How to get your child to eat more veggies

June 27, 2019 | by Toni Havala, MS, RD, LDN
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Ever try to get your child to eat her/his veggies and failed miserably? If you are like many parents, you may be searching for clever ways to sneak veggies into meals because your kids just won’t eat them.

Picky eating is common in young children, especially when it comes to vegetables and other healthy foods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nine out of 10 children don't eat enough vegetables.

But they should. Vegetables provide nutrients that are vital to good health. Eating a diet rich in vegetables may help reduce the risk for health issues later, include type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vegetable consumption with every meal and snack. How many veggies does your child need to eat in a day? It depends on her/his age, gender and activity level. According to choosemyplate.gov site, the daily recommended vegetables for children are:

  • 2-3 years old: 1 cup
  • 4-8 years old: 1 ½ cups
  • 9-13 years old: 2 cups (girls), 2 ½ cups (boys)
  • 14-18 years old: 2 ½ cups (girls), 3 cups (boys)

Aim to make half of your child’s plate fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains and one-quarter protein.

Knowing veggies are important is one thing. Getting your child to eat them is an entirely different challenge. Try these 11 tips for getting your child to eat her/his veggies:

  1. Plan meals around a vegetable main dish, then add other foods to complement it.
  2. Keep the portions small so your child has a chance to ask for more.
  3. Involve your child in grocery shopping (have them pick a new veggie to try) and meal prep/cooking. Let her/him decide on the dinner veggies, or what goes into the salad.
  4. Try different ways of serving veggies to see what your child likes best (raw, steamed, baked, shredded, mashed).
  5. Always have food on the table that your child likes alongside the veggies.
  6. Keep the fridge stocked with veggies that are washed, cut and ready to eat (e.g., carrots, celery, red/green pepper strips, cucumber slices, broccoli florets).
  7. Get creative. Decorate your child’s plate. Cut veggies into interesting shapes or smiley faces.
  8. Don’t give up. It often takes repeated exposure to a new food before your child accepts it.
  9. Set a good example by eating more vegetables yourself. Make mealtimes relaxing and distraction-free.
  10. Check out these helpful ideas for kid-friendly veggies from the choosemyplate.gov site.
  11. Never force a child to finish all of their vegetables or bribe them with dessert. Encourage your child to take one bite, and if they choose not to finish, don't make a big deal about it. On the other hand, if your child eats all of their veggies don't go crazy with praise. Forcing, bribing and overly praising reinforce that vegetables are more of a punishment than an enjoyable, healthy food.

As you look for clever ways to incorporate veggies into your child’s diet, watch out for frozen vegetable products (e.g., cauliflower tots, veggie pasta) with added flavorings and sauces, which can be high in sodium and preservatives.

Need some help coming up with a menu for the day? Try these ideas:

  • Breakfast: Add carrots or zucchini to muffins. Make a green smoothie with yogurt and kale. Serve up eggs with spinach.
  • Lunch: Offer a small salad, veggie soup, or sweet/baked potato topped with cherry tomatoes.
  • Snack: Pair veggies (raw broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, green peppers, celery) with a yogurt dip, low-fat salad dressing or peanut butter.
  • Dinner: Look for fun ways to incorporate veggies in meals:
  • Kabobs. Assemble veggies (zucchini, cucumber, squash, peppers, tomatoes) on skewers.
  • Make your own taco bar. Include lettuce, corn, beans and tomatoes in your tacos.
  • Homemade pizza. Use whole-wheat English muffins, bagels or pita bread as the crust. Add tomato sauce, low-fat cheese, and cut-up veggies for toppings.
  • Mix it up. Shred carrots or zucchini into meatloaf and casseroles. Include chopped veggies in pasta sauce or lasagna. Include veggies in chili or soup recipes. Make a veggie stir-fry. 

By introducing your child to healthful foods now, you can establish lifelong healthy eating habits.

If you're concerned that your child isn’t getting the recommended daily nutrients, talk to her/his primary care doctor. Your child’s doctor may recommend a daily supplement or multivitamin, and may refer you to a dietitian.

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Get cooking! Browse our Healthy Driven recipes.

Do you have any advice for parents to make veggies more appealing to kids? We would love to hear your thoughts in the below comments!

Related blogs:

There is hope for dealing with your picky eater

Cooking is more fun with kids

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