Do you struggle getting your kids to eat vegetables? Do you long for the day your children might actually eat their greens without complaining – and dare I say, even like them?
It’s a battle many parents face that can leave them frustrated - even angry - from all the whining kids do when asked to eat veggies.
If that’s you, fellow mama, take heart! I’m here to share some simple steps to help your kids not only eat, but enjoy their vegetables with less arguing around the table.
Get Your Kids Eating Vegetables with These Simple Steps
1. Increase Exposure
The more kids are offered veggies, the more likely they are to try them (especially when they aren’t nagged about it). The more children try them, the quicker their taste buds adjust to the taste and texture of different vegetables.
Start early. Research shows a positive correlation between the frequency of consuming vegetables and liking them, especially for children under two. (1)
Don’t fear you’ve missed your chance if your kids are older than that. Simply aim to serve veggies three times a day (two meals and one snack).
So often we assume kids don’t want vegetables and forego putting them on their plate. I have been proved wrong many a time after serving my kids veggies, only to find they reach for those first!
Did you know that the more you study an object and gain understanding of it, the more pleasure and enjoyment of that object you will have over time? Such is the truth with healthy eating and vegetables.
The more you educate your kids about how vegetables are grown, their numerous health benefits, and ways to cook them, their desire for greens will naturally increase.
3. Cook Together
Speaking of educating your kids, take it to the next level by getting them involved in the kitchen. My kids love helping me cook dinner in age-appropriate ways.
And you know what? The ones who help in the kitchen always try their veggies without whining. Because who cooks food and doesn’t want to taste the final product? They may not always end up loving the vegetables, but they don’t complain about them either.
4. Share the Control
Everyone likes to feel they have some control or say in a matter – especially kids. So give them the opportunity to voice their opinion when it comes to which vegetables to eat for dinner that night, in their lunch box, or as a snack. Spread a variety of raw veggies and hummus on a tray and let them take their pick.
5. The Two Bite Rule
Although I’m not a fan of forcing kids to eat their food, I do support having them try their food. Practically speaking, this means picking one meal a day that your kids are expected to eat two bites of their vegetables before they can be dismissed.
Taking two bites of veggies helps expand their palates and acclimate their taste buds. Often times kids resist healthy food simply because it’s foreign or looks unappealing. The two bite rule teaches them to try food before judging it.
We also use this rule when it comes to asking for seconds. If our kids want more meat, grains, or starches, they first need to have two more bites of veggies (if they still have some on their plate).
6. Set the Example
Young children naturally want to mimic what their parents say and do. So the more your kids see you eating vegetables and mentioning how good they taste, the more likely they’ll want to try them.
This can be especially effective by offering your child a bite from your plate (without pressure). Curiosity often takes the win, opening their mouths to try some healthy greens.
7. Disguise the Vegetables
When you can’t get your kids to eat vegetables they can see, hide them in their food! For example:
Green Smoothies: Next time you go to blend up your favorite smoothie, throw in a handful of veggies. Spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, celery, and cucumber all taste nice in a fruit smoothie.
Shred or “Rice” Veggies: Shredded vegetables blend easy into casseroles, stir fries, scrambled eggs, quinoa, burgers, taco filling and even muffins. Zucchini, carrots, cauliflower and sweet potato are good options to try.
If you haven’t yet made cauliflower rice, it’s super easy and tastes great with Asian and Indian dishes, and those with lots of sauce. Its neutral taste takes on the flavor of the sauce so your kids won’t realize they’re downing fork-fulls of riced cauliflower. Sneaky, sneaky.
Puree Vegetables: Roasting root vegetables and then pureeing them into a soup or sauce is one of the tastiest and simplest ways to add more veggies into your family’s diet. Kids tend to avoid chunks of vegetables in their soup or chili, but when it’s pureed into a smooth, creamy consistency they’ll be slurping it down like it’s their job.
Another great option is to steam cauliflower and then puree it into “mashed potatoes” with a little garlic powder, butter, salt and pepper.
Spiralize Vegetables: Swap out your traditional wheat noodles for zucchini noodles, aka “zoodles”, or spaghetti squash. Spiralizers are inexpensive and perfect for making healthy noodles from vegetables.
Zoodles also cook much quicker than wheat-based pasta and have a neutral taste. Other vegetables we commonly spiralize include sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and butternut squash.
8. Make Vegetables Taste Good
This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are some simple ways to boost the taste factor and enjoyment of veggies for kids.
Steam vegetables until soft and tender. I find kids tend to like their veggies on softer, well-cooked side.
Add butter and salt. All cooked vegetables taste better with it.
Roast or grill vegetables. Roasting and grilling veggies gives them a completely different taste and texture. Your kids may not like sautéed broccoli, but once it’s roasted it’s a whole new story.
Add herbs and spices to boost the flavor factor. Drizzle some olive oil over mixed veggies, sprinkle with some Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, then roast in the oven at 425 degrees for approximately 20 minutes.
Top with cheese. It’s no secret kids love cheese. Freshly grated parmesan, mozzarella, or feta are all great options to sprinkle on top of vegetables to make them more appealing.
Kid-Friendly Veggie Recipes
Want some ideas to get started? Here's some tasted and approved, veggie-filled recipes that our family enjoys:
So there you have it, mama. Some simple, practical tips you can try out today to get your little ones eating their vegetables. I hope you find some success in this area by increasing exposure, cooking with your kids, and trying out some new tasty recipes.
Jen is a wife, mamma to three, and lover of all things real food, faith, and fitness. On her blog, Encouragement4today.com, she inspires others to implement healthy rhythms that nourish the mind, body, and soul.