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How to Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables

We naturally want our children to have a healthy relationship with fruits and vegetables, knowing what we do about their health benefits and nutritional value.

Yet compared to convenience foods, junk food and sweet treats – which are so made to look so appealing to children – it can be challenging to fly the flag for the humble vegetable.

Some children are naturally more open to different tastes and textures but most kids experience phases of fussy eating at some stage. For anyone struggling to get their child to eat and enjoy healthy foods such as vegetables, these top tips should help:

  1. Be consistent with picky eaters
  2. Start with sweeter veg
  3. Experiment with textures
  4. Don’t give up on veggies
  5. Give them a sense of ownership
  6. Offer vegetables as a snack
  7. Don’t force kids to eat veggies
  8. Don’t bribe them with dessert

To hide or not to hide?

There’s a school of thought which suggests that hiding vegetables in food won’t help children to fully understand what they’re eating. It’s dishonest and doesn’t give kids an opportunity to engage properly with healthy food or nutrition.

However, for parents who are at their wits’ end the opportunity to disguise a few challenging new vegetables gives them reassurance that their kids are eating something of goodness.

As a middle ground, try implementing a bit of both. Perhaps look to add veggies such as blended courgettes, peppers and onions into a pasta sauce to give it a nutrient boost, while continuing to offer carrot or cucumber sticks or cherry tomatoes at lunchtime.

Vegetables are easily concealed in juices, smoothies, pancake batter and sauces, as well as in more solid foods such as scrambled eggs, pancakes, muffins and bread. In fact, muffins containing finely-chopped spinach or vegetable bread made from shredded carrots, onion and courgette are simple to make, delicious and loaded with nutrients.

8 tips to encourage children to eat veg (and enjoy it!)

Anchor Point: be-consistent

Be consistent with picky eaters

We talk a lot about healthy routines for kids, such a having a story before bedtime or brushing teeth twice a day.

Perceive eating vegetables in exactly the same way. Repeated exposure to vegetables will increase your child’s acceptance of them; making it a healthy habit that’s more likely to stick with them into adulthood.

Make an effort to offer fruit and vegetables with every meal. It could be fruit on cereal, carrot sticks with houmous for lunch or a side of sweetcorn or peas with dinner. Either way, you’ll break down the stigma associated with veggies and make them a normal part of mealtimes.

Children eating lunch
Anchor Point: sweeter-veg

Start with sweeter veg

You’re more likely to have success if you start encouraging sweeter vegetables.

Mashed sweet potatoes, peppers, carrots, sweetcorn and butternut squash are naturally sweeter and kids tend to take to them over more bitter vegetables.

From here move onto different vegetables such as green beans, cauliflower and broccoli, many of which are packed with protein.

Anchor Point: experiment-with-textures

Experiment with textures

Some children prefer crunchy textures so seek out fruits and vegetables or salad-items that can be chopped into sensibly-sized sticks for dipping, such as cucumber, carrot and celery.

Often the key to eating veggies is in how it’s cooked or presented. If boiled potatoes aren’t popular, switch to mash. Or if they turn their nose up at raw veg, trying roasting it. You’re more likely to inspire kids to eat more vegetables if you adapt the way you cook them.

Anchor Point: dont-give-up

Don’t give up on veggies

Had a battle over broccoli? Or a child rejects your lovingly prepared meal? As frustrating as it can be, don’t give up.

It’s all too easy to remove a dish from the meal repertoire because it caused conflict, or if your child refused it.

But in giving up on something they claim to dislike, you are limiting their exposure which can cause the aversion to strengthen. Kids should continue to encounter foods that challenge them because tastes, palates (and moods!) change.

Allow some time to pass before you offer that meal again. Or review the preparation and serving of it. Often cutting food into different shapes Are there ways you can make the dish look more appealing or enticing?

If your child refuses, try again in another few weeks. If it works, add a new vegetable every week or two.

Anchor Point: give-ownership

Give them a sense of ownership

Involving young kids in the planning, preparation and cooking of dinners can encourage them to eat more vegetables. Try giving them more control with some of these ideas:

  • Let everyone in the entire family select a meal for the planner each week. Having autonomy over food choices will be empowering for them plus it may encourage them to try other foods
  • Encourage children to help prepare meals. Seeing how home-cooked foods are created and being involved in the process gives them more attachment to any vegetable served on the table
  • Make food art! Whether it’s using pieces of fruit to make cheeky face pancakes or using chopped up colourful veggies such as bell peppers, shredded zucchini, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms to decorate a pizza, it’s a fun way to make new foods more appealing
  • Lay out brightly coloured bowls of shredded carrot, olives, sweetcorn, salads or celery and encourage children to help themselves to create their own bespoke meals. It gives them the power of choice
  • Grow your own! Even if you don’t have much space, carrots, spinach, potatoes and herbs are easily grown in containers. If children understand where produce comes from they’re likely to be more appreciative of it, especially if they’ve grown it themselves
  • Place salad dressing on the table. If they can add a sauce or dressing to their meal they may be more open to trying it
Anchor Point: vegetables-as-snacks

Offer vegetables as a snack

Vegetables make nutritious snacks and are quick and easy to prepare.

Many parents find it convenient to offer pre-packaged snacks, but often something simple like a handful of carrot batons or mashed avocado on a rice cake is healthier and contains less added sugar and salt.

If kids eat vegetables as a snack, they will become more accepting of vegetables at mealtimes.

Child enjoying lunch
Anchor Point: dont-force-kids

Don’t force kids to eat veggies!

Forcing a child to eat a food they dislike will create negative associations, not only with the food you’re trying to encourage them to eat, but with food in general. This can cause greater problems in later life.

You want your child to have a positive association with food which can be formed if the entire family follows healthy eating habits. These can include:

  • Eating healthy family meals
  • Making the majority of dishes from scratch
  • Get the kids involved in meal preparation and cooking
  • Everyone in the household eating the same meal
  • Serving vegetables with every meal
  • Sitting at a dinner table for mealtimes
  • Be a veggie role model – set a good example and eat a healthy diet packed with fruits and vegetables

 By demonstrating healthy eating habits you’re more likely to be successful in converting even the fussiest veggie eater.

Anchor Point: dont-bribe-kids-with-dessert

Don’t bribe them with sweet treats!

Bribery sends mixed messages. Promising your child a pudding if they eat their vegetables reinforces the idea that the vegetable component is something to be endured, not enjoyed, and that sweet treats are the ultimate reward.

Children are told to enjoy foods that are good for them and stay away from foods with little nutritional value. Yet being given foods that are bad for them in return for doing something good is confusing.

Offer a day out of their choice, new art supplies or their choice of film on movie night instead.

Overall, keep it creative and fun

Applying too much pressure on yourself (or your child) will result in frustrations on all sides. If you relish the joy in food, chances are your kids will too.

Just be creative, don’t give up and keep persevering. Before you know it, vegetables will soon become a mainstay in your child’s diet.