried, etc. It may just be that the changing up how they are cooked will get your child to eat more of them. 
     
  4. Add a little cheese! Remember, excessive dairy intake, especially in the evening, can lead to acid reflux, so don’t go overboard with the cheese.  

  5. Teach them where veggies come from and the benefits of various veggies.  
     
  6. Engage them in the growing process—encourage them to start a little garden of their own! 
     
  7. Add veggies to smoothies. The sweet flavors of fruit can help to mask the taste of vegetables. 

  8. Try kale chips—store bought or home baked. Many prefer a crunchy texture! 

  9. Try sprinkling Cheeto’s (my weakness) into broccoli. I tasted this crazy combination at a fancy restaurant in Miami! 

  10. Start young—cook carrots very soft and mashed, season with slight salt and butter, as well as other vegetables, to feed children between ages 1 and 2.  
     
  11. Get them involved at the grocery store—have them choose the “veggie of the week” or the “color of the week.” 

  12. Play “veggie” games—flash cards, name that “veggie,” or for older kids, name the health benefit associated with specific vegetables. Name the season that each vegetable grows. 

  13. For older children, perhaps make your own salad competition and see how creative they can be. Have them help you shop and buy ingredients and throw stuff together!  

Do all of the above, but with fresh fruits! 

Ultimately, I believe that our goal as parents and caretakers should be for our children to eat healthy by conscious choice, but such habits are developed over time, one day at a time, and you have to model it. Parents who eat very little vegetables will not likely raise children who are accepting or choose vegetables once they order on their own.  Someday, the cognitive understanding of the power and benefit of vegetables, including antioxidants and fiber, will come. Until then, trick, train, and tame the palate. 

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