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How to Get Kids to Eat Veggies

Updated on January 26, 2014

How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

It's an age-old battle: Getting kids to eat vegetables is up there with getting them to keep their room tidy, go to bed on time and accept the word "no" in the store. Well, getting a child to eat vegetables doesn't have to be a struggle, battle of wills or stressful - I'm going to share with you, a few tools that take stress out of the picture, and replace resistance with enthusiasm. No more threats, bribing or trying to con them into eating vegetables, the tips here are aimed at getting your kids to eat vegetables voluntarily! :)


Photo: Girl holding fruit and vegetables Photographic Prints

The secret to getting kids to eat vegetables
The secret to getting kids to eat vegetables

The Secret

.... to getting kids to do anything...

The secret to getting kids to do anything is inspiration and excitement, rather than authority. Naturally, much higher success is achieved when a child is excited about doing something, than when they're threatened, cajoled or bribed. The tricky bit is finding a way of getting them genuinely excited about something they are currently resisting. ;)

Of course, inspiration does take more effort and skill than issuing threats does... but inspiration is So much more effective! ;)

There are three main ideas I'm going to share here, along with tips on each method:

1. Modelling

The first (and most important) step is to stop trying to persuade the child to eat vegetables, and instead, enjoy those vegetables yourself. The most powerful influence over children (especially young ones) is what they observe in the significant adults in their lives. No amount of persuasion can equal what they witness. And the best bit about this is, it is subconscious. The influence your actions, reactions, behavior and general being have on your child is completely involuntary - which means your child copies you unconsciously, and automatically. This gives you immense power. All you have to do is make sure you're using this power on purpose and not by default.

More detail on exactly how to achieve this below.

2. Preparation

Involve the child in buying and preparing the vegetables. Children have an almost irresistible urge to use, eat or drink anything they have enjoyed making themselves. It's hardwired into them. As long as the process is fun and enjoyable and creative, they'll find it really difficult not to eat the veggies they've prepared ;) See below for tips and ideas to make this process fun and creative without taking up too much time or making too much mess - for busy parents.

3. Little Green Fingers

Let them grow their own vegetables! This is a very powerful thing. There's only one thing better than buying and preparing your own vegetables, for children... and that's growing them, picking them and then preparing them. No child can resist eating something they've grown! :D Again, there are tips, ideas and details below - your child can grow vegetables in pots, so even if you don't have a garden, your child can still produce his own veg.

Photo by: Paul Brunskill

How to get kids to eat vegetables - Modelling
How to get kids to eat vegetables - Modelling

1. Modelling

How to get kids to eat vegetables by demonstration.

This is more powerful than you can imagine.... but there are a few pitfalls to avoid. Kids' instincts are very strong, and they can generally tell when you're not being genuine. Here are the main guidelines for making this work:

Don't try to persuade your child to eat the vegetables. Just enjoy them yourself - but in a very natural way. You don't need to make it too obvious, just enjoy the dish naturally - the difference here is that you may not have realized how much you enjoy green beans with melted butter, until you focus on the flavor. You don't need to do anything except become aware of how delicious they taste - you don't need to make noises or faces, just enjoy. The child will be able to pick it up - they're very sharp like that. ;) If it's not natural, the chid will not be fooled, and of course it won't work. ;)

Honesty is vital. For this purpose, only use vegetables you actually do enjoy.

If the child has said he doesn't like a particular vegetable (or group of vegetables), when you serve, don't offer that vegetable to him. Serve it for yourself, and anyone else in the family who likes it, and just enjoy it. Eventually.... if he's not offered it, and he sees you genuinely enjoying it... eventually he's not going to be able to resist asking to taste it again. Children's tastes change, and just because he didn't like it yesterday doesn't mean he won't grow to like it, especially if you're using the ideas on this page. ;)

When your child does ask for the vegetable, act as if it's perfectly normal. Don't mention the fact that he didn't used to like it. That doesn't matter now. Just go with the flow, and give him a small amount - make sure it's just a little bit. Rather let him ask for more than not want to finish it. What a wonderful scene - your child finally asks for green beans, having watched you enjoying them; you give him exactly three beans. He eats those and asks for more! Perfect. You've created a connection between desire and green beans. :)

Photo by: Ry Young

Extra Tip on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables:

A child doesn't need to eat every vegetable, as long as he gets a range of fruit and veg. If he hates broccoli, that's okay - his body won't suffer if he never eats broccoli. Rather than try and force it, let him eat a different veg or fruit which contains similar nutrition.

How to get kids to eat vegetables - Preparation
How to get kids to eat vegetables - Preparation

2. Preparation

How to get kids to eat vegetables by involving them in preparation.

