Almost every parent on the planet wants his or her child to eat more vegetables. But how, exactly, can you make this happen? Try these creative ways to increase the odds of your toddler digging into veggies without complaining!
1. Change how they’re served
Toddlers eat with their eyes — just like most everyone else. How veggies look on the plate can entice your little one to dig in, or not, so be sure to keep it colorful and alter their presentations. Try offering finely shredded vegetables tossed in dressing; or blanched veggies chopped into a small or medium dice. Julienne cucumbers, carrots, or apple, and toss them together with salad dressing or flavored yogurt. And don’t forget the myriad forms in which vegetables come: dried, frozen, fresh, juiced, freeze-dried, and more.
2. The power of the dip
Dipping is a skill most toddlers enjoy learning because it is an experience that helps improve their fine motor skills. Use this to your advantage. Let your toddler dip veggies into salad dressing, hummus, sour cream, cottage cheese, nut butter, or yogurt.
3. Fantasy vegetables
It turns out that if you can spark your child’s imagination, you may be able to spark his or her appetite, as well. A 2012 study in Preventive Medicine showed that renaming vegetables increased children’s willingness to try them and the overall consumption of them by 50 percent. A fun name means it may be fun to eat. Try renaming greens and veggies to capture your child’s attention and peak his or her interest. Bunny food, lizard leaves, Superman spinach, and X-Ray vision carrots are just some ideas to make eating vegetables much more interesting.
4. Sweeten the pot (of veggies)
Why not mix fruit and veggies together? Many young children have a love affair with fruit, so why not use it to encourage veggie eating? Try strawberries on spinach, watermelon with cucumbers, blueberries with avocado chunks, and apples with celery or another fruit and vegetable combination. These are all yummy ways to spice up the color and flavor of veggies. Dried fruit like raisins or cherries can work well, too.
5. From worst to first
Using vegetables as an appetizer before dinner or serving large portions of vegetables first, before the other meal components, has been demonstrated as an effective way to increase overall vegetable consumption, according to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Another 2015 study suggested that serving vegetables alone and first encouraged more eating of them.
6. All hands on deck
Toddlers learn by their experiences, and this holds true for getting involved in the kitchen tasks associated with serving vegetables. Washing vegetables, tearing lettuce, and even tossing a salad are all ways to involve your toddler in a hands-on activity. This type of engagement creates ‘buy-in’ and a greater likelihood of participation (eating).
7. Encourage the experience
Toddlers and preschoolers don’t really have to eat their veggies to gain the experience of being exposed to them. They can smell, touch, lick, rub food on their lips, place the food on their tongue or in their mouth and taste, chew, swallow, or even spit them out. For some young children, the pressure to eat vegetables is enough to turn them off. So instead, try this fun and loose approach—purely for the experience. It may make learning about vegetables fun, and certainly takes the pressure off of having to eat them!
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- Young children learn to like vegetables over time, but parents have to show some creativity.
- Parents can gently encourage vegetable consumption using a variety of evidence-based, practical approaches.
- Get your child involved by washing veggies or even tossing a salad.