How to get a toddler to eat more vegetables

toddler eating bread, cheese and salad

How do I get my daughter to eat more vegetables? How do I get my son to eat more vegetables? If had a £1 for each time I was asked this I would be rich!

As parents we want the best for our children. We know that eating vegetables is ‘good for them’ so that’s what we focus on. That’s not to say they shouldn’t eat their vegetables but it may not be the only thing going on. It’s worth taking a step back to see what’s really happening, to check our expectations and to see what we want to work on.

If it’s vegetables you want to work on I have put together 5 tips to help you with this.

Tip 1 – Remove the pressure

I talk about this a lot but it is so important. Putting pressure on our children to eat vegetables will make them more entrenched in their thinking that vegetables are something which is yuk and not something to be enjoyed. Pressure can come in different forms from force feeding (which is illegal), to bribery, threatening, comparing to siblings and the language we use. I have made a free download in the resources section which covers this topic in more detail. Removing the pressure is a very important first step to eating more vegetables.

Tip 2 – Increase the exposure

We have to be age appropriate on this but cooking with your children, growing vegetables, doing role play with vegetables (either play ones or real ones), and reading books about vegetables are some great ways to increase children’s exposure to vegetables. Be careful with books that they give the right messages. Some will include the pressure we talked about before. There are some great books about vegetables which are part of the See and Eat project (free e-books or paid for printed books). With all these ways of increasing exposure, talk about the colours, the smells, the textures rather than labelling the foods good or healthy and without putting pressure on your child to eat the food

Tip 3 – Be a role model

This does not mean you have to like every vegetable but having a role model can help children try other things. Allowing them to eat the vegetable off your plate (even if it is exactly the same thing) can help too as it feels safer to them to do that. I know families where a parent has a very narrow vegetable intake but their children eat more. Focus on the vegetables all the family eat first and then let them try other things too. If you want your child to eat vegetables you need to offer them to everyone and be positive about them.

Tip 4 – Experiment with different ways of cooking vegetables

Take cauliflower for example, it’s quite a strong taste so putting it in a cheese sauce with their pasta can help it be more acceptable. If your child likes curry then adding some veg to that can also mask some of the more bitter flavours. I wouldn’t recommend hiding the vegetables as this can make them not trust the food but be honest about what’s in there. You can even play a game to see if they can work out what’s in there. You are being open about the ingredients in a fun way. This is also a great way to develop their palette – it’s a challenge on MasterChef sometimes!

Some children prefer having vegetables cut a certain way. Toddlers particularly like routine so if you cut their carrots into half rounds (not rounds as they are a choking hazard) rather than sticks they might not accept them if they are used to sticks for example. Consistency can help.

Some children also prefer crunchy veg and some prefer softer vegetables. If they are going to eat them, does it really matter if the carrots are cooked or raw? I know one of mine loves veg and yet won’t touch school veg because it’s mushy. Have a chat them about how they like their vegetables.

There are also children who don’t like vegetables mixed in with things to that’s another thing you could try – taking them out of the sauce.

Tip 5 – Only put a small amount on the plate

It can be overwhelming to be presented with a big plate of food, especially if you think you are being expected to finish it. If you put a small amount on the plate, this encourages children to have what’s there and then ask for more. Just one pea rather than a spoonful can give them the space to try the pea. If they eat it, you can ask if they want more. If they don’t eat it, you haven’t wasted much. You can encourage them to interact with the one pea on their plate – touch, lick, bite etc – much more easily than if they think you are going to want them to eat all the peas when they have interacted with one.

The bottom line

This is a journey. Sometimes families need a little more help with this. Sometimes it’s helpful to chat it through with someone and see where the pressure can be removed and new things brought in to help children. If you want help getting your child to eat more vegetables, get in touch or have a chat with your GP or health visitor.

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