With a little preparation of your own, this can be fairly easy. Naturally, what tasks the child performs depend on the age, but try and give him as much responsibility as his age allows. If possible, let him make decisions regarding the preparation of the vegetables - and certainly let him use his creativity in presentation and serving.

For a younger child, let him wash the vegetables, you of course do the chopping, and then let him use his hands to arrange the vegetables in the dish, or on the plate. Show him how to make funny faces using the vegetables. He could also add a little pinch of salt, or a smear of butter - whatever it is you're adding to the vegetables.

For older children let them pick out the vegetables, peel and chop them, lower them into the cooking pot or dish, drain them, and arrange them for serving.

Very, Very Important:

When doing this with vegetables the child has already said he doesn't like, do not serve any for him. Do not offer him any. Let him serve the dish he's prepared - for you and anyone else in the family who likes that vegetable... and if he serves some for himself, great, if not, don't mention it. Let it go. Just enjoy the vegetable yourself, and tell him what a great job he did and how delicious it is. Whatever you do, do not mention anything about him eating it. Let him prepare the dish again next time.... he will eventually not be able to resist tasting his handy-work. And then it will be his choice, and he will be more likely to develop a taste for the vegetable.

Taking it a step further:

If you can involve the child in buying the vegetables as well, so much the better. Let him help you choose the nicest carrots, show him how to look for ripe tomatoes, let him weigh the potatoes. The more involved he is, without the expectation of having to eat the vegetables (he's just helping you obtain and prepare them for the rest of the family to enjoy), the more carried away he'll get and the more likely he is to want to eat the result of his efforts. ;)

Extras

If the child is resistant to being involved in the preparation, you might like to get him a chef's hat, or an apron, or a special spoon that only he uses for cooking - something that is used only when he prepares food, and that he looks forward to using. This will help to add enjoyment, excitement and fun to the process.

Photo: Kids White Chef Hat $11.95

Extra Tip on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables:

A great trick: While your child is watching TV, reading, playing a game, or otherwise engaged, place next to him, a plate of cut up fruit and/or veg. Thin slices of apple or cucumber, segments of orange etc. The trick is to not ask him if he wants it. Just place it there. And see what happens ;)

Getting kids to eat vegetables - green fingers
Getting kids to eat vegetables - green fingers

3. Little Green Fingers

How to get kids to eat vegetables by letting them grow their own

I can't imagine any child who would be able to resist eating a vegetable they've grown themselves! :) And the great bonus of this is that once they get into eating their own home-grown veg, they'll be much more open to eating other vegetables as well.

If you're a gardener yourself, you'll of course be able to guide and help your child to grow his own veg. If you're not a gardener (like me ;) ) there are plenty of options for easy veggie growing for kids. Below are a few ideas - books.... and even kits.

For this method to work effectively, it's important to use the first two as well. And certainly of course, while you're waiting for the vegetables to grow so that your child can eat them, implement the above two steps as well.

Again, as with the previous two methods, don't try to persuade your child to eat the vegetables - let it be his idea. :)

Encourage him by showing an interest in the plants, and asking him how they're doing. Give plenty of attention and enthusiasm to the process. When it comes time to eat them, let him harvest them, and prepare them.

An Alternative to growing vegetables from scratch (or in addition to growing them from scratch), is to buy a pot of "living salad" from the store. You can get herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, and various other veg in little pots, already growing. Give one to your child to look after, and let him watch it grow - but without expecting him to eat it.

Let him pick the leaves or tomatoes for your meals, and let him prepare and present "his" produce - for you and the rest of the family. If he chooses to eat it as well (and I'm pretty sure he will - if not immediately then soon!), great, if not, give him time and let him enjoy the growing, harvesting and preparation. He'll get to the eating eventually. ;)

Photo by: Brach Anam

Miracle Gro Kid's Vegetable Garden

Miracle Gro Kid's Vegetable Garden
Miracle Gro Kid's Vegetable Garden
Miracle Gro Ready Set Go Terrarium for Kids Gardening Toy Unique Creative Gift for Vegetable Plant Gardeners Kids Children Boy Girl Unisex Grow Greens
Miracle Gro Ready Set Go Terrarium for Kids Gardening Toy Unique Creative Gift for Vegetable Plant Gardeners Kids Children Boy Girl Unisex Grow Greens

Perfect for the beginner, this ready-made vegetable garden makes it easy (and fast) for kids to grow their own vegetables. It contains everything needed, including a special mix in the soil which helps seedlings sprout in as little as two weeks. It comes with clear, easy-to-follow instructions, and a brilliant color-changing soil which indicates when it's time to water! Non-toxic and organic, this is a brilliant motivator for kids to enjoy the process from planting to eating vegetables. :)

 

"Eat Your Veg or No Desert" Debate

What Do You Think of "Eat Your Veg or No Desert"

Kid's Start Up Vegetable Garden

Kid's Start Up Vegetable Garden
Kid's Start Up Vegetable Garden

Extra Tip on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables:

Try not to serve your child any food he really hates. It only reinforces the negative association. And when you do give him veg, give him very small portions. Literally four peas, two slices of carrot etc. ... until he gets used to it. It's a psychological thing - and it's powerful.

