We can all agree that vegetables are healthy, right? And most of us probably need to be eating more of them, especially our kids. But when you have a picky eater, it can be really hard to get them to eat their vegetables.
I have two super fussy eaters. Some days my four year old eats everything on his plate, and others, he has 4 bananas. It has taken work, but the ‘eat everything on his plate’ days are slowly outnumbering the banana ones.
My eldest used to live on hot chips. He was one of those kids who started out loving food and eating everything, and then he hit toddlerhood and just stopped. He refused to eat anything but chips. I had no idea what to do, or how to make him eat veggies, and I truly felt like a failure. But when they say that it’s just a phase, and they will get over it, they’re right.
In fact, the same son had to do a “me box” for his first year of school, and one of the things that he had to take was his favourite food. Well, I bet you can’t guess what he took. Not hot chips, and not even cake or pizza (although I think that might be second in his list of favourite foods).
He took broccoli. Yes, green, healthy, it’s-a-vegetable, broccoli.
I’m sorry to say he’s not a star vegetable eater with a perfect diet. But, he does eat around 4 serves of veggies each day with minimal complaint. And he apparently loves broccoli!
So now I’m going to give you my tips to turn your chip lovers into broccoli lovers.
1. Be Patient with your Fussy Eaters
Ok, I’m going to start with this warning. If your fussy kids currently hate all vegetables, and would rather do homework for a year than eat a veggie, you aren’t going to turn them into a veggie lover overnight. It is going to take time. It took me 3 years to create my broccoli lover. So be patient.
2. Give Your Picky Eater Some Control over their Veggies
Give them what? Here me out. If your fussy kids feel like you’re forcing them to eat food, they’re going to rebel. Especially if your kids are anything like my four year old. So work with them, instead of forcing them. Remember, it’s your job to provide the food, and theirs to eat it.
3. Try Serving Veggies in Different Ways
Personally, I like cooked vegetables, but I was surprised to discover that my son prefers most of his veggies raw.
So try experimenting with different ways to serve veggies. You could try a plate of raw carrot sticks, capsicum strips and broccoli with a dip or hummus, or perhaps your child prefers their veggies chopped up in a salad? (Of course, you need to wait until your kids have their molars before you offer raw veggies, otherwise they will have trouble chewing them and the pieces can become a choking hazard.)
Or maybe they really don’t like raw veggies, and they prefer them cooked. Baking vegetables is a great option because the baking option caramelises the veggies and sweetens them. Don’t feel that you are limited to only potato and pumpkin for baking – you can bake cauliflower and broccoli, and baked carrot and zucchini strips make a fun alternative to traditional potato chips.
Different cooking styles can really help, especially if you feel your child has sensory issues. As I said, my son found the texture of cooked vegetables difficult to deal with, but he really enjoys raw vegetables. You might find the same thing with your child.
4. Offer Veggies Multiple Times
As I mentioned in my other post, How to get Fussy Kids to Eat, it is really important that you offer foods multiple times, and don’t just give up when they say they don’t like it the first time.
It can take quite a few goes for foods to become familiar enough for fussy kids to feel comfortable enough to try them. So, keep offering. I think it took over two years of putting sweet potato on my son’s plate for him to finally decide that he likes it. Now, he eats it all the time.
5. Try Different Varieties of Veggies
When you’re grocery shopping, look out for different varieties of vegetables to try. Some varieties taste better than others, and some are better suited to different cooking methods.
Potatoes, for instance, come in so many different types. You’ll often find potatoes listed as suited to mashing, baking or boiling. I find my mash and chips taste so much better if I use the right potatoes.
Sweet potatoes can also be fun, and come in different types. Hawaiian sweet potatoes, with the white skin, are actually purple inside! I was amazed when I found these. Don’t confuse these with the purple skinned sweet potatoes, which are actually white inside. How’s that for confusing! My kids loved it when I served them up purple sweet potato for dinner. There’s nothing like an interesting and unexpected new colour to make food exciting!
Tomatoes are available in different varieties, and some taste much better than others. Personally, I am not fond of cherry or round tomatoes, but I really like roma, grape and perrino tomatoes. They have a lot more flavour, and are sweeter.
