Steps For Getting Your Child To Eat A Variety Of Vegetables & Fruits
Getting your child to eat vegetables and other unfamiliar foods is tough. It can cause a lot of struggle at mealtimes.
The following steps are intended to help you transition a child of any age over to being more accepting and adventurous when it comes to new foods, especially vegetables.
This is an easy guide on how to get your child to eat vegetables without tears and fighting.
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How To Start A Baby On Solids So They’ll Love Vegetables
It’s between you and your pediatrician as to when they recommend starting solids. A baby’s first food needs to be soft. Typically first foods are puréed completely with little texture.
Baby-led weaning is becoming more common as well. This involves giving baby much of the same food you’re eating but with appropriate softness and sizing.
A baby’s gag reflex is triggered further forward in their mouth the younger they are. Up until 4-6 months old, this includes a tongue thrust motion that isn’t compatible with eating solid food.
Once a little older, a baby may not have teeth yet but they’re strong gums are more than enough to chew softer chunks of vegetables.
✅ Tip: These are my essential baby feeding supplies.
1. First Foods For Baby: Skip The Rice Cereal
Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, usually a suggestion from a well
For our parents and grandparents, this was the typical first food. Nowadays it’s being recommended less and less.
Rice cereal is nutritionally devoid. It is usually made from white rice that has had hull removed. This hull has a lot of vitamins. The hull also takes longer to digest which prevents a blood sugar spike.
With white rice, you get that spike. Manufacturers add synthetic vitamins to try and make up for the lack of nutrition. Many of these synthetic vitamins do not absorb as readily as vitamins found in real food.
Rice cereal is also extremely bland. You want your baby to get used to expecting flavors when they eat instead of a tasteless porridge.
Does Baby Rice Cereal Have Arsenic?
Yes, baby rice cereal has been shown to contain arsenic.
Rice readily absorbs many heavy metals from the soil. Even with organic versions, pesticide runoff contaminates the soil.
High arsenic levels are found in rice grown on land that use to be used for cotton crops. This makes sense since cotton production uses the highest levels of pesticides for any crop.
Thus, all of these heavy metals accumulate in the soil. So even if pesticides haven’t been used at that location for years, the rice has some of the highest arsenic levels due to the soil.
Heavy metal toxicity causes serious damage to a body. It takes a lot less arsenic to cause damage in a baby vs adult.
2. Mimic Nature: Breast Milk Is Sweet
Take a cue from nature. Breast milk contains a high concentration of lactose. Lactose is a sugar and tastes sweet. Breast milk also contains a lot of fat.
The flavors of breast milk change based on what the mother has eaten. This gives breastfed babies a slight leg up when it comes to their age of first tasting complex flavors, spices, fruits, and vegetables.
This doesn’t mean that formula-fed babies can’t learn to love more complex flavors. They just aren’t used to it yet since formula will typically taste the same every bottle.
The natural sweetness of breastmilk predisposes babies to like sweeter tasting solid food. This can be used to the parent’s advantage when adding in new foods.
Tips For Getting Your Child To Start Eating Vegetables
Whether you have a baby or an older child, these tips can be used interchangeably in order to get them to enjoy the flavor of vegetables.
1. Mash Vegetables With Avocado
My favorite fast and easy tip is to steam frozen vegetables and mush with avocado. I usually start with peas and cauliflower.
Cauliflower is pretty neutral and peas have a slight sweetness. Avocado is a healthy fat full of vitamins.
Avocado doesn’t have a strong taste which won’t overwhelm your child’s palate. They’re used to drinking high-fat milk.
My son took to eating this quickly. If your child doesn’t like it immediately, keep offering it once to a few times a week. Their taste buds will adjust.
✅ Tip: Creating your own baby food is easy with these supplies.
2. Use Sweeter Vegetables To Your Advantage
Sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets are sweet vegetables and are a perfect lead-in. These can be bought fresh or frozen and steamed.
If making a larger amount of food, break it into smaller portions. Flavor each portion slightly different and put in a 4 oz jelly jar to freeze.
