As solid foods are mastered and preferences start to be displayed, many parents wonder how to get kids to eat more vegetables. Don’t panic! Here are some of our best tips for adding more vegetables to your child’s diet.
Even kids on a plant-based diet go through selective eating phases, and may turn up their noses at healthy foods. We can both attest to that, having experienced many broccoli florets thrown to the floor and green peas smashed with a spoon… instead of going into our kids’ mouths.
While we wish children would simply be programmed to crave and eat a plethora of veggies all the time forever, that’s just not the case.
With a little attention and the right frame of mind, there are some ways to actually help your child explore, taste, and even learn to love a variety of veggies on his own. Here’s how to get kids to eat more vegetables.
5 Tips for Boosting Your Child’s Vegetable Intake
Concerned that your babe isn’t eating enough veggies? While picky eating is a very common, normal part of developing (and establishing independence), helping your kids eat more vegetables may just require an adjustment in approach.
1. Reframe your words.
When a child doesn’t want to eat his veggies (or whatever else is on his plate), it can turn him off even more when mom gets all up in his business about it.
For instance, it’s mama nature to ask questions like, “Doesn’t that look good? Mmmm… spinach is SO delicious and good for you! Mommy loves spinach!”.
While this is a well-intentioned approach, we suggest reframing the way you draw attention to a new veggie.
Asking more descriptive questions, like “What color/shape/texture is your spinach?” or “What does spinach taste like to you?”
Sometimes making a more general statement like “Green vegetables are good for your brain” can help slightly older kids to make a more distinct health connection with their food.
The more you can engage with your kids over their food, rather than talk at them about their food, the more likely to be a positive response.
2. Offer vegetables in a variety of ways.
Something we always reiterate to parents of new eaters – and picky eaters – is that it can take 12-15 times of introducing a food before a child decides to even touch it, let alone look in its general direction.
It’s easy to become frustrated. We encourage you to continue plowing ahead, and try introducing the offender in a variety of ways.
For example, if your child is in an anti-broccoli season, you could try serving broccoli in the following ways on different days:
- Raw florets with dressing or dip
- Chopped up and sprinkled on top of pizza or mac and cheese
- Steamed, either plain or lightly seasoned with nutritional yeast
- Blended into a broccoli-cheese soup
- Skillet-cooked into a tofu scramble or stir fry over noodles
- Diced and cooked inside enchiladas or quesadillas
This way, your child is exposed to the same food presented in a number of ways, and she gets to decide if – and how – she likes it the best (if at all).
3. Experiment with ways to add more veggies to everyday recipe.
While we’re not big proponents of “hiding” veggies, we can certainly get on board with finding creative ways to add them to meals on regular rotation.
For example, riced mixed veggies (e.g., a blend of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots) can be added to spaghetti sauce, sprinkled on top of pizza, mashed into refried beans for burritos, or stirred into a tofu scramble.
Berry or citrus smoothies are a perfect vehicle for leafy greens like spinach, kale, or chard, whether they’re fresh or frozen.
Green peas or cooked edamame can be mixed into noodles or gnocchi dishes.
Veggies, like carrots, spinach, zucchini, or sweet potato, can even be added to more savory muffin and pancake batters. These veggies also go well in homemade veggie tots!
4. Remember your role in feeding time as parent or caregiver.
One of our favorite mealtime strategies to follow is Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding (DOR).
It’s a fascinating, and incredibly helpful, way of clearly dividing the responsibilities at mealtime among the parent and child.
When everyone knows their role and it becomes routine practice in the home, extra stress can be eliminated.
No longer does mama bear have to be in a panic when babe doesn’t eat all of his veggies, because it’s not her responsibility to decide how much of his veggies are eaten. It’s his.
According to Satter, when it comes to feeding toddlers and adolescents, the parent is responsible for what, when, and where, whereas the child is responsible for how much and whether.
Essentially, it’s your job to prepare and offer healthy food, provide a pleasant eating atmosphere, and set a good example for your kids. It’s your child’s job to eat what she is served in the amount she needs, behave appropriately at mealtime, and grow predictably.
We encourage you to check out the DOR more in depth for yourself here.
5. Involve your kids in meal planning, prep, and even grocery shopping.
When kids are given an assignment that allows them some independence in making a decision, they are often more likely to be excited about it. Eating veggies can offer a similar opportunity for your kids.
One way to do this is to ask your child what vegetable he would like at dinner – or if you’re doing a meal plan, perhaps ask for a few suggestions to incorporate into the week. (For younger children who need more structure, offer a “this or that” question: “Would you like carrots or peas tonight?”).
Your child could also help you look through a cookbook or some favorite recipes to decide how that veggie will be served.
Many kids also enjoy a trip to the grocery store, where they can go physically pick out the veggie itself to be used in a meal at home.
When kids are involved in the process of choosing and making the food, they may be more interested in eating it.
If you’re a parent or caregiver wondering how to get kids to eat more vegetables, you’re not alone! We encourage you to try some of the above tips at home to add more vegetables to your child’s diet.
Chime In: Does your child show preference toward certain veggies? What are your favorite ways to expose your kids to new vegetables?
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Hi ladies, I have a question. What if they really don’t enjoy the meal and ask for plain rice instead (instead of the cauli tofu curry and rice that was offered)? I told my son (8) that he can just eat half then and then have some rice. But I don’t want it to be a negotiation, or is that just a fair compromise? OR is that actually still forcing him to eat something he doesn’t like? I just don’t want him to think that there are alternatives to what’s been offered. Any tips? Thanks very much! Kim.
Was rice offered as part of the meal? If so, then it’s not really an alternative, it’s just what he’s decided to enjoy from that meal. My kids don’t eat all of what I put on the table most nights, but I do try to ensure they generally like 1-2 foods that are being offered each time.
Yes, it was part of the meal. Thank you!