A question I’m often asked by parents is, “how do I get my child to eat more vegetables?”, so here are some practical ideas and my top tips to get your toddler eating their vegetables. I hope this helps your little ones enjoy more fruit and veg…
When it comes to food, you are your child’s best role model. From the very beginning of the weaning journey, it’s important to sit and eat together as much as you can, even eating similar foods (even small amounts of their foods) can have an impact.
It’s also important to remove coercive feeding practices and move beyond this past notion of ‘clear your plate’. Once you begin to follow the ‘division of responsibility’ principle where you decide what to offer your child & they decide whether to eat it & how much, this will decrease the pressure on your child to eat and this in turn might actually encourage them to give more foods a go.
Offer a variety early on
Remember, there are SO many different fruit and vegetable options out there, including frozen, tinned, and fresh, all which count towards their 5 a day, so why not explore something new with your little one? Remember increasing exposure to a range of fruit and vegetables regularly may increase consumption. It may take multiple times until a new veggie is accepted (at least 8-10 repeated exposures), but don’t give up! Remember it’s about the long game and being consistent is key.
Get them involved!
Cooking with children has many benefits, it builds their confidence and gives them an opportunity to get familiar with foods away from the dinner table, and therefore they may be more inclined to try something new. From shopping to chopping – children are more likely to eat foods if they’ve had some involvement in the process of getting it to their plate! Speaking of which, why not get them to serve up their own food? Using some child-friendly utensils (e.g. tongs, large spoons etc.) they can help themselves, giving them some control over what and how much they eat and giving them some independence too!
But for those days you don’t have time for them to be quite so hands on, even just having them take part in the decision making can help. A simple “do you want peas or beans with dinner?” can help – being involved in the choices makes them more likely to eat them!
Be mindful of portion sizes when approaching new foods, place a small amount of a new vegetable on their plate, so as not to overwhelm them. Also, it’s worth remembering that toddlers only need small portions to hit their 5 a day. Their own palm size is roughly a portion of fruit and vegetables, so ½ a banana, a spoonful or two of baked beans, a few cucumber batons, a mini-me handful of berries all count.
Offer new veggies with the old favourites
Avoid only offering vegetables that you know they will eat. These are still important, but it’s good to continue to increase their familiarity with new vegetables over time too. Even if they reject them the first few times, seeing, touching and smelling a new food still increases their exposure, and will help support them trying it in time. A good tactic is to offer more familiar veggies alongside newer unfamiliar ones.
Prepare veg in interesting ways (when time permits!)
Using novelty shaped cutters or crinkle cutters can be a useful way to get children more interested in veggies, especially harder veg, such as cucumber, peppers and carrots. It’s helpful for children to see vegetables in their natural form too, so they can recognise them, but this can be a great way to make lunchboxes, dinnertime, and picnics more fun!
Games, resources and fun!
Research shows that food related picture books may have positive, long-term impacts on children’s attitudes towards new foods. So why not try books, games, flash cards, or bring their soft toys to sit for dinner with you!
You could also get them to name their vegetables or meals, things like “Cowboy Casserole” or “Witch and Chips” can spark their interest and associate good foods with their favourite characters.
Blend them in
You could try blending foods into dishes, such as lentils or beans into sauces – this can be a great way to add extra nutrients, but try not to do it every time, and offer some whole vegetables on the side too. Familiarisation is the key to acceptance in the long term, so it’s great to add more in where you can, but recognising their vegetables and enjoying them whole is also part of them learning to accept them.
Keep a record
Many parents think that their little ones don’t eat many fruits and vegetables but end up surprised about the amount when they begin making a list. You may start off with a small list of veggies they will accept but keep trying and add any new ones as you go along. You can always use star charts to encourage them to try a taste, but don’t force them to eat or put pressure on, this is just a gentle method to see if they are happy to explore a little.
If you’re looking for further information on top tips to get your toddler eating their vegetables, please take a look at my recent blog on fussy eaters or my detailed Fussy Eating Factsheet, which is free to download. I also run regular Fussy Eating Webinars which cover this topic in more depth.