For many parents, trying to get their kids to eat vegetables can be a struggle. You can serve up beautiful fresh or cooked vegetables, only to have them end up on the floor, in their lap, thrown at the wall, or worn as a hat: basically anywhere except their mouth. This can be frustrating and demoralising to say the least—especially if you have put in a lot of time and effort to make something nice for your child.
If you’re one of the few parents whose child eats vegetables without much fuss, consider yourself very lucky. For the rest of you who are wondering how to get kids to eat vegetables, below are 9 very handy tips that may just save your sanity and improve your child’s health.
1. Lead by example
Young children tend to copy their parents in myriad ways—whether we want them to or not. You can use this to your advantage in trying to get your kids to eat more vegetables. Make it clear to your child that you eat vegetables all the time and really enjoy them. But don’t just tell them about it—show them. Allow your child to see you eating and enjoying vegetables regularly. You may be surprised how much this can influence them to do the same. As a parent, leading by example is one of your strongest tools.
A good way to do this with toddlers is to put some vegetables on your plate, and not serve the child any food. If they see you eating and enjoying your vegetables, they may become inquisitive and want to try your food.
2. Make food into shapes and play games
You may feel like a bit of a clown doing this, but you don’t need to be a qualified children’s entertainer to make vegetables fun. A really simple and effective way of getting kids to eat vegetables is to arrange them on the plate in particular shapes. For example, make the food into a smiling face, or the shape of the child’s favourite animal, dinosaur, or cartoon character. It doesn’t have to win any awards for realism—children have a fantastic imagination—it just has to roughly resemble the shape.
But don’t stop there. Once you’ve made food into a shape on their plate, you can roleplay with your child to make it a really fun experience. For example, you can put on a pirate’s voice and pretend the vegetables are buried treasure. Or pretend you are a king or queen serving up special food to a prince or princess. Go with whatever will appeal to your child. You can even rename specific vegetables to make them sound more appealing: broccoli can become ‘trees’, tomato can become ‘tomato sauce fruit’, etc.
3. Hide vegetables in other food
If you are trying to get a baby to eat vegetables, this is our number one tip. But it’s also really effective for toddlers and older children.
If your child doesn’t like the taste of a specific vegetable, that doesn’t mean it won’t like it mixed with other flavours. The best place to hide vegetables is in sauces and soups. For example, you can blend or puree vegetables with other food to make it more appealing.
See a list of purees on our Sinchies recipes page.
Grating carrot or zucchini into a pasta sauce is another easy way of hiding vegetables in other food.
4. Let them help you cook
One technique to make children familiar with vegetables (before they’ve even eaten them) is to let them help you cook. Tell your child that you are going to prepare a special meal and ask if they would like to help. Tell them that they can be your assistant, and give them small tasks.
Because they have been involved in preparing the food, they’ll be more excited about eating it once it’s ready.
5. Get them to at least taste the vegetable
If your child is flat-out refusing to eat vegetables, it’s a good idea to encourage them to just take one bite. They don’t even have to swallow it; they just need to try it. Studies have shown that babies and young children may need to try new food 8-10 times before their palate will accept it. So just getting your child to try a vegetable is progress. You can even offer a reward, like a sticker, if they agree to taste the vegetable.
6. Tell them that vegetables will make them big and strong
Children don’t usually respond when told that eating vegetables will make them healthy. So you’ll need to try a different tack. Instead, tell your child that vegetables will make them grow big and strong. Or that their favourite superhero eats lots of vegetables. They are much more likely to eat vegetables if you communicate with incentives that they understand.
7. Use butter, dip or sauces to mask the taste
Sometimes introducing vegetables into a child’s diet means using a bit of creative licence. Some parents cook vegetables with butter to mask the bitter flavour of things like broccoli and kale. Others make yoghurt or hummus dips for carrot and celery sticks. Some even resort to covering vegetables with cheese sauce or tomato sauce. At first this may sounds like a bad idea, but remember that once your child has 8-10 tastes of a vegetable, they are far more likely to eat it. So you may find that over time you can reduce and then remove the need for butter, dip or sauce altogether as your child’s palate gets used to the taste of the vegetable.
8. Serve them vegetables when they’re really hungry
Finally, here’s a tip that works surprisingly well. Pick a moment when you know your child is really hungry, and instead of asking them what they’d like, simply serve them a plate of vegetables and don’t make a fuss about it. You may find they’ll munch away on just about anything when they’re hungry enough.
Check out more great ideas from Sinchies in our blog.