Getting kids to eat their vegetables

My 20-month-old daughter is generally pretty good at eating what we eat, except for vegetables. Our meals are generally some sort of meat, with some sort of veggie on the side (I cook mostly paleo stuff at home), and she devours the meats for the most part. Heck, she even loves seafood to the point that one of the words she can say is “salmon.” But the vegetables…she’ll touch them to her lips, sniff them, and then call the dog over and throw them on the floor for him to eat.

I’ve tried sauces, various types of preparations, and just about every vegetable one can imagine, and she hates them all. About the only thing that works is chopping them fine and throwing them into some sort of rice casserole, but that defeats the purpose of getting the kid used to eating the same meal as the rest of the family–our pediatrician says that we shouldn’t be a short-order cook for her, and I tend to agree with that philosophy. He says just keep exposing her to them and hopefully she’ll eat them eventually, and make sure she gets a vitamin and eats some fruits too.

But I figured I’d ask those who have gone before me, who might have some good advice as to how to approach the situation. Right now, I just tell her to try one bite, and about 50% of the time she will, but then she takes it out of her mouth, looks at me like I’d been trying to poison her, and feeds it to the dog.

if she’s actually trying it and honestly doesn’t like it all you can do is try different veg. Thankfully my 4 year old loves her fruit and veg.

Is one of the prep options that you’ve tried “raw”? My kids eat all sorts of things when crunchy that they turn up their noses at cooked, including broccoli, green beans and zucchini. The only thing I put my foot down about is potatoes.

Variant of this - set her up on a chair next to you at the counter to watch you chop up veg (obviously, only if she can grok “fingers OFF chopping board!”). Let her nibble if the fancy takes her. It’s always been the rule in this household that vegies in the process of preparation (unless actively poisonous) are fair game. Sometimes I save portions back from the cooking pot too, on the grounds that this barely counts as “separate meal”

Kids tend to like “dipping” food too, like fries into ketchup, so try raw (or very lightly cooked) veggies that can be dipped into a relatively healthy dip that she likes, like a light ranch or hummus or something. Maybe even ketchup! It’s like playing with your food but your parents are cool with it.

Raw with dip (ranch or bleu cheese dressing, BBQ sauce, even ketchup) is a popular veggie method with this age group. Didn’t work for my kids (both of them preferred their veggies plain), but works for others’.

I think what you’re doing is fine for now, though. Keep offering, keep insisting she try a bite, don’t make substitutions (becoming a “short order cook”) but appreciate that she is a human being with her own tastes and preferences that will change many times in her life. We’re fond of saying, “Oh, well…maybe you’ll like it when you’re older!” You’d be surprised how many times the kidlet wants to try something again, just to “see if I’m older, Mama!” :wink:

One thing that did work with my daughter at this age was the salt shaker. I glued a cheap salt shaker in the closed position, and it was her shaker. She’d eat anything she could put her “salt” on. She didn’t actually need the taste of the salt, because nothing really came out, but she was more likely to eat something she felt ownership of, and she established ownership by making it “just right” with her shaker. (sigh parenting willful kids is like a nonstop battle of wits)

Remember that fruits have similar nutritional profiles to veggies and may be more acceptable. I wouldn’t give a kid who didn’t eat her veggies a desert like ice cream or brownies, but I have been known to give them apples with peanut butter or dipping honey (oh, wait a few more months for honey with your 20 mo) or poached pears with berries or sliced peaches on cottage cheese…sweet things that aren’t completely devoid of nutrition.

All in all, it’s not unusual for kids at this age to have very strong food preferences. Most of the time, as long as you’re consistently offering a variety of wholesome food choices, they eat what they need and get a fairly balanced diet if you measure it over a week or month instead of every day. At 20 mo, she’s mostly looking for fuel (carbs) and muscle building and repair (proteins); her needs for vitamins and minerals for bone growth are pretty low until her next growth spurt.

The raw veggies will go down even easier if you give them to her before she gets the rest of her food, when she’s hungriest. My sister-in-law always puts out a tray of raw veggies while she’s cooking dinner, for her kids to nibble on, and it looks like a really good idea to me.

It could be which vegetables you’re offering as well - a lot of kids don’t like the broccoli family, or greens, because they have a bitter component. Sweeter vegetables like carrots, celery, and cucumber are often more popular, especially when offered raw as finger food. Children have more sensitive taste buds than adults, so what we perceive as a mild hint of bitterness can be entirely overwhelming to a child.

