How to Get Your Toddler to Eat More Veggies
10 Simple ways to encourage a child to eat when they refuse
Imagine, your child devouring that healthy lunch box you lovingly prepared.
It can seem like a fantasy wonderland.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Getting a child to eat veggies when they refuse is like the old pentene shampoo add…. “it won’t happen overnight… but it will happen”.
It’s like trying to push start a car. The first few heaves can feel like you are getting no-where… but after putting in some effort? You get that car moving and the effort involved to keep it moving along is a little push now and again.
Getting toddlers to eat Broccoli requires some effort to start with. You may not feel like you are not getting anywhere.
But the momentum will be building.
And, soon…You will be surprised with your child’s open mind to trying new foods without much effort on your part. Just like the car coasting down the road.
To start that momentum, there are 10 simple ways to get toddler eating veggies.
So, when your child refuses to eat anything, employ one or a few of them consistently, and eventually, your child will be a healthy, adventurous eater.
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10 Simple Strategies to Get Your Toddler To Eat Veggies
1. The Blender is Your Friend
Does it feel like they have pre-decided not to like Broccoli or another vegetable before they even try it?
I remember my oldest daughter being like this. This is the reason I wrote the book Healthy Little Eaters – because I wanted my child to love eating healthy and at that moment of time the only healthy eating she did was when I forced her. Healthy Little Eaters was all the research put in one place that helped me give her a totally new direction.
But that’s a long-term strategy. And, I am sure you want some quick wins.
So, use your blender.
Think about the foods your child is eating already. How could you blend some vegetables in there?
Do your kids only eat baked beans or spaghetti? Again, a little of cauliflower puree is a great or add in a vegetable sauce…
Blending vegetables will help to train their taste buds for different flavours without their mind getting in their way.
I was surprised how quickly my children began eating cauliflower after adding in a dollop cauliflower puree in their French toast.
Using a blender can also help you feel satisfied that your kids are receiving some nutrients – which will help you to reduce the pressure your kids may feel about finishing their vegetables. Backing pressure off on your kids is the biggest and hardest step you can make as a parent but is the step that brings the biggest rewards. Witnessing your kids getting some nutrients through the blended veggies will help put your mind at ease.
Takeaway: Using a blending by pureeing the vegetables of similar colour to your child’s already accepted meals can increase their nutrient intake without them having to ‘try’ a new food. This will also train their taste buds without them noticing
2. Use Foods Your Toddler Already Likes
What foods do your kids already like?
When you put a vegetable on the table ask yourself ‘is there a way I can make a link to a food that they already like?”
For example, if you want to encourage them to eat avocado, if they like creamy yoghurt can you bring their attention to the smoothness and creaminess of the avocado when they try it?
You can also do this with flavours.
If your toddler likes garlic bread. Make garlicky cauliflower bites. When you put it on the table tell them it tastes like garlic bread. If they bring it up to their mouths, casually ask if they can taste the garlic-bread.
The goal is to get your toddler to think about something else rather than the uncertainty of the vegetable.
Takeaway: Drawing kids’ attention to something already familiar in the ‘new veggie can help your child to create a link to what is already familiar to them.
3. Give your Toddler a Choice
If you do, I’m guessing they will tell you what they want to eat and when they want to eat it no matter what you do.
It can be frustrating.
But, food, going toilet and going to sleep are the only things they can control. And they love control.
So, give them some.
Ask them what they would like to eat tonight by giving them three options.
Or you can ask what vegetables they would like with dinner by giving them 3 options. Or when you are in the supermarket, ask them to pick a vegetable to eat with dinner.
This way they feel like they have some control and when they sit down at dinner you can remind them that they are the ones that choose that option. I like to do it in a ‘thank-you’ way. “Thank you for choosing the Broccoli for tonight’s dinner”
Takeaway: Give your strong-willed child what they want. control: You provide the boundaries they get to choose.
4. Play with Flavours
Is your child sensitive to bitter foods?
