A frequent question I am asked on Instagram when mothers see my toddlers plate with different types of vegetables each day, is “Does your toddler eat his vegetables?” Many parents of toddlers are going through the picky eating phase and wondering, How to get toddlers to eat vegetables, without any fuss or tricking and help them enjoy vegetables too.
One of my main concerns has always been to encourage healthy eating habits for kids. If you are wondering how to get kids to eat healthily, I have a detailed blog post explaining how to create healthy meals and stock the pantry in your home in a way that helps promote healthier choices.
Read here: How I get my child to eat healthy every day
If picky eating is an issue in your home and you are wondering how to get a picky eater to eat, head to this blog post to understand common toddler eating problems and tackle them.
Toddler years come with their set of challenging behaviors that translate to the table too. Once parents identify the behavior and understand how to tackle each behavior creatively and consistently many of these fussy eating patterns disappear.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO EAT VEGETABLES EVERY DAY?
- Vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals needed by growing bodies, especially Vitamin C, folic acid and certain antioxidants to name a few.
- Eating the right amount of vegetables per day protects against various diseases and illnesses such as cancers, cardiovascular ailments, and diabetes.
- Vegetables contain fiber that protects the bowels, reducing the risk of certain cancers.
- Eating a good amount of vegetables per day also reduces the risk of obesity.
- Food preferences formed early in life tend to continue into adult life. Therefore developing an early love for vegetables and vegetarian dishes can help your child have a long healthy life.
For an average toddler, you should aim for 2-3 servings of vegetables a day. (source)
WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN TRYING TO ENCOURAGE YOUR TODDLER TO EAT VEGETABLES
Most parents use rewards, pressure tactics or punishments to try and get their children to eat more vegetables.
Research has shown that these tactics do more harm than good.
When you restrict certain food items it causes more preference for the restricted food item. Pressurizing, on the other hand, causes children to have a negative association with food.
A balanced approach to food choices, coupled with education on nutrition and hands-on experience with healthy food is needed to tilt the child’s preferences towards healthy food groups.
HOW TO GET TODDLERS TO EAT VEGETABLES
Education and Experience
Education lays the foundation for lifelong practices. Getting toddlers involved in hands-on activities like cooking, gardening may encourage greater vegetable consumption.
If you have a garden that’s great, start planting a variety of veggies with your child. Some your favorites and some of your toddler’s favorites.
No garden, that’s okay too, get your toddler involved in the kitchen. Here is a post I wrote on how to cook with toddlers. I included a few easy flameless recipes to try with toddlers. Cooking and making something encourages them to try what they make. In my experience, everything I make with my son has always been a hit with him. He loves the activity and enjoys eating the dishes we make together.
Another way to give a hands-on experience with foods is to take toddlers and older children to the local market. Let them touch, taste and smell fresh fruit and vegetables. These experiences start conversations around the local foods, your cultural food history, memories from your own childhood enjoying these foods.
Creating such an interest in food is important in order to encourage your child to try some of the vegetables on his plate.
Parents play an important role in shaping children’s eating patterns.
In a recent study, it was found that mothers who ate fruit and vegetables in pregnancy had kids with lower levels of picky eating.
Good eating habits including high consumption of vegetables start at home. Younger children are influenced by parents first, when they see their parents enjoying vegetarian dishes regularly they are more inclined to try the same.
One way to do this is by eating family-style meals or build a taco/burrito type of nights. On these days, lay out the ingredients on the table (try and find a dish that is a crowd pleaser) and add as many vegetables as you can. Looking at you make your own sandwich or taco is a great mimicking opportunity for your toddler.
Wait until hungry
Throughout the toddler years, the routine is constantly challenged. Toddlers have a habit of constantly grazing on food. When it is time for dinner, they don’t have any appetite left.
I usually send my son out to the park just before dinner, that way he is hungry by the time he is home and eats a big dinner.
Other times I don’t fuss if he says no to a meal, I just wait until he is hungry and offer the same meal I originally offered. If he doesn’t eat lunch at lunchtime, I wait and offer lunch after play and nap time.
Point to be noted: Kids eat their vegetables really well when they are ravenously hungry.
Another option is to add more vegetables to snacks or offer vegetables straight up cut into finger-sized portions as snacks.
Cut up carrots, cucumbers, beets, boiled corn, bell peppers and offer these as finger foods to munch on between meals.
Add vegetables to smoothies, savory muffins, savory pancakes or waffles. Kids love these types of snacks and you are assured about vegetable consumption.
Here is an interesting excerpt from a research paper I read recently:
Making foods available and accessible to children has been associated with intake of fruit and vegetable in children. (Rasmussen et al., 2006).
Availability of food means that a given food is present in the children’s immediate environment (e.g., fruit and vegetables present in the home and available in the school). Accessibility concerns whether the given foods are present in a place and form that facilitates their consumption, eg sliced vegetables.
Making vegetables available and accessible to children, for example in school canteens or a veggie platter at home appear to be an effective strategy for increasing the intake of vegetables.
The repeated exposure to a variety of fruit and vegetables thus leads to an increase in children’s intake, offering an actual and sustainable effect on children’s eating behavior. (source)
Another trick is to make vegetables the first course at dinner. If you know your child will fill up on the mashed potatoes and meat dishes on the plate, serve vegetables first.
Start the meal with a vegetarian appetizer or sauteed/grilled vegetables followed by the rest of the dinner menu. This way your child has taken at least one bite of his veggies before moving on to his other favorites.
As long as he is trying one bite each time, the day will come when he eats his entire serving of vegetables.
If you can’t do courses you can also try and plate vegetables with other not-so-favorite foods, this encourages the child to try the vegetables. Keep the child’s favorite food for last, this way they don’t just fill up on their favorite ignoring the veggies.
Add vegetables to everything
One trick that worked with me when I was a child, was adding vegetables in dishes I liked. One of the foods I loved as a child was scrambled eggs, my mom took my favorite dish and made it yummier by adding vegetables like finely chopped spring onions, peas, and carrots. This was the only way I ate those vegetables as a child.
I usually don’t recommend sneaking veggies into toddler food, but when your toddler doesn’t eat any veggies this might be a good idea.
Smoothies, vegetable sandwiches, veggie fritters, and patty, burritos, pasta, fried rice, stuffed parathas are all great dishes to hide those vegetables in.
Combine vegetables with other grains, proteins, and healthy fats to make them as delicious as possible. No one likes straight up steamed veggies all the time, get creative with how you cook your veggies.
To get an idea of how I pair foods and offer vegetables to my toddler you can read these blog posts. You will see some of the points I mentioned here in practice;
If you are still wondering,
How to get toddlers to eat vegetables?
Remember, parental modeling, consistent exposure and hands-on experience is your best bet for long-term and sustained change in toddler eating behaviors.
How do you get your toddler to eat vegetables? If you have some secret mommy tricks or ways to encourage healthy eating, do leave me a comment below.