October 08, 2021

Help! My kids won't eat veggies! That one probably sounds familiar to a lot of you. Maybe your kid is a picky eater in general or maybe they absolutely won’t eat veggies. It still results in you being frustrated and the child missing out on important minerals and nutrients that are found in leafy greens or other veggies.

Sure, it would be easy to just say “Give them a children’s chewable supplement” and move on, but that completely misses the point – and still doesn’t get your child to a place of appreciation of the food in front of them.

Yes, I know that there are kids out there who will choose broccoli over french fries, but even they may get bored and go on a veggie strike occasionally. Fortunately, there are several ways to remedy this. So, if your child won’t eat their veggies, try one of these tricks.

Lead with the veg

If you’re trying to feed your kids veggies, chances are you’re serving them with the rest of the meal, right? But what kid is going to want a small salad or peas if there is mac and cheese sitting in front of them? If you want them to get eat the veggie first, try serving it first.

While the rest of the dinner is still being made, put out the vegetable dish. It doesn’t matter if it’s cooked, raw, a casserole…whatever. When kids get hungry, they often need to eat. If there is nothing else available, they may be more willing to try something.

So, the next time you hear, “When will dinner be ready?” have a veggie dish in place and put it out first. If the kids complain, tell them that’s it until the rest of the dinner is ready. And then let them decide how hungry they are.

Involve them with prep

Mom and her child are preparing food in the kitchen. Parenting.

Kids are more likely to buy into something that they had a choice in (or at least if they think they had a choice). Take them to the grocery store and let them pick something they may want to try.

If they are old enough, involve them in the prep. Even younger kids can be taught to use a peeler correctly without hurting themselves. Allow them to “sneak a taste” of the food as they are helping prepare it. Trying the food without the pressure of it being during the meal could lead them to think they’re getting a treat.

Vary the presentation

I know adults who can’t stand cooked spinach but love spinach salads, or who refuse to eat raw broccoli (because of the texture) but will eat it steamed with some olive oil and garlic. Kids can be even pickier about texture and flavor. And let’s be honest, vegetables can taste very different depending on how they are prepared.

So, if your kid won’t eat cooked carrots, try raw ones. Or instead of cauliflower florets, try making them into cauliflower bites (think nugget-style). Making veggies interactive can also make them more appealing. Give them something to dip the veggies in (ranch, salsa, guacamole). Allow them to put toppings on the veggies (cheese, bacon). Keep those choices healthy but allow the kids to find combinations that they like. You might be surprised at their choices.

Be sneaky

If none of those obvious changes work, it’s time for some covert ops. Make zucchini pancakes or muffins. Try green mac and cheese (using kale or spinach). Shred some veggies into spaghetti sauce, put them on pizzas, or hide them in meatballs or meatloaf.

Of course, you would need to come up with a backup story for some of these, because if you say flat out that there are veggies, you’ll be right back where you started.

Smoothies are another way to get veggies in without them noticing. They’re also easier to “match colors” so it’s not as obvious; think beets in a berry smoothie or spinach or kale in a tropical one. You may want to try recipes out first just to make sure the taste is suitable. Otherwise, you might end up with smoothies all over the table.

Be patient

It is thought that kids need to try a food anywhere from eight to fifteen times before they know if they actually like it or not. How many times have you disliked something the first time you tried it, but then had it again and loved it? Kids are learning their likes and dislikes and a new flavor or texture might automatically turn them off.

Just keep trying. Don’t force it every time; rotate through other veggies and options before coming back to one.

As you’re working your way through these tricks, it’s important to remember that kids respond better to positive reinforcement. Saying “you don’t get dessert unless you eat your vegetables” is a sure way to get your kid to dig their heels in and refuse.

Encourage them to try a bite or two or try the time-tested “three bites of vegetables and you can have dessert” method. Continue to stay positive and (hopefully) they will eventually give veggies a try.

Lead by example

Remember that kids often emulate what they see, so be sure that you’re eating your veggies as well. If they see you enjoying a vegetable, it might make them more likely to try it. You also may have to use a variety of approaches, or even different techniques for different types of vegetables.

But, making veggies the only option, giving the kids more say in what they try, and making veggies more appealing to the “kid sense” can result in kids who end up liking their vegetables.

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