Is the dinner table a constant battle between you and your child? If you find yourself struggling to diversify your child’s diet and get them to eat veggies, you are certainly not alone. That’s why the team at Sawyer wanted to provide some research and expert-backed tips to make mealtimes calmer for everyone.
Just remember: your child is a child. While eating vegetables and fruits as part of a varied diet is important to their growth, it is not necessary in every meal. It should not cause fights or tension each evening. These tips should help make it easier, but always follow your child’s lead when you can.
How to get kids to eat veggies
Why don’t kids like vegetables?
Before you can begin on your quest to add veggies to your child’s diet, you might find it helpful to learn that there are many scientific reasons why children shy away from veggies (and they mostly don’t refer to how you are cooking them!). So, why don’t kids like vegetables? Here are a few answers.
- Taste. Vegetables are often bitter, which come from the calcium content and other beneficial compounds. However, research shows that children are born preferring sweet tastes, which attracts them to breast milk and helps them reject poison and toxic substances. This can be the reason why they refuse vegetables more readily than fruits.
- Exposure. Remember the first time you tried coffee or blue cheese? You might not have liked it. But, after a few more tries, you grew to enjoy it. This is the same for children when it comes to trying new foods, especially veggies. Studies show that getting your toddler to try a new vegetable 5-10 times, and around 15 times for children aged 3-4, can make a huge difference in their preferences.
- Psychology. If eating vegetables causes a huge fight every night, your child might start associating these foods with negative feelings, thus pushing them further and further away from enjoying them. Meanwhile, they are associating sweet treats like cake, candy, and ice cream with positive memories. To help avoid this paired-associate learning, try to keep dinner a neutral-to-good experience and help them realize that all foods are good in moderation.
How to get toddlers to eat veggies
As we mentioned above, one of the best ways to get toddlers to eat veggies is with persistence. Giving them opportunities to try new vegetables and foods at each meal, with as little stress as possible, can make a great difference in their palette. Just offering them one tiny bite of the vegetable at every other meal is all you need to do.
Here are some other simple ways to get toddlers to eat vegetables.
- Change the flavors. Since we know children reject bitter flavor, try to make vegetables more appealing to them. By roasting, caramelizing, pureeing, pickling, and sauteing, vegetables can take on other flavors that toddlers will enjoy more.
- Make eating veggies feel familiar. If your child already dips chicken nuggets in ketchup or pairs crackers with cheese, bring that familiarity to vegetables. Let them dip their carrots in ketchup or hummus and pair their cucumbers or bell peppers with cheese just like they would a cracker. They will find that trying something new is less scary when it feels like something they already know and love.
- Get them involved. Gardening with kids has many benefits, including less picky eaters. Toddlers are more likely to try a new veggie if they had a hand in growing it! This is also a benefit of cooking with kids. If they are involved, they are more likely to give it a try and enjoy what they have made.
- Bring vegetables into snack time. Toddlers are always hungry, so there are a lot of opportunities for them to eat their veggies. Adding vegetables to their daily snack routines is a good way to get them on the plate without being associated with a sit down meal. Check out our list of easy snacks for kids, which includes great veggie options like carrots and hummus, crustless quiches with zucchini, and spinach smoothies.
- Hide the veggies. This one might feel like cheating, but what your toddler doesn’t know, won’t hurt them! Shredding vegetables like carrots or zucchini and adding them to homemade chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, muffins, cupcakes, and more is a great way to sneak vegetables into your toddler’s diet. Don’t worry, we won’t tell!
Vegetable chart for kids
Some children thrive on organization and reward systems. If you think this would be beneficial for your child, you can download our vegetable chart for kids, which your family can use to track the new veggies they are trying each week. We don’t recommend bribery or punishment when it comes to mealtimes because that can lead to disordered eating down the line.
However, this vegetable chart for kids is a great way for your child to learn about different types of veggies, keep track of their exploration, and make meals more fun.
Getting kids to eat veggies isn’t easy, but we hope our guide has given you some helpful tips and research to help your child expand their palette. Just remember: keep mealtimes calm and positive as much as possible.
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