Some toddlers are more sensitive to bitter foods than others. If you are nodding your head thinking “this is my child” then there are two things you want to do.
- Read on to #7. Decreasing your child’s sugar intake will help do wonders for accepting bitter foods. The sweeter your kids’ diet is, the more bitter foods will seem to them.
- Play with the flavours to help mask the bitter taste. Adding a bit of fat or a sharp taste like balsamic can help mask bitter foods such as broccoli.
If that fails then sprinkle a little sugar or if your boiling that vegetables add sugar to the water… It is more important for kids to develop a positive association with vegetables than to worry about sugar. And, research showed that just three exposures to a sweetened vegetable helped those kids enjoy that vegetable later on. So, use their sweetener preference to your advantage.
Takeaway: If your child is super sensitive to bitter foods then add a flavour such as fat or sweetness to the bitter vegetable when you introduce it.
5. Play with Textures
First, check that your toddler is chewing and making good jaw movements well first. If not, make jaw movements exercise a priority. Suck on homemade ice-block or get them drinking out of a straw are a couple of ways to exercise their facial muscles.
From there play with different textures of the food.
Does your child prefer crispy textures? Then bread the cauliflower or broccoli and make it crispy.
Write a list of your child’s favourite textures – pick a vegetable you want them to have more of and think of ways to add their preferred texture to that food.
A personal win: My 16month old is having a hard time with the texture of mince. We often will have Chili or chicken mince, so I really want him to like this texture. Recently we had Chili over a baked potato. One of the toppings I put out included natural yoghurt.
He loved the texture of yoghurt, so I added in some small amounts of mince to spoonsful of yoghurt. Boom – for the first time he didn’t spit out the mince.
If your kid loves the creamy smooth texture like yoghurt, then can you add this to your next meal to help them get used to another texture?
Takeaway: Build a new texture into the textures your kids already like. Little bit by little bit will help to get your kids liking other textures without a fight.
6. Play Games
How do you make kids (or adults) happy to learn?
Make it fun.
When encouraging kids to eat healthy make the learning environment fun. Play games like ‘who can keep a straight face’ when introducing sour fermented foods such as my kids’ favourite sauerkraut help keep the mood light and fun. The positive environment creates happy memories with healthy foods. Even if they don’t like it, they will be developing a positive association with veggies in general. So, you are winning.
Turing trying new foods into an experiment: Sign up for Adventuring Little Eaters email course and you will also get tasticaiton and foodication handouts from Healthy Little Eaters Free. This will help to make trying new foods and experimenting with different taste sensations in a playful way.
7. Sugars out
After a month of sugar-free that bar of chocolate will seem out-of-this-world too sweet.
If your child is having chocolate, candy, biscuits or something sweet every day, his or her taste buds will be set up to want sweeter tasting foods. When spinach, broccoli or another typically bitter food is eaten – the bitterness can then register as too powerful and then ‘yuck’ for your child’s taste buds.
Of course, they are not going to like it.
By decreasing sugar in your toddler’s diet, their taste buds will desensitise to the sweet taste, making accepting the bitter foods more likely, or, at least not overpoweringly yuck.
Decreasing your toddler’s sugar intake is a long-term strategy. Start by making some sugar-free baking such as these Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies or cut the fizzy intake. You don’t need your kids to go sugar-free – Even small changes to help decrease the amount of sugar they are eating can help shift their taste buds to accept the more bitter foods.
Takeaway: Your kids’ reaction the more bitter foods maybe more because their taste buds are set up to only have sweet foods. Decreasing their sugar intake a little bit by aittle bit will help to make vegetables taste delicious to your toddler.
8. Start with what Vegetable your Toddler already likes
What flavours and food do your kids like?
Start with those foods and see if you can do a small step sideways.
For example: Do your kids like potatoes? – get them to try kumara, but say they are “sweet potatoes”… ‘potatoes but sweeter’. Boom, you have created a link to the food they like already.
