How To Get Your Toddler To Eat More Vegetables?
There is no sweeter victory than looking over and seeing an empty plate in front of your kid after lunchtime. Vitamins and supplements can only get you so far — there is no substitute for pure nutrition from whole foods.
If you’ve got picky eaters to appease, you already know: when a kid just doesn’t want to eat something, there is no argument to be had. If you’re struggling and you want to know what’s the best way to get a toddler to eat veggies, we got you covered.
How Many Vegetables Do Kids Need to Eat Every Day?
MyPlate.gov put forth the following daily recommendations for kids in terms of their veggie intake:
- Toddlers should be eating ⅔ to 1 cup of vegetables per day
- Children 2 to 4 should be eating 1 to 2 cups of vegetables per day
- Children 5 to 8 should be eating 1½ to 2½ cups of vegetables per day
- Girls 9 to 13 should be eating 1½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day
- Boys 9 to 13 should be eating 2 to 3½ cups of vegetables per day
What exactly counts as a cup of vegetables?
- 1 cup of broccoli
- 1 cup of cooked greens
- 2 cups of raw greens
- 2 medium carrots
- 2 stalks of celery
- 1 cup of mashed pumpkin or squash
- 1 large bell pepper
- 1 large sweet potato
- 2 small tomatoes
- 1 cup of beans or legumes
- 1 ear of corn
- 1 cup of 100% pure vegetable juice or puree
It’s easy to plan out the perfect weekly menu, but the difficult part is finding the ingredients that your kids like best.
A bit of rial and error will help you narrow your options down to the ones that your family loves eating most. There’s plenty that you can do to speed up this process, however.
Tips and Tricks for Preparing Vegetables for Young Kids
If you’re cooking for one or more picky tikes, packaged foods and other convenience options may be the first choice of many parents trying to get a couple of servings into their families daily.
We’re here to tell you that you don’t necessarily need to employ the assistance of Dr. Praeger’s veggie nuggets if you want a more nutritionally-sound meal plan for your kids, however.
Whole foods are always the best way to go, especially wherever your kids’ diet is concerned. It’s not always easy, but there are plenty of ways that you can get the ball rolling when they’ve got their tongues stuck out:
- Every meal should include at least one vegetable.
- Always have a healthy option on-hand for when the munchies strike. Use these in lieu of more highly-caloric fare like processed snacks.
- Instead of enforcing a rule about eating their veggies, try to invite and entice your child into a healthier way of living. Avoid “punishing” your child when they don’t want to eat something.
- Give them a new vegetable to try whenever possible, but avoid overwhelming them with too many new foods at once. This is specially true while they’re still young.
- Studies show that it may take up to fifteen different exposures to a new food before a child warms up to it and wants to eat it.
Aside from the way that you build each meal on their plates, you should include your family in the kitchen before the meal and even in your own personal garden, if applicable.
Try showing your kids that food as a passion and as a hobby can be a lot of fun in order to warm them up to the greener side of life:
- Getting your kids involved in the meal preparation of their food is one of the best ways to increase their interest in vegetables and other healthy habits, such as washing their hands.
- Similarly, many kids respond positively to activities that involve sourcing food — gardening shows them where their vegetables come from, which can be a lot of fun.
- Take your kids grocery shopping with you; let them lead you to what they’re naturally drawn to (and, similarly, the stuff that they never, ever reach for themselves).
When kids feel empowered and more independent in their diet choices, getting their greens in becomes a fun game to play.
The Best Vegetables for Picky Eaters
Vegetables in disguise are one of the oldest tricks in the book for parents with young children. Some types of veggies may lend themselves more to this approach than others, however.
Many kids, for example, detest the texture of tomatoes or things like the raw, earthy flavor and aroma of vegetables like beets.
The general consensus is that the vegetables themselves are less important than the way that they’re being presented. As long as the included vegetable is imposing no off-putting smells, flavors, or textures onto the rest of the dish or snack, you should be able to sneak something green in without any problem at all.
Sweet potato pancake batter? “Green eggs” laced with a spinach puree? All viable options if you can make them delicious enough.
Zucchini is one great example of a low-calorie, high-fiber vegetable that will rarely offend, especially when masked with other, more palatable flavors and additions.
It’s really easy to bake a delicious and nutritionally-dense chocolate cake full of shredded zucchini, chia seeds, and the nut butter of your choice. The same goes for homemade veggie burgers and other tasty treats.
Kid-Sized, Grabbable Raw Vegetables
Some kids may be slightly more open to eating veggies in broad daylight that are not hidden in foods. In these instances, you should encourage them by providing ample opportunity to feed themselves from a healthy spread or an easy-to-grab snack plate.
Ants on a log are one timeless classic that requires only celery, peanut butter, and raisins. Another option would be to layout a variety of raw veggies and ranch dip, or sour cream and onion dressing.
Green beans, chopped bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and even shredded carrots are all totally dippable to most kids. You can serve these alongside other choices like little cheese wedges, pretzel sticks or crackers, and fruit like grapes for a little taste of everything.
Tomato Sauce, and Anything You Can Put on a Pizza
Many picky eaters are notorious for disliking the texture of tomatoes. However, adding a sauce or a tomato puree concentrate in dishes like rice, baked goods, and soups will provide a hearty dose of both color and nutrition and a more pleasurable texture.
The best way to use tomato sauce, however, is in foods like homemade pizza or baked spaghetti squash, decked out with all of the fixings. Add some shredded cheese and perhaps a small portion of pepperoni, and you’ve got the meal of a lifetime for even the fussiest kid.
Choosing Foods That Get Kids Interested in Nutrition
The first step is reinforcing the importance of a healthy, balanced diet early on in childhood.
Don’t be afraid to get your kids involved in the process. Having them participate in the gardening, prepping, and the cooking process will peak their interest to try new foods.
If your kids recognize the inherent goodness found in whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, you won’t need to convince them to clean their plates. Show them the light with any of these kid-friendly snack ideas the next time you’ve got a couple of hungry mouths to feed.
+ 6 sources
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- Myplate.gov. (2020). Vegetables | MyPlate. [online] Available at: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/vegetables [Accessed 5 Jan. 2022].
- 2 Vegetables Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs 2 Vegetables. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://foodbuyingguide.fns.usda.gov/Content/TablesFBG/USDA_FBG_Section2_Vegetables.pdf.
- Carrie Durward, Ph.D., RD, and Chelsea Feller (2017). Helping Your Children Love Vegetables, [online]. Available at: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2756&context=extension_curall
- Ritchie, B., O’Hara, L. and Taylor, J. (2015). “Kids in the Kitchen” impact evaluation: engaging primary school students in preparing fruit and vegetables for their own consumption. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, [online] 26(2), pp.146–149. Available at: https://www.publish.csiro.au/he/HE14074 [Accessed 5 Jan. 2022].
- Castro, D.C., Samuels, M. and Harman, A.E. (2013). Growing Healthy Kids. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, [online] 44(3), pp.S193–S199. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749379712009075 [Accessed 5 Jan. 2022].
- Center (2022). Kid-friendly veggies and fruits: 10 tips for making healthy foods more fun for children. [online] Usda.gov. Available at: https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/catalog/1333610 [Accessed 7 Jan. 2022]