Are you struggling with how to get toddlers to eat veggies? You’re not alone! Understanding how to get kids to eat vegetables is a common obstacle in the toddler years and as a Registered Dietitian and mom, I have some tips and tricks that may help!
As a mom and dietitian, I definitely feel the pressure of figuring out how to get my toddlers to eat veggies and a wider variety of food in general.
Fruits seem to come easy, but veggies can be challenging due to their different taste and texture.
So, figuring out how to get kids to eat vegetables is a valid concern for many parents.
And while many times, I can “hide” them in recipes, I want them to know what they’re eating. So I often “add” them to recipes instead of relying on the hidden factor.
While I think introducing kids to all foods (shapes, textures, etc.) is an important part of intuitive eating for kids, offering a wide variety of food (yes, vegetables) at different occasions is important.
Yes, even if they don’t take on to them right away! This helps with the normalization process.
In This Article
- How to Get Toddler to Eat Vegetables
- Should You Include Hidden Vegetable Recipes for Toddlers?
- Do You Have a Picky Eater?
- My Favorite Vegetable to Introduce to Toddlers
- Recipes to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables and Vegetable Recipes for Toddlers
How to Get Toddler to Eat Vegetables
I don’t think there’s any one secret here. Every child is different, obviously. But I DO think that how we approach fruits and vegetables makes a big difference in our kids’ attitudes.
For example, if you’re not someone who eats many fruits and vegetables yourself, it’s not likely that your child will just go ahead and enjoy broccoli, asparagus or berries on their first attempt.
We all want more toddler vegetable recipes that our kids will actually eat. But as a parent, you need to model them yourself. Show that you enjoy eating them.
When your kids are older, involve them in the preparation and cooking to peak their interest. Kid friendly sweet potato recipes are fun to prepare and eat.
As parents, we’d love to see the rainbow come true. We introduce a food for the first time and our kids love it and take to it immediately.
However, we have to be practical and know that that probably won’t be the case most of the time. Even thinking back to our childhoods, that likely wasn’t the case either.
Research shows it can take 8-15 food exposures before someone likes it. I’ve even heard upwards of 30! These things take time and patience.
Keep Serving Them
What I learned in school, and more importantly, anecdotally as a mom, about making vegetables for toddlers is that you just have to keep serving them. And be consistent.
Brainstorm a bunch of healthy meal ideas for toddlers and try a few new ones each week.
Then try the same ingredient in a different recipe. The Cleveland Clinic states that children may need to try a new food 10 or more times before they accept it, again mirroring what we heard earlier.
I am constantly reading about struggles from parents where they’re googling how to get their toddler to eat vegetables.
Sometimes it can also help to pair a new fruit/veggie with a food they already like, so it’s not all new together at once.
That can be very overwhelming, and as a kid, I wouldn’t be super excited to try something new right away, either.
Change the Texture
Maybe your toddler doesn’t love raw broccoli, but may like it steamed or sauteed in butter. Maybe soft carrots aren’t pleasant, but crunchy baby carrots are.
You can also puree vegetables into dips, yogurts and more to help. For example, adding cucumber to a tzatziki dip may be really refreshing and fun for a toddler to dip into.
There are several other ways to change up the texture of vegetables, such as:
- cooking them
- mashing them (ie – mashed potatoes vs. baked potatoes)
- cutting food into different shapes (ie – sandwich “fingers” vs halfs)
- blending foods into a smoothie or liquid
- pureeing into a soup texture (pumpkin and sweet potato soup is great for that!)
- changing the temperature of the food
Model Eating Veggies Yourself
If your children don’t see YOU eating fruits and vegetables (even if they are “hidden”), why will they?
Sometimes I realize that I save my veggie intake for dinner and I may not have anything at lunch, so I don’t think to pack any for my toddlers, either.
So, I do a quick scan and see if I can add anything to my plate as well, especially when we’re eating together.
I want them to see me eating these foods too, as part of what is normal eating and a normal relationship with food.
Add to What They’re Already Eating
You don’t necessarily need to make a new vegetarian meal from scratch to introduce your toddlers to veggies. Try adding them to foods they already enjoy and are already eating.
My favorite example of this is the toddler mac and cheese with pears and broccoli.
The pears are typically sweet and better tolerated by little ones, and then adding the broccoli to things they already eat and like may make the exposure less stressful for them.
I do this alot with recipes and chia seeds for kids, too.
Chia seeds are easy to add to just about anything that they may already be eating, without adding really any flavor.
It helps them understand that even if it looks different, it doesn’t necessarily taste different, or off putting.
Do Some Prep To Have Healthy Recipes for Toddlers Available
Part of the struggle for parents trying to figure out how to get toddlers to eat vegetables is having them on hand and having something prepped.
Or even, having healthy meal ideas for toddlers in mind and recipes to get kids to eat vegetables available.
