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How to get your toddler to eat vegetables

How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Their Vegetables

Nutrition expert Dr. Cath Conlon gives plenty of actionable advice on how you can encourage your toddler (and older kids!) to eat more vegetables

7 min read

 Toddler –  Expert Article by Dr Cath Conlon

How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Their Vegetables

Sometimes getting your kids to eat a single vegetable can feel like a battle of wills. With their emerging independence, toddlers and preschoolers can suddenly become fussy at mealtimes and resist trying new foods.

Although this can be frustrating for parents, keep persevering and offer new vegetables, even if it’s just a nibble to taste. It takes time to accept new tastes and textures and, for some children, it can take up to 10 or more times before they eventually accept or like a new food.

The key is focusing on your child trying the food rather than how much of it they eat, and to praise them for trying even the smallest amount. Avoid bribing them with a reward to eat their vegetables as this can be detrimental in the long run because rather than teaching them to enjoy vegetables, instead they get into the habit of only eating them if there’s something in it for them.

How to Get your toddler to eat more vegetables

Encouraging your toddler to try vegetables

Training taste buds from refusing to try something to tasting and accepting it takes time and patience. First of all, work out what types of vegetables your child likes and will eat, what vegetables you’d like them to try and what vegetables they have tried and dislike. When introducing a new vegetable, you may need to choose one that is similar to something they do like, such as kumara or pumpkin if they like potato.

Encourage them to pick it up and perhaps just lick it first if they won’t eat it. Kids love familiarity so include the new vegetable (or the one you are repeatedly trying to get them to taste), with others foods you know they do like.

Some children prefer to learn about a food first before trying it. Take the time to explain what the veggie is going to taste like, whether it’s going to be crunchy or soft. Offer veggie sticks with a dipping sauce which you know your child does like.

How to get your toddler to eat vegetables

Appeal to your toddler’s imagination

Choose vegetables from across the different colour groups – orange, yellow, white, green, purple and red. Spark their imagination by naming vegetables with humorous names, such as x-ray vision carrots, power peas and dinosaur broccoli trees to encourage them to eat more of these vegetables.

Most importantly, remember, you are one of your child’s biggest role models. If they see you enjoying eating vegetables, they’re more likely to want to eat them, too. And, even if you don’t like a certain vegetable, still offer it to your child – we each have different taste preferences and they may really love something that you don’t!

How to Get your toddler to eat more vegetables

Try these ideas to boost your child’s veggie intake

+ Try a veggie soup – you can add vegetables to soup and then puree to make a fine creamy consistency for a delicious and nutritious meal.

+Add spinach to a cheese sauce or finely shredded and added to a pizza topping.

+ Any veggie can be finely chopped and added to rice or pasta dishes.

+ Add grated carrot curls to sandwiches, rolls, bagels or salads.

+ Not all little ones like puréed or mushy foods, so try raw or lightly cooked vegetables as an alternative.

+ Don’t be restricted by the time of day – for a weekend breakfast try mushrooms on toast, sweet peppers and sweet corn added to an omelette or add some fine-chopped mixed vegetables in a frittata.

How to Get your toddler to eat more vegetables

Veggies don’t have to be boring!

+ Choose brightly-coloured vegetables such as peppers, beetroot and kumara.

+ Add sauces or cover vegetables with sprinkles of sesame seeds or herbs.

+ Bake cakes and biscuits that contain vegetables. Carrot and zucchini cakes are moist, healthier options. Savoury options include pumpkin bread and muffins with grated vegetables.

+ Don’t forget tinned or frozen vegetables, which have different texture for those little ones fussy on how things ‘feel’. For example, if your child doesn’t like fresh carrots, they might enjoy the tinned variety.

+ Adding frozen mixed vegetables to casseroles, shepherd’s pie and meaty dishes adds colour, and the smaller cubes which may appeal to
younger children.

+ Most children enjoy sweet foods so opt for sweeter vegetables, such as mashed kumara or mix together parsnip, swede and carrot.

+ Add a colourful twist to mashed potato with broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin or beetroot.

+ Serve veggie kebabs on sticks with meat and/ or fruit pieces between (blunt the sharp ends for younger children).

How to get your toddler to eat vegetables

+ Most children enjoy sweet foods so opt for sweeter vegetables, such as mashed kumara or mix together parsnip, swede and carrot.

+ Add a colourful twist to mashed potato with broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin or beetroot.

+ Serve veggie kebabs on sticks with meat and/ or fruit pieces between (blunt the sharp ends for younger children).

+ Oven-roast veggies by using a good quality oil to lightly cover kumara, carrot, swede, butternut squash, pumpkin, parsnip or beetroot – little ones will particularly love the sweetness!

+ Take the crunch out of vegetables by sautéing or grating before adding them to dishes, such as lasagne and casseroles.

+ Serve chopped raw or cooked vegetables with dips, such as cottage cheese, hummus or ricotta, for snacks.

Improved health for mums & kids

Learn more or take part yourself

By studying how individual food components are digested, absorbed, metabolised and utilised, we can understand their effects on genes, cells, organs and the whole person. Deliberate manipulation of these food interactions can lead to improved health. You can learn more about the research at Massey University and even participate in studies.

Get the kids involved with vegetable prep

+ Encouraging your littlies to get involved when growing, buying and preparing vegetables for meal times is more likely to perk their interest to eat them.

+ Take them with you to the supermarket, greengrocer or local farmers’ market and encourage them to help choose what vegetables to buy.

+ Use the opportunity to talk about the different vegetables on display and any interesting facts about them. By letting them play a part in some of the decisions, they’re more likely to be willing to try something new.

+ If you have the space, and time, grow your own vegetables in your backyard or garden. Or, if limited by space, plant some fast-growing vegetables in pots on a balcony or deck. Not only is it fun to grow your own crop, but it’s a great learning opportunity and incentive for kids to eat what they have helped grow.

+ Let your child choose between two or three vegetables for dinner – a choice may increase the chance of him eating the veggie he picked

Have fun with veggies

+ Turn vegetables into something fun or prepare dishes in a different way than usual.

+ Make baked potato faces using peas for eyes, a carrot nose, sweet pepper mouth and green spinach hair.

+ Stack celery and carrot sticks into bridges or buildings on the plate.

+ Make pizza faces with peppers, carrots and olive or raisin eyes.

+ Scoop out the flesh of baked potatoes, peppers or squash and stuff with mixed vegetables, rice or beans topped with cheese and grill in the oven.

+ Make mashed potato gardens with different vegetables as decorations.

How to get your toddler to eat vegetables

Expert Profile: Dr Cath Conlon

Researcher and Nutrition Expert

Cath started as a paediatric nurse at Great Ormond Street Hospital, where her interest in nutrition led her to a PhD studying pre-term babies who received parenteral lipid emulsions. She now teaches life-cycle nutrition at the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health in Auckland.

Toddler

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