If the kid likes fruit, then offer fruit either as a vegetable alternative, or as a desert, and they’ll probably be OK.

But I agree - keep offering all vegetables given to the rest of the family. Short of a medical issue like an actual allergy kids should be expected to eat what everyone else does.

“Green Bean Race”
Who can eat their green beans the fastest? (Parents obviously participate and even let the child win!)

Another version-
Everybody get a piece of (insert veggie here), and eat them at the same time!!! Yea!!! Oooo, let’s do it again!!! Yea!!!

I would really try to find out why she hates them. IIRC like Broomstick said children tend to be more sensitive to the bitter flavors of some vegetables, especially Brassica plants e.g. broccoli and cabbages. If it’s a dislike of the flavor, forcing the issue will just make her hate it forever.

I think you have a good point there. My friends and I would always raid the vegetable garden and we especially liked the peas, green beans and onions. We would never eat that cooked, but we loved to go into the garden and pull them off and eat them. I really loved the chives.

But if you’re going to put veggies in dips, there’s little point to it. The fiber and vitamins they get are not gonna out weigh the sugar and fat in dips and ketchup not to mention the salt. You’re better off losing the veggies and giving them a vitamin pill each day and finding fiber in pinto beans or soybeans and the like.

From Day One, there wasn’t a vegetable my daughter didn’t adore. It’s only grown worse over time.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a low-fat dip, or hummus maybe? In my experience, a small amount of raw veg goes down better than cooked. Mixed vegetables not so much, one kid I knew spent ages separating the corn niblets, the carrot cubes, the peas, etc. into little separate piles before eating them.

I’m having the same problem with my 21 month old boy. He loved vegetables until about six months ago. In another six months he’ll probably love them again. He’s just learning his tastes (and finding out how many times mama will actually put peas on his plate morning, noon and night before she switches to green beans) so I don’t worry too much over it.

Things that sometimes work:

  • Green beans with ketchup.
  • Taco salad made with hamburger, chopped romaine lettuce, grated carrot, diced green (cucumber, broccoli, green beans, whatever is on hand), shredded cheese, a little taco seasoning, crushed tortilla chips and sour cream
  • Smoothies made of yogurt, milk and a vegetable. You need a strong tasting yogurt like blackberry or cherry to cover the taste of the vegetable (don’t use corn, cauliflower or spinach - those are foul tasting in the yogurt). Banana, avocado and milk make the best smoothie. These are his snacks.
  • Rice with mixed vegetables and a bit of butter.
  • Tortilla wrap filled with whatever vegetable on hand, cheese and dressing or sour cream.
  • Spaghetti squash and spaghetti sauce with vegetable mixed in.
  • Pointing to a piece of cauliflower on my plate and telling him, “Mine!” Makes him want it real bad.
  • I tell him to stick out his tongue. Then I just touch the food to his tongue. It lets him get a taste and decide if he likes it. If he likes the taste he won’t be bothered so much by the texture.
  • Mostly I just give the kid baby food vegetables with rice cereal mixed in to make it thicker. He’ll eat that more often than anything I put on his plate. Who cares that it’s baby food? At least he’s getting vegetables. I’m pretty sure (okay, hoping) that peer pressure in college will get him to ease into big boy food.

Hmmm. You don’t say if you have any sort of dessert with dinner, but perhaps it might be time to occasionally have one. With the caveat that no one gets dessert unless they eat all of their veggies. And one other thought, sometimes parents give portions that are way too large for a kid too handle. You sound as if you know what you’re doing, but perhaps for now with her veggie portions 2 or 3 bites is enough of a portion.

And I second the “fruit for dessert” idea that others have mentioned.

Good luck…(glad I’m a grandma now and can give them back :D)

Forget trying to induce them to eat them. I hated vegetables growing up, but eat them all the time now, in part because no one made a huge issue about it and I was allowed to discover them on my own. Similarly, my daughter used to turn up her nose at all kinds of vegetables. I never forced the issue and now at 18 she’s nearly a vegetarian. Her favorite lunch is stir fry with pea pods, broccoli, cauliflower, bean sprouts and carrots.

My husband, on the other hand, was forced to eat his vegetables. If he didn’t eat them for dinner, they were served for breakfast the next day. To this day, he gets mildly queasy at the sight of green beans, and the only veggies he’ll eat are ones his mother didn’t make growing up.

