We’ve all been here- you’re staring at the tail end of dinner time, and your kitchen floor is covered in broccoli, torpedoed with carrots, and delightfully spattered with pea mush. Getting your toddler to eat a balanced meal can sometimes be challenging, not to mention messy. We all face the veggie protest at one point or another, whether your child has always been a picky eater or one day randomly decided they don’t like anything green. These tips can help you navigate this perilous stage in your parenting journey. Because there are few worries worse than when your little one won’t eat, or you fear they aren’t getting enough nutrients. Here are some tips that can help you get out of this phase sooner.
Show them how it’s done.
Make sure you let your little ones see you munching on veggies at every opportunity possible. It’s hard to convince a three-year-old to eat all their veggies when they barely see you eating any. Kids are more inclined to model what they see rather than what we tell them to do. Let them see you enjoying various nutritious foods in many different ways. If you have a different meal than what they are having, add a few of the same vegetables on their plate to yours as well. Let them see you enjoying vegetables often.
Keep plenty of different vegetables readily available in your home so they can see it is an essential part of your lifestyle as a family to eat well. Set the tone for a healthy home by filling it with the types of foods you want them to eat. Keep the produce as visible and accessible as possible.
Include the kids in your grocery process.
If you are heading to the Farmer’s Market or your local grocery store, let your child be a part of the process. Prepare them for the experience by letting them know what to expect. Make a grocery list together and draw pictures of the different items. Let them push the cart and identify and pick up the items in the store so they feel included. When you get home, let them help clean the produce, prep, and cook. Cooking with your kids can get messy, but their enthusiasm and excitement make it worth it every time. Who doesn’t love the feeling of accomplishment after making a good meal? Your kids will feel proud and want to try what they made.
Visit a farm in person or online! We live in NYC and when we visited an urban farm here, the kids were able to plant seeds and harvest veggies. I have never seen them so excited to eat a turnip! They couldn’t wait to get home to make a salad with the veggies they picked! You don’t have to live near a farm to enjoy a similar experience. Find a fun farm video or how to video about growing vegetables that are available at your local grocery store. After watching, go pick up the same vegetables you saw in the video. Kids love making connections like these and sharing experiences they have learned.
Teach the benefits of a healthy diet.
Teaching your kids the “why” behind it can encourage them to eat more veggies. Search for a book or Youtube video to describe the benefits of some of the veggies you are serving. Take the time to explain the importance of good health and how it keeps their bodies strong and working well so they can run and play.
Make veggies a desired snack
Often a granola bar or piece of fruit gets all the attention for snack time, but vegetables can make a tasty and easy snack. Instead of reaching for the pre-packaged snacks or fruit, serve vegetables! Chop up cucumbers or peppers or air fry kale pieces to make kale chips. It’s a great way to get in some extra veg servings and get the littles more used to grazing on veggies.
Psst: Check out these creative snack ideas for plane rides with your toddler!
Secretly, I always thought the parents who cut up sandwiches in cute little shapes and made faces with food were overdoing it. Then one time, at my child’s urging, I tried it- my kids went crazy! They loved it. All the fancy shapes and designs are worth it. Kids are super visual and are more likely to eat a sandwich that’s shaped like a dinosaur than a regular one.
Slices and dips can change the game. Try thinly slicing veggies and offering a condiment (sparingly) on the side. Starting out with dips and sauces can lead to your babes getting familiar with the tastes and often eventually snacking on the vegetables without any additions. I started my kids out with raw bell peppers and hummus and now they happily eat bell peppers sans condiments. My son still won’t eat a regular salad, but if I mince up the spinach, he gobbles it down! Sometimes it’s just too much chewing for their little mouths and teeth.
When all else fails, puree it! I used to dump pancake batter with spinach in the food processor and voila– green pancakes!! Spaghetti sauce is a great place to add blended greens, carrots, peppers, and onions. You name it, and I bet you can add a little veggie puree. Make sure you tell them what they ate after the meal- so now they know they like a vegetable. As an added benefit, their taste buds are getting warmed up to the flavors. When you offer it again differently, you can remind them that they love spinach; you just had some last week in the green pancakes, remember?
Now you’re equipped with the tips you need to help cultivate healthy eaters. But don’t forget, the real secret sauce is the technique. How you apply these tips will make all the difference. Kids are intuitive and can pick up on our feelings and stress. So take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you got this! Patience and a sense of humor will take you a long way in this process. Let them see you having fun, enjoying your veggies, and enjoying mealtimes with them! The rest will work out just fine. Happy eating!
Denise Nicole, aka @abrooklynbabe, is a birth and postpartum doula, wellness advocate and content creator. Her goal is to help people find sustainable and healthy habits for themselves and their families. Denise is very passionate about wellness for all, self-care and finding the perfect matcha. Denise is a mom of two.