Another vegetable that has a sweeter variety is capsicum. The red capsicums are just green ones that have ripened for longer, so they are much sweeter and richer in flavour than the green. I tend to use the green capsicums for cooking, and the red ones when I’m serving them raw.
6. Let Them Pick Their Own Veggies
As I mentioned, kids are so much more willing to do things if they think it was their idea. So, take advantage of this. You can let them loose in the veggie section at the supermarket, and get them to pick which veggies they’d like for dinner. Or look at recipes online and let them pick how they’d like their veggies.
Some nights (when I’m feeling adventurous) I’ll ask my kids to pick which veggies they’d like. You can get some pretty crazy combinations.
You can also do this by serving self-serve family style meals, where your kids can pick what they want to eat. That way they control what goes onto their plates.
7. Check Your Own Attitude About Veggies
One thing to think about when trying to get your picky kids to eat more vegetables is your own attitude towards veggies. Do you like vegetables? Do you work hard to make sure that you eat your 5 serves a day? Are you open to trying new vegetables, or new ways of cooking them? If you aren’t, then your kids can pick up on this, and think that vegetables are bad.
If you’re trying to get your kids to eat more vegetables, then make sure everyone is on board and willing to try eating more. The benefits of peer pressure apply here – if everyone else is happily eating food, then kids will be more likely to try it too, even just to satisfy their curiosity.
8. Try Growing Your Own
My kids love eating the veggies that they have picked from their own garden. It is always an exciting meal time when we can include some tomatoes or lettuce from the garden.
Don’t feel you have to have access to a huge garden to make this work – we currently live in an apartment so just grow some tomatoes and lettuce in pots on the balcony. The boys love being able to put their own lettuce and tomatoes in the salad for dinner. I do generally have to add some extras from the supermarket, but they don’t care. They’re just excited that they grew their own vegetables!
9. Use School Lunches to Help Your Fussy Eater Have More Veggies
This option may or may not work to get your fussy kids to eat more veggies. At my son’s school, they make the kids eat all of their lunch, and they aren’t allowed to swap foods. This means I’m able to load his lunch up with lots of veggies and I know he’ll eat them.
There are some caveats to this:
- I only give my son veggies that I know he likes. He has chopped cucumber, carrot, capsicum and grape tomatoes each day. . I don’t offer new vegetables in his school lunch – I always introduce these at home where he is most comfortable.
- I don’t give too many vegetables. Lunch time is short, and kids would much rather be playing than eating. Raw vegetables take a long time to eat – all that crunching and chewing. So I limit my son’s veggies to one serve, or half a cup, and make sure everything else in his lunchbox is quick and easy to eat.
- I also don’t give too many vegetables because, although they are full of nutrients, vegetables are quite low in energy. When I give veggies, I always make sure my son has energy dense foods, like seeds, complex carbs and protein, in his lunchbox to make sure he has enough energy to last him through the day.
10. Hide the Veggies
Although I do have quite a good list of vegetables that my 8 year old will eat, there are still quite a few that he won’t eat. In order to make sure he’s getting a good variety, I add veggies to just about every meal I can.
My most common hidden vegetable is baby spinach. These super healthy greens are so mild in flavour that you can add them to anything. I always add a handful to smoothies, and I’ve even made banana ice cream with them! The kids were a bit dubious about the colour, but once they tried it, they thought it was great!
I add grated zucchini and carrot to my cooking as much as possible. You’d be surprised at how many things you can throw them into. From muffins and zucchini slice, to bolognaise and burger patties.
I also mix grated cauliflower in with rice, and serve zucchini noodles with normal spaghetti (unfortunately I haven’t managed to hide these properly).
And my for my final tip to help fussy kids eat more veggies…. My Extra Veg Smoothie. This smoothie was my go to when Mr Chip Lover would not eat anything else. I would make him this smoothie every morning, and the rest of the day didn’t matter. This smoothie gave him all the iron, calcium, protein and zinc he needed for the day. Pretty good for a chocolate smoothie, hey?
So there you go, how to help your fussy kids eat their veggies. Also check out my post on my tips to get kids to eat their beans, and helping fussy kids eat for more tips.