My recommendation is make sure they take a multivitamin every day, and then to always have fresh fruit on hand. Allow them to substitute fresh fruit for the veggies if they want. At the end of the day, a bunch of grapes or a bowl of fresh strawberries is better for them than baby carrots drenched in ranch dressing. As they get older, keep introducing very simplified version of vegetables into the meals, and then let them discover them on their own timing.

And, for pete’s sake, don’t do what my SIL did and introduce them to horrible habits such as sprinkling sugar on strawberries or dipping perfectly healthy fruit into a fruit dip.


My kids liked a few veggies as small children (kale and sausage soup was yummy from the get go), but now that my daughter is 10, she is discovering all kinds of good veggies. She really likes them roasted or grilled, especially zucchini and sweet peppers, or roasted until they have they yummy crispy parts like oven-roasted broccoli.

If you are eating veggies and smacking your lips, she will eventually try to be grown up too and enjoying veggies.

There are some games my kids play.

They like to open up green beans and count the seeds. Then eat the green beans.

They were “giraffes” eating trees (broccoli) until they were far too old for that game (my daughter will still play it at eleven).

But also, don’t fret it too much. Its good that she continues to try them.

Peas were a balancing act on a fork.

My kids have always been ok veggie eaters though - probably better than their parents (if my husband cooks, the chance of a vegetable that isn’t tomato sauce or romaine lettuce ending up on the plates is 1:20).

Does she eat fruits? SiL was hell-bent on getting her eldest to eat veggies and fruits, until she finally realized that 1) she doesn’t like fruits or vegetables; 2) her husband eats super-ripe fruits of a few kinds, but hates most veggies with a passion; 3) the kid was perfectly happy to eat veggies, he just didn’t like fruit. The Kidlette OTOH takes after Daddy: mushy bananas are yummy, most vegetables are yeech.

I don’t think it’s necessary to eat anything anybody has come up with a way of cooking; it is important to be willing to try it, but if you hate it, you hate it. [Disclaimer: I have always hated cauliflower with a passion, making me swallow it when I was little required a parent holding my nose, when I was less little it required me trying to convince myself that I wasn’t eating something that smelled and tasted like Satan’s own farts, and it always, always, always, led to barfing. If it makes you barf, it’s by definition Not “Good For You”]

There’s a lot of vegetables I didn’t eat as a child that I eat now. Some, I’ve learned to cook them different than Mom had taught me, some weren’t available at home when I was growing up (either someone couldn’t eat them, or not available in the area). I still can’t stand most sweet fruit, though, I just do not seem to own a sweet tooth. So long as your kid is eating a balanced diet, which individual items enter it isn’t something to go bananas over.

I think you’re doing the right thing - offering different vegetables repeatedly. Assuming you’re not cooking them the same way each time, the only other thing I’d suggest is letting her play with them a bit.

That’s how I got my son to eat his veggies. To this day, he loves broccoli because I started calling them monkey trees and letting him stand them up in his mashed potatoes. He also likes carrots because I pretend that they turn him orange. For my son, it’s all in the marketing. Of course, I’m sure his sister will prove different. She does for everything else (I’ve never met a baby before who likes dolmades and steamed dumpings but hates cereal and peaches).

Also, don’t make a big deal of it. Before the monkey trees idea, it used to bother me so much to watch my son eat (or not eat) his veggies that eventually I just set them in front of him and did something else. If my back was turned, he’d eat them. If I was watching, it was a no-go.

On posting, I’d second what Dangerosa said.

Our daughter (2.5yrs) is much the same. We have limited success, but we figured we’ll have bigger battles to fight so we’re not too fussed. She eats a fairly good variety, but my brothers and I weren’t great fans of veg when we were younger but by the time we were teenagers we ate pretty much everything.

One thing that works for our daughter is getting her to make her own food. We started growing a few bits of veg this summer - courgettes (zuchini), peppers, tomatoes etc - and it’s been great over the to go out into the garden and pick the veg with her.

She can then help chop the veg, and sprinkle it on a pizza - which then gets cooked and served 10 mins later so she sees the direct link between the raw veg and the finished meal.

Yesterday we made an autumn soup - carrots from the garden, last of the courgettes and a load of other veg - I do the chopping and she helps put them into the stock pot.

Fruits the same - we went for a walk yesterday to collect apples from a neighbour, then she helped peel and slice them for a crumble, which was wolfed down.

Err, um, yeah - don’t do this!