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Operation Veggies

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One of our Moms asked for tips on getting her two year old to eat vegetables and ideas for hiding the veggies in food. Many of our moms commented with stories and ideas. After some research and talking to several moms, I’ve come up with a list of tips that seem to be the most successful.

Some kids just naturally love vegetables. For the rest of the kiddo population though, vegetables can be an uphill battle. We all know vegetables are an important part of our children’s diet and that an early pattern of healthy eating habits leads to healthier adults. The new slogan is “Five a Day!” Everyone should be getting five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. My older kids like to argue that five servings of fruit a day meets that criteria. (Secretly, it sounds good to me too.) So how do you get your toddler or preschooler to eat their veggies? There are several tactics to try.

1. Just keep putting it out there. Studies show that children need to be offered a food four to five times before they will try it. It also takes several tries before they like or love it. Always put a small serving of a vegetable or two on their plate so they also have them available and the opportunity is always there.

2. Make a no thank you rule. When you put the small serving on their plate at a meal, make it a rule that you have to take one bite before you can say “no, thank you.” I reserve this rule for when kids are pre-school age. When your kids get older, this is a good rule to have for any food that has been prepared, even if they don’t like it. You can turn it into a lesson on manners. The thought being that it would be rude to turn down food that someone has made for you because you don’t think you will like it, so you it is polite to at least take a tiny serving and try it before saying “no, thank you.”

3. Try different textures and ways of preparing the veggies. If you have tried steamed broccoli, try offering raw broccoli cut into small enough pieces. One mom wrote that her son prefers his roasted. Experiment with different seasonings or a tiny bit of butter wouldn’t hurt.

4. Dip and Play!! What kid doesn’t love to “play” with their food? Offer some peanut butter, humus, ranch, etc. for her to dip her veggies in. I’ve also been told peanut butter tofu is yummy. My big kids will eat more vegetables if there is dip to go with it. Another way to “play” is to arrange the veggies into a neat “face” or other picture on their plate.

5. Offer a reward. Stickers or dessert works. A study in London found that when children were offered a reward to eat there vegetables for a few weeks that months later even long after rewards were not an option, they still ate twice as much as the kids who were not given rewards.

6. Hide them. The moms seems to be split on whether this is a good idea. Personally, I think hiding them is a fantastic option. They need the nutrients one way or the other and it’s sooooo much easier than fighting some days. I think it should be a combined effort though. I am a fan of the “sneaky” recipes but think that obvious vegetables need to be offered in addition. So while you are fighting the good fight and going through what can be a long process of teaching them to love vegetables, they are still getting the veggies hidden in the foods they ARE eating. And when they are old enough to help you cook, they will see that vegetables are going into the foods that they are eating.

Learning to love vegetables as a small child is important but it can be a marathon. Don’t try to force the issue and sprint. And what works for one child may not work for another. You are not alone. Countless numbers of moms are fighting the good fight with you!

How do you get your children  to eat their veggies? Thanks for all your tips and ideas!

This article is from our 2010 archives.

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3 Comments

  1. Holly Winters

    September 28, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    I’ve been sneaking veggies in for years! I still offer my children veggies as a side dish and require that have at least one bite of everything on their plates, but those extra veggies they don’t know about? Well, all the better. They enjoy cocoa chocolate chip pancakes with blueberries and spinach and yummy peanut butter balls made entirely with sweet potatoes and carrots (and only 1/4 cup of peanut butter for the entire recipe!). I read a great book recently called “French Kids Eat Everything,” and it gave some really great logical suggestions to implement in our culture without fully going French. I am planning to try some of those along with continuing to sneak in veggies when I can. The funny thing is that I’ve done it so much that my adult friends don’t trust me anymore! 🙂

  2. Erin

    August 15, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I recommend Ellyn Satter’s book: Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense. She is a registered dietitian and psychologist who will show you how feed children with long-term success in mind.

  3. Lexington Mommy

    August 15, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    I’ll have to check that out! The little one has slipped back into a super, picky eating phase. It’s driving me crazy. I’m back to hiding stuff in the few things she will eat, while continuing to offer the real food. Can’t wait to make it back to just fixing simple food. Thanks for the recommendation!

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