You can do this for many dishes and build on each step: let’s go back to your toddler who likes potatoes. Start the progression by adding a little paprika to the dish. After a while draw attention to the paprika and tell them how paprika can help that cut, they have healed faster or have laser-like eyes (paprika is good for healing wounds and eye health). Then add in the next progression… try chilli or dhal and instead of speaking about the new dish, make a link to the paprika in the chilli or dhal.
Making small progressive steps so you toddler is eventually eating the foods you eat is a process that can take some time, but is much less daunting for your toddler when trying to get them to eat healthier.
Takeaway: Make progressive steps to new meals. Start with what flavour’s your kids like. Where can you make a sideways step to another food? Gradual progress is still progress.
9. Become a Story-teller
Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world.” – Robert McKee, professor
Storytelling is also a powerful way to put ideas into your toddler’s head. Use personal stories as a way to teach a positive association with healthy eating.
I have often spoken to my kids about how I thought my mother was loopy when she went avocado crazy over summer. The thought of eating an avocado made my stomach churn. It wasn’t until I was an adult when I tried it. And I am glad I did. I finally didn’t let what I thought and avocado would taste like get in the way of trying it – and I found that I really loved it! (now they see me put avocado on my salads, breast fast with eggs or make it into a dessert!)
This is a story about how I let my thoughts of what an avocado would taste like get in the way of me enjoying it. All about me, but building a positive association in their heads as well as teaching them a growth mindset to healthy eating.
I tell a story to my kids about how ice-cream makes my tummy feel yucky, but when I was little and I really wanted to like ice-cream because everyone else did. I would love to mix it up with my spoon and let it melt rather than eat it. I didn’t understand what ice-cream did to my stomach until I was an adult and I learnt to check-in. But I am super glad I did as now I choose not to eat ice-cream because I know my stomach won’t feel good after eating it.
This whole story revolves around checking-in and the story of how I have got empowerment over my food choices. Again positive and teaching them you can still learn to check-in, even as an adult.
Takeaway: Stories put ideas into toddlers head. Ideas which are layered with unconscious healthy eating messages from checking-in to instilling a growth mindset to healthy eating.
10. Make Vegetables Important to your Child
What about some delicacy that will help you boost your collagen to look younger?
I bet you are willing to try delicacy that boosts collagen… because it means something to you. (that delicacy is chicken feet J )
Plonking broccoli on a plate and saying eat it because it will make you healthy is abstract for your toddler. They don’t know what healthy is, let along why they should care about it.
But if you said, broccoli helps you to go poos without it hurting, (if they are constipated) or broccoli will their heart grow stronger so you can run for longer, or simply broccoli will help you grow muscles like daddy or mummy. Whatever works for them but make it a concrete example. Something important to them.
You can also change the vegetable name, instead of calling it broccoli, call them dinosaur trees – and knock them down with your dead and munch on them as a dinosaur would.
Make vegetables important for your toddler either by the way it will make them feel afterwards or name it differently.
Takeaway: Kids don’t know why eating vegetables is important. Give them a concrete reason to love those veggies.
Simple Strategies to Encourage Toddlers to more Veggies Overview
Toddlers eating vegetables happily can seem like a fantasy wonderland… But it doesn’t have to be.
Just like push starting a car requires a bit of effort, getting your toddler to eat their broccoli also require effort. But, little by little they will take bites and before you know it your once non-eating vegetable toddler will be a child and teenager who eats whatever you make.
It won’t happen over-night… but it will happen… if you start using these 10 strategies to help when your toddler refuses to eat.
- Blender is your friend
- Create links
- Give them a choice
- Play with flavour’s
- Play with textures
- Play games
- Decrease sugar intake
- Use Progression
- Tells stories
Sometimes you will get quick wins and other times you will have to put in more effort.
Make the whole goal to be your toddler ENJOYING meals times, ENJOYING tasting and trying new foods… they will eventually develop a positive association with eating healthily.
This positive attitude they will take with them on their journey of life.
So, start now
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