Wondering how to get your kid to eat vegetables? Check out our 9 proven tips and enjoy happier mealtimes tonight!
My third child was supposed to be the easy-going, go-with-the-flow caboose to our family. That’s what everyone told me when I was pregnant with him.
But, Connor came into this world like a lion. In just about every way, Connor put his foot down to let us know that he would not be just playing along. He wanted things done his way. After two kids who were great eaters, Connor had some serious opinions about what he liked. And that did not include vegetables. As with all things related to parenting, just when you think you have it all down, your child reminds you that every kid is different. Every kid comes into this world with their own personality, and we are just here for the ride!
For Connor, I had to work through how to help him learn to like more vegetables. Most kids come into the world as babies who prefer sweeter flavors. Vegetables are often something that kids need to learn to like.
To help my third child learn to willingly eat vegetables, I did tons of research. Then I put it all to the test! I’ve compiled it all here in hopes that it can help you answer that question, how to get your kid to eat vegetables.
By the way, this logic works for all different food groups—not just veggies. If you have a kid who doesn’t like fish, these tips will work for you, too.
It may take a while. You must, must, must be patient. Don’t give up! Keep the bigger picture in mind. Even if your child NEVER learns to like broccoli. The point is less about the broccoli and more about our kids learning to be open to new experiences.
Include the veggies with lots of meals, in different ways. Some kids need to get used to seeing a food many times before they are comfortable taking a bite. This is the way it worked in my house. We put a tiny amount of every food on his plate—even things he was still learning to like. One night, after weeks of having a spinach leaf on his plate, he just picked it up and tasted it. I recommend serving just a tiny amount, like one spinach leaf, to minimize waste. It is also less overwhelming for the child.
We love to use phrases like “you are still learning to like it”. “It’s a big flavor. You’ll probably like it when you are older.” “You haven’t tried it enough to like it yet.” Avoid telling your kid that they are a “picky eater” or that they “just don’t like broccoli” or they will start to believe you! The truth is, many kids who are picky eaters will learn to love more foods as adults. Phrases like “you are still learning to like it” also helps us as parents continue to offer these foods to our kids.
Steam it, roast it, microwave it. Serve it raw. Cut it into adorable little shapes. Slather it with peanut butter. You get the idea. I find that all three of my kids love a certain vegetable prepared in a specific manner. In my house, my daughter loves roasted broccoli with lots of lemon. My middle child strongly prefers it microwaved with garlic salt. My youngest cannot tolerate the florets at all—he only wants the base part, ideally chopped very small.
We love to make it into a fun game. On a weekend, or when I have time, I will prepare a specific food in a few ways and let my kids be the taste testers.
Your child does not need to eat a plate of spinach leaves to reap the benefits of eating spinach. She can eat vegetable lasagna with spinach prepared right in. Or she can drink a smoothie with a few handfuls of the leaves blended up. She could eat spinach chopped very small and mixed into chili or pasta sauce.
If your child willingly eats meals with the target food mixed in, this is great for two reasons. One, the more exposure she has to the flavor, the more she will naturally learn to like it (over time). And two, she is getting the nutrition of that food in her diet. Many parents find that this can help them relax a little. By the way, I would still recommend including the target food in its recognizable form, too. You want to keep up the food exposure. This could look like serving the veggie lasagna with a spinach salad (or spinach leaf) on the side.
For us, the dinner after a swim class is a perfect time for foods that my kids are lukewarm on. My kids come home hungry and are more likely to try something outside their comfort zone. I started routinely serving salmon and lentil soup after swim class when my oldest was a toddler. I credit that with helping her learn to like those foods. There’s a fine line here. If your kids are all the way into hangry, this likely won’t work. There is a balance between hungry and way too hungry. If you find it, it works really well!
Your kids are watching you. You need to eat and love veggies if you want your kids to do the same. This is another very important reason to eat meals together as much as possible. I can’t tell you how many times my three your old has eaten my dinner for me—even when it was full of veggies!—simply because whatever Mom or Dad is eating must be the best stuff.
Since your kids are watching you, it’s important to try to stay calm and friendly at the table. Believe me, I know how incredibly stressful it can be to have a kid who doesn’t want to eat their dinner. But transmitting that stress at mealtime will only make things worse. Your child will pick up on your stress. Play games, talk about the day, or enjoy your own meal. Don’t make dinnertime a battle of wills.
Kids love to feel like they have some control over their world. When you are okay with a choice, let them choose. For example, you could let them decide whether they want peppers or carrots. Get them involved in the cooking, chopping, preparing, or plating whenever possible. (It’s not always possible.) Yes, it’s slower and messier when kids are involved in the kitchen. It’s also so good for their development and their love of food.
Once you find a few veggies that your kiddo likes, experiment with lots of different ways to make it. The more you can get your children to open up to different presentations of a favorite, the more they will be open to new foods in general.
Connor is now a precious (and stubborn) three-year-old who willingly eats some, but not all, vegetables. He still has more limitations on what he is willing to eat than my other two children. But even at three, he understands the value of trying new things. We continue to help him learn to love new foods as he grows.
For many kids, learning to like vegetables is a process. With some quality tips, and a healthy dose of patience, you can help your kids become more adventurous eaters. At the end of the day, isn’t that the point? It’s less about how to get your kid to eat vegetables… and more about helping them grow into healthy, happy, curious adults.
By the way, our 6 tips for easy weeknight meals will help your family meal journey!
6 Tips for easy weeknight dinners for family:
Hi, I’m Ashley! I’m a Mediterranean Diet expert, a family health champion, and a Mom of 3 little people. Any day of the week, you will find me in the kitchen cooking up festive new recipes using Mediterranean Diet principles. I love breakfast for dinner, long days at the beach, the perfect glass of wine, and spontaneous adventures. Originally from Atlanta, I now fondly call Virginia my home.