10 ways to get your child to eat vegetables
My toddler, aged two and a half, hates vegetables. If he tastes the teeniest slither of pea, he actually picks it out of his mouth. It’s quite astonishing to watch.
When I serve him his meals, he pushes anything that looks like a vegetable to the side of his plate with a firm, ‘No, don’t like it.’ (Or sometimes he pushes them off his plate.)
And while he has been known to eat a floret of broccoli, those occasions are so few and far between that they are still talked of in our house in hushed tones.
These are the vegetables he will eat: cucumber, raw carrot, and potato, but only in the form of chips and waffles. He will also eat mashed potato as long as it contains cream cheese.
The only other vegetables he consumes are if they’re hidden in a homemade puréed tomato pasta sauce, but this of course no longer resembles a vegetable in any way.
It’s all the more alien to me because I’m a massive veg fan, and chomped them with gusto while pregnant with him.
My eldest daughter and husband enjoy vegetables too, and so I don’t think my toddler is short of role models.
Puzzled, I asked a couple of experts what else I could do. I’ve already started putting some of their advice into action. Hopefully their tips will help you too:
1. Let fussy kids play with their food
‘It’s important to get children used to touching, holding and smelling vegetables in their natural form,’ says Natasha Gavin, who runs kids’ healthy eating workshops I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum. ‘They are often presented with a plate of something that they haven’t seen before. So make exposure to vegetables fun – without talking about eating them.’
She suggests spending an afternoon creating artworks out of vegetables, for example, dipping the bottom of celery into paint to create rose shapes, and making a giant Brussels sprout by peeling off the leaves and sticking them on a piece of paper.
2. Play ‘spot the vegetable’ in the supermarket
When you take your child shopping, make a point of looking at the vegetables and talking about them as you put them in your basket. ‘Ask your child about their names, and at home, show them the vegetables before they go into the fridge,’ says independent dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker. ‘Later on, discuss together how you’re going to cook them. If possible, grow vegetables in your garden. This all spikes their curiosity.’
3. Sweet-tasting veg works best
Understanding small children’s palate is key. ‘A taste for sweet things is programmed into us,’ says Sarah. ‘This is because ancient man would have survived on things that are ripe and sweet and good to eat.’
Her top suggestions for kids: cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, petits pois, butternut squash, sweet potato and some sweet-tasting carrots.
4. Work out if it’s a colour or texture thing
‘Children eat with their eyes just like adults,’ says Sarah. ‘So if you know that your kids like strawberries, they might be more open to a red-coloured vegetable, such as red pepper or beetroot.’ It’s trial and error for texture too. Your child might not like cooked carrot, but you may have more success serving it raw.
5. Get your timings right
The best time to try new vegetables? When your child is hungry. ‘Don’t fill kids up on snacks between meals, but instead offer something light and healthy, like a piece of fruit or even a carrot,’ says Natasha.
‘This means that when your children are hungry before dinner, you can offer different vegetables to try. I say, ‘Here’s your starter’ to my children, and hand them a bowl each of mange tout, sugar snaps, carrot, frozen peas and strips of red pepper. They sit there eating it in front of the TV.
6. Rope in sibling support
Older siblings hold a powerful sway, and enlisting their help can make a big difference. ‘Ask an older brother or sister who loves vegetables to sound really enthusiastic when you serve up dinner,’ says Natasha. ‘Ask them to say something like, “Those vegetables look really nice, Mum.”
7. Tell your toddler why it’s healthy
You can’t just tell your child to eat something because it’s good for them – it won’t mean anything. ‘Be more specific,’ says Natasha. ‘For example, say that cucumber will help them be all watery inside and so stop them from feeling thirsty.’
8. Watch the carbs
Steer clear of letting your child fill up on carbohydrates if you’d like them to eat their vegetables. ‘Kids don’t need to try the green stuff on their plates if they’ve already filled up on pasta,’ says Natasha. ‘Keep carbohydrates to a minimum – for example, I would put two to three pieces of pasta on the plate for a fussy toddler.’
9. Try new vegetables
Rather than sticking to buying the same old vegetables, look up recipes which feature vegetables in surprising ways, such as courgette cake and spinach pancakes, and serve interesting new vegetables on the side of the plate. Be creative.
10. Stay relaxed
But definitely don’t make a big deal out of it – unless your fussy eater does actually try a vegetable, in which case make as big a deal as you want, rewarding them with a high five and praise.
What if your child still refuses to try the vegetables, even after everything you’ve tried? ‘No problem, don’t offer that particular vegetable again for a few days,’ says Sarah. ‘Keep serving vegetables on the side of the plate so children know they’re part and parcel of the meal.’
And do remember that once children start school and are sitting down to school dinners with their friends, they may become more daring – peer pressure helps with vegetable-eating too.