Many moms out there struggle with how to get a toddler to eat vegetables.
I blame the fickle nature of toddlers. One minute they may eat everything you put in front of them. Then the next day they turn up their nose at what used to be their favorite food.
Problem is, while your child may have no issues with eating boxed mac n’ cheese for every meal that’s not exactly a balanced diet. We all learned about the food pyramid in school (which I think is a “plate” now?).
As parents we know veggies are important. So what do you do if your child won’t eat vegetables??
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Model the Behavior
Toddlers are total copycats. They constantly mimic the behavior the see sometimes with hilarious results.
It’s pretty adorable when they answer a toy phone, put on mommy’s makeup, or even drop a curse word you let slip that one-freakin-time. Use this natural desire to imitate to your advantage.
While some veggies aren’t my favorite either, if I eat them with enthusiasm, my toddler seems a bit more interested in them as well.
Making sure you’re chowing down on lots of veggies, is not only good for you, but the social learning is teaching your toddler healthy eating habits for life.
Plus, toddlers always seem to think that food on mommy’s plate is better, so feel free to share your vegetables if that gets them eating.
Make the Veggies Fun
This sounds silly, but making the vegetables more fun to eat can be a very effective way to entice a picky toddler.
So what makes vegetables fun?
Well, it depends on the food and the toddler and takes a little extra creativity.
Here are a couple of ideas for making veggies more fun:
- Dipping! My toddler has recently discovered the joys of dipping and will eat most anything if it can be dipped. We use hummus most often for dipping, but ranch, ketchup, and cheese are also popular.
- Toppings! Putting things on top of your veggies can make them more fun, like Ants on a Log (spread peanut butter on celery with raisins on top). You can easily switch out the toppings based on your toddlers preferences, like using cream cheese or cheerios. While this spreads best in the celery’s groove, we’ve also topped carrot sticks and pepper slices this way.
- Fun shapes! It is always more fun to eat veggies shaped like a heart, star, or flower. At least, my kids seem to think so. I have some very small cookie cutters that work well on thinly sliced cucumbers, zucchini, or carrots, but you can actually get these really cute cutters for fruits and vegetables.
Branch Out from Your Own Preferences
Your toddler may have different tastes than yourself so don’t just stick to your preferences.
We all have our own likes and dislikes and we may not even realize how these influence our meals so making sure you are offering a wide variety of vegetables is important.
For instance, I must admit that I’m a bit of a picky eater, and if I stuck to simply the vegetables I find appetizing I would have severely limited the options I exposed to my kids. By recognizing my own food bais, I tried to make sure I didn’t unintentionally pass that on to my kids.
It turns out my oldest loves peppers and mushrooms, which are both things I would rather avoid.
Try a DIY Approach
Try to let your toddler have as much hand in vegetable preparation as possible, even growing it themselves!
If you have some space in your backyard for a garden, you can get a little more adventurous and try things like asparagus, green beans, zucchini, peppers, or peas.
Kids LOVE helping in the garden. It gives them a chance to get dirty and learn about food cultivation in a hands-on way. My kids get so excited seeing their creations that they’ll eat veggies straight from the garden.
But if gardening isn’t your thing, another way to get kids involved is by having them assist
in the preparation. Washing produce is an easy activity for young toddlers while older ones may be able to stir sauteing vegetables on the stove.
Another idea on how to get a toddler to eat vegetables is asking them how they would like to season. Butter? A dash of salt and pepper? Give them options to choose from.
Inevitably when I’m cooking dinner and the aroma starts flowing through the house, I’ll get my kids hanging around the kitchen complaining they’re starving.
This is a great opportunity to offer healthy pre-dinner snacks (ie. vegetables) while they’re hungry! They’re much more likely to try (and enjoy) vegetables at this point.
I mention this in our snack debate, but another trick I use when talking about how to get a toddler to eat vegetables is to limit snacks in between meals.
Toddlers need snacks between meals, but limit the frequency to once between breakfast and lunch and then another a couple of hours before dinner. Snacks should be small, not full meals. This ensures they’re hungry to eat their veggies come suppertime!
One a similar note…
Serve The Vegetables First
When vegetables and served alongside other more desirable foods most of us will go for our favorite first. So I can’t really blame my kids for filling up on the mac & cheese and then shunning the broccoli.
So sometimes, especially when I know they really like the other foods, I will serve the vegetables first. Giving the veggies almost like an appetizer or salad to start the meal pretty much ensures they all get eaten since everyone is most hungry.
Alternatively, I sometimes still serve the whole meal together, but am very mindful of portion sizes. For instance, I give a full portion of veggies with very small portions of the preferred foods so they will not be fill up on them. Then they are welcome to get a second helping if they’re still hungry.
I’m not above sneaking veggies into toddler food whenever I can so kids don’t even realize they’re eating them! Here are a few ideas:
- Smoothies – a handful of spinach hides beautifully in strawberry and banana smoothies.
- Baked goods – shredded carrots are hidden nicely in muffins and zucchini in bread.
- Soups – grab a hand blender (seriously, a lifesaver) and blend in cooked veggies to the stock of your soup before you add beans/noodles. Carrots, celery, and broccoli work really well for this. A great option is broccoli cheese, but it really works with any soup. It makes the broth creamy and nutritious.
- Pizza – either use that hand blender again to blend cooked veggies into the tomato sauce or hide up minced veggies beneath the cheese in your homemade pizza.
Switch It Up
Switching up the preparation was our biggest success in how to get a toddler to eat vegetables.
Try the same veggies you’ve already introduced in other ways. Try them raw, with different seasonings, or even frozen!
When my son was a baby, I steamed all his veggies so I naturally just continued to cook them as he became a toddler. However, I noticed that over time he was rejecting more and more vegetables he used to happily eat.
One day when I was in the kitchen getting dinner ready, my toddler reached up, grabbed a few frozen peas I had yet to cook, and put them in his mouth. To my surprise, after he had finished them he went back for more!
That inspired me. I tried raw carrots, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. You name it, I tried it raw.
Not all of them were hits. My son definitely prefers steamed broccoli over raw. But he won’t touch cooked peppers yet he’ll eat the whole thing if it’s raw and sliced.
When can my toddler eat raw vegetables?
In general, most toddlers are developmentally ready to eat raw vegetables between the ages of 3 and 4. When new foods are introduced, it’s important to monitor them closely as some raw veggies can pose choking hazards.
It may seem pointless to keep giving your child food that you know they will refuse, but keep on offering a variety of vegetables.
Toddlers are fickle creatures and it can take many exposures to a new food before they may be willing to just give it a little nibble. They’re prone to turning their noses up at “new” foods, so by continuing to give them veggies they become more familiar and more likely to actually try them.
Even once they are willing to give the food a small taste, it can take many more tries before they decide they like it.
Yes, it is frustrating to watch your kid throw their peas again (and clean it up), but don’t stop trying.