3. Add In Spices (Not Spicy)
Eating the same vegetable daily doesn’t have to be boring. The flavor can be changed up using a variety of spices from the pantry.
If using sweet potatoes, one portion might have cinnamon, another rosemary or thyme. Stay salt-free though since too much salt is not good.
If you prefer not to make your own baby food, choose store
The food can be mashed as smooth or chunky as your baby will eat as long as the size of the chunks
4. Combine Fruits With Vegetables
Smoothies are an effortless way to add greens into your child’s diet. An overripe spotted banana will cover the taste of spinach in a smoothie.
Blend frozen fruit with banana and whatever greens you have on hand. I’ve used romaine, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard. Add more water if it’s too thick.
I place smoothies into a straw cup for my child. These cups are actually my favorite for giving smoothies.
Smoothies turn brown as they oxidize so drinking them fresh is preferred unless you don’t mind the color.
5. Offer Fresh Vegetable Juice
The saying “Blend your fruits, juice your vegetables” can be used here.
Fruit has high sugar content. When you juice fruit you get a blood sugar spike. Fruit needs the fiber to slow down the digestion process and prevent the spike.
Vegetables can be juiced without getting that spike. You don’t have to juice but if you do, it’s a nice concentration of vegetables.
✅My favorite juicer is always out and used daily.
An easy juice blend contains greens, celery, carrots, apple, and lemon. The majority of the juice is from greens and celery with only one apple and ½ a lemon.
If that combo isn’t sweet enough, add in more apple. You can slowly start decreasing the amount of fruit as they get used to drinking it.
Juicing produces a concentrated flavor that really young children may not be ready for.
6. Use Pasta As A Healthy Vegetable-Filled Option
Use different types of pasta like lentil and chickpea. Pasta is a staple in our house.
The shapes are small and perfect for self-feeding. Grocery stores today have many types of pasta.
Instead of white pasta try wheat, brown rice, chickpea, black bean, green lentil, red lentil, or adzuki bean pasta. Each will have a different texture and taste.
Create Sauces For Pasta
Since pasta is such a hit, use that to create vegetable-packed sauces.
The great thing about sauce is it can be blended so that you can’t see the individual ingredients anymore. This is my favorite way to blend with minimal mess.
Your child probably will not notice cooked carrots blended into marinara. Spinach and chickpeas can also be blended effortlessly.
7. Cook With Your Kids To Get Them Interested In Vegetables
Involving your child can do wonders with their willingness to try new foods. If your kid grocery shops with you, let them pick out one vegetable they want to try that week.
If it’s an ingredient you’ve never used before then find a recipe together that sounds tasty. Curate curiosity in the kitchen and involve them as much as possible, even if it’s only to rinse lettuce.
What little kid doesn’t like buttons? It seems that children have a tracking device to find buttons to press. Use this to get the child excited about using the blender and juicer.
If age-appropriate, your child can help chop and prepare the produce. Young kids can dump a bowl of frozen berries into a blender easily.
✅ A set like this is perfect for letting your child help in the kitchen.
The point is, let them get involved and give them the autonomy to make choices. Let them choose what type of smoothie they want today.
8. Don’t Snack: Stick To Planned Meal Times
When I’m out at a store, over half of the children I see tend to be eating something. Usually small crackers or cereal.
They’re being pushed along, mindlessly eating. If you ate bits of food all day, you wouldn’t be hungry for actual meals.
Our household follows three meals a day and 1 snack. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack around 3 PM. My child can, of course, have water to drink any time he wants but finger foods are limited to mealtimes.
Breakfast is usually oatmeal, a smoothie, or bagel with avocado. Lunch is pasta with sauce, puree, or some of what I’m eating. Sometimes all 3 if he’s hungry.
His snack is when he wakes from napping. We may make vegetable juice, another smoothie, or some fresh fruit. Dinner is our family meal.
By keeping mindless eating to a minimum, you’ll ensure your child is hungry during mealtimes. They’re more likely to try out and eat the vegetables you’re serving if they aren’t already filled up on crackers.
