You’ve set the table for dinner and are super proud of your well-seasoned assortment of healthy foods worth sharing. (Or reality: Maybe it was Monday and you managed to steam some broccoli. Still a commendable performance.)
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But the toddler is walking. You know how dinnertime is going to unfold.
There will be pleas: “Please, try your vegetables.”
Then, request: “You can’t leave this table without eating broccoli.”
Finally, the bribe: “Try it, you can have a cookie.”
What about vegetables? Still sitting in the bowl.
Not so smug now?
But it doesn’t have to be that hard — for you or your picky eaters.
“Naturally, young children may be reluctant to try new foods,” says pediatric dietitian Diana Schnee, RD, LD. “Children’s lives are full of new habits, new things to learn, new friends to make. Sometimes a new vegetable can just be one thing too much.”
Even so, you want your child to get a dose of vitamins and minerals from fresh produce. After all it is important for their development and part of a healthy relationship with food. So, Schnee offers some tried-and-true tips and tricks for getting your kids to eat their vegetables.
Ways to Get Picky Eaters to Eat Vegetables
A good rule of thumb is that produce (aka fruits and vegetables) should make up half of your plate, says Schnee. This is true for both kids and adults.
“In an ideal world, families would include fresh produce at every meal, although that may not always be realistic,” Schnee said. “That’s where snack time can fit in. Or double up on veggies for dinner, or anywhere you can get extra food.”
But… what to do? Schnee lists these tips to help your child get the fresh food his growing body needs.
know the target
If your kids would rather eat chicken nuggets than green beans, you’re not alone. A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that half of children in the U.S. are not eating vegetables every day.
The USDA Recommendations for Children and Vegetables recommend consuming the following amounts of vegetables each day:
- Children 12 to 23 months: 2/3 to 1 cup.
- Children 2 to 4 years: 1 to 2 cups.
- Children ages 5 to 8: 1 1/2 to 2 1/2.
- Girls and persons assigned female at birth (AFAB) Ages 9 to 13: 1 1/2 to 3 cups.
- Boys and persons assigned male at birth (AMAB) Ages 9 to 13: 2 to 3 1/2 cups.
- Girls and AFAB 14 to 18 year olds: 2 1/2 to 3 cups.
- Boys and AMAB Ages 14 to 18: 2 1/2 to 4 cups.
For context, one cup of vegetables is roughly equivalent to two medium carrots, one large sweet potato or two celery sticks.
keep pressure low
Now that you know how much vegetables your kids should be eating, you might be more motivated to promote them like a used car salesman looking for big commissions.
Instead, breathe. You don’t want to be fighting a battle of wills with a toddler. You probably won’t win.
When it comes to mealtime, adults and children each have choices and roles to play, Schnee said.Parents and other carers should be the ones who decide What to eat, when Eat and Where to eat.On the other hand, children choose regardless they eat.
Schnee recommends serving vegetables every day. But don’t insist, bribe or punish.
“Anything we can do to make children more familiar with food is the best,” Schnee assures. “Consistently serving vegetables is a win. Encourage your child to touch the food, smell it or describe its color or texture. These are really positive interactions with food – even if they don’t put it in their mouth. ”
The point is that encouraging kids to use their other senses to learn about food takes the mystery away. By the time they saw the butternut squash for the 20th time, it had lost its appeal. Your child will know what it is, what it smells like, what it feels like and what color it is. It is no longer new, special or scary. The only thing to do is try it out. when they are ready.
Try These Toddler-Friendly Vegetables
The best vegetables for your child depend on many factors, such as their age and their preference for certain textures or flavors. But in general, you want to focus on foods that are healthy and have a low risk of choking. This means that soft and cooked vegetables may be the best choice for younger children.
Some child-friendly options may include:
- Cooked carrots.
- Cooked green beans.
- sweet potato.
Talk about the role of vegetables
We know that vegetables are packed with nutrients that provide our bodies with energy. But your kids may not understand the difference between the immune-boosting effects of spinach and the empty calories of potato chips and candy.
