Easy & Fun Ways to Get Your Kids to ACTUALLY Like Eating Veggies
This post is authored by a guest contributor, Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN, LD.
As a parent of two kids I’ve been there…my baby in the high chair making an awful face at veggies. My toddler exclaiming, “Yucky!” and throwing said broccoli at MY face. Feeding little ones isn’t easy and it can leave you feeling like a failure. However, with a few hacks you can be confident about your parenting approach to meals. Plus, you can help your little ones learn to love their veggies!
Expose, Expose, Expose Them to Veggies
The fastest way to get babies and toddlers eating veggies is to serve, well, veggies. A LOT. Serve them as often as possible! I even serve them at breakfast and for snacks. One pea on a snack plate counts as an exposure win for you, the parent!
The more kids see veggies, the more they are likely to touch them. Touch leads to smells. Smells lead to licks. Licks lead to tastes. Tastes lead to chews. Chews lead to swallows…
I have a little one who is nervous about new foods, but I keep exposing him. Last summer, he had a major victory when he announced that he “LOVED!!” tomatoes. (After 3.5 years of exposures!) Big wins like that take time, and while he’s had other veggies he’s always loved, some have been an acquired taste!
Giving kids time and space to learn to like foods leads to a lifetime of enjoying them and feeling confident about eating.
Start when kids are babies, and expose kids to as many different types of vegetables as you can. Make sure they are safely prepared (saving hard raw veggies for later) and include them all the time. Even if babies or kids reject them, keep on serving in a no-pressure way…. think about the long game!
The “No-Pressure” Approach to Feeding Your Kids
If you’re looking for the best way to help small kids actually like the foods they eat, try a “no-pressure” approach to feeding.
As the parent, it is your job to provide 3 things:
Nutritious, balanced meals with at least 1 food your child likes at each meal and snack
A meal and snack routine
A safe place to eat meals without distractions
It’s your child’s job to decide:
Whether to eat
How much to eat
This means that when you are exposing your children to new foods, you allow them to decide whether to eat them. You also allow them to decide how much to eat.
The great thing about “no-pressure” is that it also ends food battles. When your child says they don’t like a food, you can remind them they don’t have to eat it. They can stay at the table with you for the meal (which will be short if you have an active toddler) and then get down. Once the pressure to eat is off little ones, they often have the courage to learn to like new foods!
Research shows us that babies and toddlers are great at listening to their bodies. If they are given nutritious options and a structure, they will eat what they need over the course of the week. It’s okay if toddlers eat a lot today and “air” tomorrow. This is normal toddler behavior! Of course, if you have concerns about your child’s growth, development, or eating patterns, it is wise to give your pediatrician a call.
Embrace your role as the provider of food and structure. Give your child the space to decide whether to eat and how much.
Encourage Kids to Play with Their Food
Finally, encourage your little ones to explore their foods. Give them new textures, different utensils, and play little food games.
A new utensil for a picky toddler is sometimes all you need to help them take a bite. Toothpicks can be absolute magic for older toddlers! Even babies love forks and spoons, learning what they are for, and how to use them.
Silliness has a huge pay off, too. If it makes your little one laugh, you know you’re on the right track. Playing can help your child learn to love foreign foods and associate them with positive situations.
Call your broccoli “little trees,” pretend everyone is a bunny and thinking about carrots, let your child name a veggie a funny name, or take silly veggie selfies.
No matter where you’re at with feeding right now, remember you’re doing a great job! Every exposure is a point for you and a step in the right direction. Your little one will be eating their broccoli too before you know it.
Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in public health and child nutrition. She has two little boys and loves to play veggie games with them. She helps parents everywhere get their kids to eat veggies on Instagram @kids.eat.in.color and at kidseatincolor.com.