Personally, we make muffins a ton because they are easy to add fruits/veggies to, they are easy for kids to hold, and are very flavorful.
And they make a bunch at once – making leftovers easy!
In my roundup of baby muffin recipes, there are several ideas for veggie muffins for toddlers and healthy food ideas for kids. There are even some spinach recipes for toddlers.
These spinach waffles work great as baby waffles and you don’t even taste the spinach.
Or, popsicles are always a favorite and these pineapple coconut popsicles are great for babies and toddlers! Just omit the honey if serving to babies under 1.
We also rely on some of our favorite freezeable meals for toddlers – we’ll make once, and then rely on them for easy meals in the future.
This saves time and effort and if you’re in a pinch and haven’t gone grocery shopping and have no fruits or veggies on hand, hopefully some of these freezer meals and ideas can help!
Let Your Child Choose If and How Much To Eat
This principle is part of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, which I hope to expand upon in a future post. Essentially, as the parent, you decide what you serve to your child.
For example, you can pick out the healthy recipes for toddlers or veggie tots recipes to make for him/her. But, the child chooses if and how much he/she wants to eat.
This sets the foundation for a positive, happy relationship with food where there is no force feeding.
Children learn to eat based on their hunger and fullness cues, which I think are far more important than temporary stages where they won’t eat certain vegetables.
Change How You Talk About Foods
Are you never talking about broccoli or vegetables, but always talking about sweet foods, like pastries and cupcakes?
Do you show extra anxiety or extreme words and emotions when your children gravitate towards these foods or ask for them?
Are you using foods like “good” and “bad” around food?
Sometimes, we may not even be conscious that we are doing things like this, but kids pick up on everything.
Try to talk about foods neutrally.
You could even try saying things like, “Sometimes I like to eat broccoli cold when it’s raw and crunchy, and sometimes I like it cooked and warm with butter. How do you like it?”
Or, “Do you think red, yellow and orange peppers have a different taste?” We use curiosity alot at our table, and it entices them to play a role and try it, so they can give an answer.
Toddlers are curious by nature – let them explore that curiosity!
We may talk about our baby broccoli florets going to space and asking my toddler, what should the broccoli pack for its space ride? Or having them pretend they are invisible while eating their dinner.
Keeping these fun and relaxed usually helps too!
Should You Include Hidden Vegetable Recipes for Toddlers?
I know it’s tempting to just search for hidden vegetable recipes for toddlers and it’s not a bad idea to search for ways to include more fruits and veggies.
However, I don’t necessarily agree with the sneaky vegetable recipes for toddlers because you don’t want kids to think you have to hide something for them to eat it.
I’ve seen hidden veggie recipes for kids be interpreted the wrong way. I also think it comes down to how you approach it as a parent, and the language you use, as discussed above.
Camryn knows broccoli is broccoli, and asparagus is asparagus. She’ll either eat it or she won’t, and it definitely changes based on the day.
I want her to be familiar with it so she can learn it and identify it.
I’m not against adding veggies for toddlers in, because that is what we’re doing with many of my favorite family-friendly recipes, like these sweet potato tater tots.
Do You Have a Picky Eater?
Many parents may assume they have a picky eater if they can’t figure out how to get their kids to eat vegetables. However, as discussed above, there are many layers to it!
Just because a toddler or kid doesn’t take to a food when you serve or introduce it, don’t lose hope. Remember how many times (8-12 and even upwards of that) it may take!
You probably didn’t start loving vegetables right away, either.
You may think the answer to picky eating is just forcing your kids to eat something before another thing. For example, “eat all of your potatoes, then you can have xyz.”
However, force feeding is not the answer and starts to create a hierarchy of foods in childrens’ minds. The best thing to do is to continue to expose the child to a variety of foods naturally, like you would other children.
As mentioned above, pair it with foods they are comfortable with.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly discourages force feeding and advises parents of picky eaters to continue exposing their children to a variety of nutritional foods.
Seeing a feeding therapist may also be helpful for extremely picky eaters.
My Favorite Vegetable to Introduce to Toddlers
Sweet potatoes are my secret weapon for increasing toddlers’ vegetable consumption. While they are a starch in the potato family, they are also a vegetable with several micronutrients.
Since they are sweeter (without any added sweeteners), they pair well with so many different foods for babies, toddlers and kids.
Plus, the ample carbohydrates and fiber provide quick and lasting energy!
Sweet potatoes are one of the very first vegetables/carbs that are often introduced to babies.
Because they cook quickly, they’re super nutritious and they can take on different consistencies, sweet potato for baby led weaning is a stellar option.
In baby led weaning, they can be mashed and pureed for easy swallowing.
Recipes to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables and Vegetable Recipes for Toddlers
Here are some other vegetable recipes for toddlers to help get kids to eat vegetables and entice them more.