Explaining healthy eating to kids can help them understand where you’re from and why cookies aren’t a main course. But do it in a language they can understand.
“When your kid eats a bowl of pasta and then asks for dessert, try saying something like, ‘Remember, we eat balanced meals. Pasta gives us good energy.Now, we need to focus on some foods that will help your belly feel good,’ or ‘Foods That Will Make Your Muscles Strong,'” Shiny suggested.
make vegetables fun
The Internet is full of innovative gadgets that can make mealtime fun for kids. There are chopstick-like contraptions featuring dinosaurs and unicorns. Toothpicks with animal figures. Looks like pliers for little hands. Miniature cookie cutters for cutting cucumber slices into hearts and stars. you understood.
If your budget allows, Schnee recommends trying a few of these gizmos to up the cuteness factor and make eating your veggies feel more enticing.
don’t be sneaky
You’ve probably seen recipes on social media or heard from friends about tricks for hiding veggies in your kids’ favorite meals. Add some pumpkin puree to their macaroni and cheese. Mash some broccoli into a quesadilla. (“They’ll never know the difference!”) It’s tempting, right?
But Schnee says that’s not a long-term solution. This can really backfire.
“Kids are smart. If you change their favorite foods, they’ll notice and it creates distrust,” Schnee explains. Worse, it may turn them away from foods that were once easy to access.
Sure, these measures will get some vegetables into their system, but it won’t teach your child to try new foods or appreciate vegetables themselves. It’s a bandage, not a solution.
“I’d rather have them learn to experiment and appreciate fruits and vegetables than try to hide things,” Schnee advises.
Have the kids prepare shopping meals
From toddlerhood, kids want to do what you do. It’s a natural part of child development. Involving them in food selection and food preparation serves two purposes.
For starters, it allows them to become the part of the adult they crave. It also gives them the opportunity to have new interactions with vegetables and other foods that are unfamiliar to them.
When they feel some responsibility and involvement with the food, it may make them more interested in tasting the food.
Try not to label your child
When you say something like “Junior doesn’t eat asparagus,” it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You make up your mind they don’t like it, so you stop serving it. Result: They were unfamiliar with asparagus. When you come back and serve it again, they don’t want to eat it. Your original conclusion is confirmed. Junior didn’t eat asparagus. But that’s because they’re not familiar with it. Not necessarily because they don’t like it.
“As parents, we can develop the habit of,’My child doesn’t like X, Y or Z,’” Schnee said. “But the point of this is to provide crutches for our children. We ended up restricting them by labeling them. ”
Instead, remember that children change and grow. all. this. time. One day, they were super fond of drawing. Next, they’re all about building that giant tower of blocks. Their interests change and so do their tastes in food.
And you don’t throw away all their crayons if they don’t color in one day. So why not also keep options open when it comes to the foods they eat?
Using Seasonings and Dips
Plain veggies might sound good to you, but your kids might prefer something with a little zing.
Spreading peanut butter on celery might be more appealing than chewing on a stalk. Or soaking some carrots in hummus can spice things up.
Likewise, sprinkling the veggies with a dressing like ranch dressing, oregano, or another favorite flavor can up the ante and spark some interest.
Consider a Multivitamin
As you work to increase the vegetable intake in your child’s life, you might consider trying a children’s multivitamin at the same time. You should always talk to your child’s healthcare provider, such as a pediatrician or a registered dietitian, before starting supplements, says Schnee. But multivitamins may be a useful option for some children.
“For kids who don’t eat fruits and vegetables, a multivitamin can be a good insurance policy,” Schnee says. “But a balanced diet is always more effective for their nutrition.”
If you’re choosing a kids’ multivitamin, look for age-appropriate products that say “NSF Certified” on the label. This means they have been tested by an independent third party.
At the end of the day, know that you are doing the best you can. That’s all anyone can ask.
“Rejecting vegetables and other foods is often just a natural evolution of children exploring their world and figuring out what they can and cannot say. It’s a normal part of childhood development,” explains Schnee. “All we can do is make them successful and continue to deliver stuff. Chances are, if you’re concerned about this and trying to find a solution, you’re doing a great job.”