One of the questions that comes up EVERY day in one Mom’s group or another (via Facebook mostly) is the following:
HOW CAN I GET MY TODDLER TO EAT VEGETABLES?
Each time the question comes up I find myself wanting to write a novel in the teeny tiny comment box usually being typed in via my phone. Not productive and super frustrating!
Here are all of my favorite ideas in one place, with links to the resources we love and use most, and the easy to follow path we took from HATING all veggies to LOVING healthy foods I never knew existed.
- Allow your child access to the kitchen. Let them see you cook and attempt to allow them to participate even in the tiniest of ways (getting something from the refrigerator, pouring an ingredient into a bowl, mixing something with a spoon, pushing the start button on the oven etc. etc. etc.). Lilly is proud of the meals she “helps” make- even more proud to tell Daddy about them, and even more excited to try them herself.
- Allow your child a say in the food choices you make FROM THE BEGINNING. For us, at first, this meant letting our daughter pick food right from our garden- green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, carrots, squash and herbs. We were lucky that our garden crop last year matured at the same rate as our then two year old’s interest in food. She was thrilled to eat something she “found” with her own two hands and watched grow from a seed. No garden? No problem. Do the same thing… but at the grocery store. During a not stressful, not rushed grocery trip, let your toddler walk around the grocery store with you and LOOK at the available vegeatables. Ask them what they think looks yummy (Purple carrots? Big, orange squash? Bumpy, weird, round thing?) Help them to see food that looks appealing and get excited about their choices! This certainly requires open mindedness from the eaters in your household but if it’s something you can handle- it’s truly amazing.
- Branch out. If you are hitting up the same grocery store week after week, try switching it up and locating a farmers market or specialty food store every once in awhile. Often times you will run into people who care deeply about their produce and live for interactions with young eaters (our children are their future buyers after all!). Showing your kids a connection to the real-live-human who supplies their yummy food- or better yet the actual farmer who grew their yummy food, really personalizes eating in a new way allowing for a deeper connection and experience that is meaningful to a child. The real gem of these connections, though, is that you have access to the best knowledge of vegetables around! These people are passionate and INTERESTED in their food and most likely have a wealth of preparation ideas that will get your wheels turning for recipes.
- Don’t give up on a veggie if your child doesn’t like it once. Keep trying. Get creative in how you prepare the vegetable. My kids SPIT OUT green peas if they are warm, cooked, or have ANY type of sauce on them whatsoever. But (go figure) they LOVE peas straight out of the freezer. I’ve actually discovered that MANY kids like peas straight out of the freezer. But if I had stopped giving them peas simply because they didn’t like WARM peas, they’d never be eating peas in the first place. My second daughter, Gracie, won’t touch regular mashed potatoes, but she inhales “spicy” mashed potatoes with green onions and garlic. Playing with flavors, seasonings, and preparation methods can make all the difference in the world. Just think about how different a raw and fresh green pepper is compared to a caramelized green pepper ready for fajitas or something like that- so different.
- Introduce new vegetables during your least stressful meal. For us this is lunch time. I have the girls to myself, no rushing around, no excitement of Daddy being home. We can sit together and talk about what is happening on our plate. This is the time when Lilly feels most safe to tell me what she thinks about new foods and make special requests. Can you spot the veggies in the lunch ideas below? (This is a page from a free cookbook I created a few months ago available here.)
- Dip, dip, dip. I have a ketchup obsessed toddler who will eat ANYTHING if it’s covered in ketchup. We started with that lovely condiment (on broccoli, peas, eggs, bread, green peppers, mushrooms etc.) but have since progressed to dipping veggies into hummus, greek yogurt dip, guacamole, peanut butter, nutella and regular ol’ ranch. “Dippy plates” are a favorite snack around here for sure.
- Put it in a tortilla, put it in a smoothie (possibilities are endless here). Samples below are also available from my free, downloadable cookbook: Munchies for Munchkins.
- Work on acquiring useful resources. I’m going to list my favorites below, but by no means stop there. If the things I use don’t work for you, keep searching for tools that help make finding, cooking, and preparing vegetables easier for your family.