Benefits Of Family Meals
Our child eats with my husband and me at the table. He gets whatever we are having that night that is child safe. Dinners are where we have the most variety.
When our son sees both his dad and mom at the table eating the same food he’s being offered, he warms up to it quickly.
It’s biological that our children look to their parents and mimic. His seeing us eat the food tells him that it is safe to eat and affects his outlook on different types of food.
Side Note: There was one evening when our son was 8 months old. My husband and I were eating Indian curry. We had puree and some pasta for our son.
He refused to eat any of his food and kept reaching out towards our plates of curry. We relented and gave him some.
He loved it! Lentil curry is now one of his favorite foods. Really hit home the power of a child’s mimicking nature.
Watch The Meal’s Salt And Spice Content
I love spice. Much to my husband’s dismay, whenever I cooked food early on in our marriage his eyes would start tearing up from the heat.
I’ve since mellowed out how much spice I add to a dish. Now with a child eating it, I include even less heat.
I mention this because children’s taste buds need time to get used to the various flavors and spices you add to their diet.
Sometimes going lighter on the flavoring is helpful for getting your child to take to the food quicker.
It’s alright to add normal amounts of herbs and spices but definitely limit the salt and heat-inducing spices. You can add those after the food is served so that it isn’t too much sodium or heat for your child.
9. Creating Healthy Eating Habits: The Trap Of Dessert
I often hear about parents telling their kids that if they don’t eat their vegetables then they can’t have dessert.
While this initially sounds like a good way to get them to eat their veggies, the problem is in the long term.
Do this frequently and you’re teaching your child that vegetables are bad or taste gross. You have to bribe them in order to make them sound appealing.
It isn’t wise to leverage dessert for compliance. Instead, take an approach where dessert is fruit only. Dessert isn’t supposed to be equivalent to a second meal’s worth of calories and a sugar rush.
If you start having choices of fruit as the option for dessert, then you satisfy any sweets craving but it’s much healthier.
10. Don’t Give Up: Keep Offering The Same Foods Many Times
If you’re starting with an older child or your baby doesn’t seem to enjoy a particular food, that doesn’t mean to stop offering it.
Overly sweet, salty, and greasy foods are biologically addictive. Taste buds need time to adjust and appreciate the flavors of produce.
When I first gave my son avocado, he hated it. As soon as it touched his tongue he started gagging like he was going to vomit.
Mind you, no avocado actually made it into his mouth.
How could he not like avocado? Avocado is a food group in our family. It took 13 additional tries of avocado before he started eating it.
The key is to not continue offering it the same way time after time. Throw in some variety!
Offer avocado mashed in potatoes, mixed with salsa for
Don’t let one, or even 12, dislikes of a certain food indicate you should give up. Your child’s taste buds adjusted and eventually, they’ll get excited when they see food they once hated.
11. Don’t Make A Separate Meal
Make it easy on yourself. Dinner is what’s for dinner.
Everyone in the family is eating what is made and must take at least one bite of everything. There’s no negotiating because there are no other options.
While this may seem harsh, it’s a boundary that you can easily set with your children. Otherwise, you’ll spend your evening being a short-order cook and will get burnt out making everyone different meals.
If you were wondering how to get your child to eat more vegetables, it boils down to a little planning and persistence.
Getting your child to accept a variety of tastes, flavors, and textures take time and consistency. If you methodically introduce food items repeatedly, your child’s taste buds will have time to adjust.
Try to eat as many meals together as you can to encourage the trying of new food items. Avoid bribing your child with sweets or offering to prepare a separate requested meal.
By slowly incorporating these tips, you’ll get your child eating a wider variety of vegetables without mealtimes being a battle.
Share with me in the comments ways you’ve gotten your child to eat more vegetables.
Plant-based Living & Vegan Parenting Expert
Stephanie is the founder behind Mommysaurus, a plant-based vegan living and parenting blog. She has been eating a plant-based diet for over 24 years along with a B.S. in Biology & Environemental Science. Stephanie is currently raising her son on a plant-based diet and hopes to help others who are wanting to do the same. You can read more about her here.
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