- Follow the Munchies For Munchkins board on pinterest. This is where I save all of my kid-friendly food ideas that include lots of good recipes featuring vegetables. Then, create your own board on pinterest and repin your favorites so you have a quick, accessible reference for preparing veggie-full meals for your kids.
- Check out Catherine McCord and Weelicious.com. I am so inspired by this Mom’s passion for feeding her family delicious, healthy, creative, and yes- vegetable filled meals that are fun and satisfying. I’m addicted to seeing her videos as they are created and Lilly loves them too! She thinks Catherine’s “food movies” are akin to Food Network for adults. In addition to the incredible website resource she has created, she also has two awesome cookbooks out: Weelicious and Weelicious Lunches (I have both downloaded on my iPad for easy reference but know Santa is bring them for me for xmas because I adore paper copies of cookbooks).Image courtesy of weelicious.com
- Last but certainly not least on this list is the Super Healthy Kids team. Amy, Natalie, and Jackie created this website (and subsequent resources) as a place for parents to learn how to “make fruits and vegetables simple, fun, and delicious”. I am a long time follower of their blog (and am kind of obsessed with their recipe index) and was THRILLED to see their Nutrition Plates come to fruition and be so well received with my own kids. The segmented plate gave my girls a real reason to eat their fruits and vegetables (they wanted something in every section!) and the plate finally facilitated a great conversation about what a healthy meal is made of and how we can put it together as a team. This is the plate we have and love: Choose MyPlate for Kids. Beyond the plate, their emails every week are among my favorite reads (full of real, useful, simple ideas for feeding my kids) and of course their blog is filled with ideas about tackling picky eaters, preparing seasonal produce, and approaching meals in a way to teach our kids how to have a great relationship with food.Image courtesy of superhealthykids.com
**My final words of wisdom (I am not wise but here they are anyway) are to avoid “hiding” vegetables in your families favorite dishes. This doesn’t help your kids LEARN about how delicious healthy vegetables can be and doesn’t help you move forward in teaching your toddlers why vegetables are an important part of our diet. By all means- ADD ADD ADD those veggies anywhere you can but TELL your kids that those yummy recipes they love are full of nutritious veggies that keep our bodies healthy, happy and strong. If this is scary for you, try approaching these conversations as part of a recipe. Mommy made your favorite mac and cheese for dinner tonight- yummy noodles, orange cheese, white cheese, flour, butter, salt, pepper, cauliflower, nutmeg, ground mustard and bacon. A little less scary than saying, “Here is your mac and cheese with cauliflower!” to which your child might say “Yuck I hate cauliflower!”.
Sample conversation that takes place all the time in our house:
Me: “Wow, Lilly, do you love that chocolate cake?! Guess what? Mommy put zucchini in there- isn’t that awesome? I had no idea you loved zucchini so much!”
Lilly: “Yum, I love this chocolate zucchini cake- I DO like zucchini, Mom!”
… different day, different meal:
Me: “Lilly, this is sautéed zucchini with parmesan cheese. Remember how yummy chocolate zucchini cake was? Would you like to try sautéed zucchini?”
Lilly: “I’ll try it. I think I loved zucchini.” …. “Bleh, I don’t like zucchini saute but I DO still like zucchini cake.”
(Progress- she tried it.)
… another different day, different meal:
Me: “Would you like to try zucchini PIZZAS? They have zucchini in them, like the cake you loved, but are different from the zucchini saute you didn’t like too much.”
Lilly: (Mouth very full) “Yummmmmm.”
Be patient. Have fun. Let your kids express to you what they do and don’t like but try to provide multiple opportunities for them to discover vegetable recipes that DO get them excited about meal time and fueling their little bodies in a healthy way. Continue to add exposure and variety- try new things yourself! and always look for inspiration. I’m always here as a resource (I love talking about feeding kids 😉 clearly) and also love getting new tips from Mom’s who have ideas that work for their families.
All hail the veggies!