FAQ's on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

2 Year Old Won't Eat Veg
2 Year Old Won't Eat Veg

My 2 year old won't eat vegetables

This is extremely common - it's part of being Two! :) Being two comes with changing taste buds, pushing boundries and a whole lot of exploration. The fact that your two year old won't eat vegetables now doesn't mean she never will... The only thing that will put her off vegetables permanently is stress and negativity associated with them.

Of course, different kids respond to different methods, and apart from following the three suggestions on this page, try the following as well:

* Allow her to choose from two veg. - no more, just two. For example, offer peas or broccoli. If she refuses both, let it go. She won't suffer from malnutrition overnight. The next day give her a choice of peas and green beans.

The trick though is to offer her litterally two peas and one small florette of broccoli, or two beans. This is just to start with. In fact, depending on the child, you could start with just one pea. You can build it later, but one pea is a lot more appealing to get started, psychologically. ;)

* Prepare the veg in a different way. There's no rule that says you have to eat your veg a specific way. Adding butter and salt and mixing it up can make all the difference. In fact, try a little bowl of melted butter and a little patch of salt so she can dip her veg. If you're concerned about her salt intake (although, unless she's eating an awful lot of it, at 2 it shouldn't be a problem), cut down on other salty snacks and foods - food she likes, like spaghetti, pizza, fries etc. cut down on the salt in those, and put a little more salt on veg.

Add a little sugar or honey to her vegetables. In fact, even a teaspoon of sugar in the water when cooking veg can also make it tastier to 2 year old tastebuds. Again, if you're concerned about her sugar intake, cut down on sugar in other foods and treats and let her have it in veg.

* Introduce new vegetables when she's really hungry. For example, when she's hungry and waiting for supper or lunch, tell her it's not ready yet, but she can have a little something in the meantime if she's reeeeally hungry. Be reluctant - let her think you're resisting giving her something. Tell her you don't want her to spoil her supper, and take a little while to consider whether to give it to her. Let her tell you just how hungry she is and how she absolutely can't wait till meal time. Then give her, for example, a few thin sticks of carrot, with a tastey dip - a dip you already know she likes. Or, a few green beens and a little saucer with melted butter and a patch of salt on it, for dipping. Of course, don't ask her if she wants vegetables - don't say what you're giving her, serve it on a plate or in a bowl, then hesitate to give it to her - let her want to almost grab it from you. It's soooo much more tempting - and tasty - when you nearly can't have it! ;)

* When you cook vegetables, try to make sure they're firm, not mushy - this ensures more of the nutrients survive the cooking process and make it into her body, and it also means it's more appealing - nicer to hold with her hands and dip.

* Most importantly, don't worry too much. As long as she's getting a varied diet, with fruit as well, and as long as she's not eating a lot of junk food instead of veg.... and as long as meal times are not stressful and negative, she will grow out of the no veg thing - especially if you follow the other advice on this page as well. :)

Photo by: Liensal

Spinach
Spinach

My 7 year old won't eat spinach. Even though I've told him about Popeye!

Ah, yes, spinach. Well, I did manage to get my son from hating spinach to it being his favorite vegetable! :) Of course, that won't necessarily be the case with your son, but here are my tips in case they help:

The first thing to realize is that spinach is not like water - we don't HAVE to have it. ;) If he doesn't like spinach after the suggestions below, don't worry about it, let him have something else that has similar nutrients. I didn't like spinach when I was a child (let's face it, very few kids do), but it's now one of my favorite vegetables.

Here's how I got my son to eat spinach when he was 7 years old and hated it:

Instead of boiling or steaming it, I cooked it with a little butter, salt and pepper, and I gave him literally just a half a teaspoon on his plate, while the rest of us had a normal portion and genuinely enjoyed it. My son asked what it was, I said it was spinach, but cooked differently, and that he might not like it because it was very salty - maybe too salty - and that's why I'd given him just a little bit, in case he didn't like it (he loves salt - as do most kids ;) ) - of course it wasn't very salty, it just had some salt in it, but I knew he wouldn't be able to resist trying it to see just how salty it was. Naturally, he announced that it wasn't too salty, and that in fact he could barely taste any salt at all.... and could he have some more spinach please! ;) Butter, salt and pepper make spinach (and in fact most vegetables) much tastier for young tastebuds (and older ones! ;) )

Spinach became his favorite vegetable - and he even eats it raw now - yes, without the salt and butter! ;) He's now 15 years old, and often takes a bag of baby spinach leaves to school as part of his packed lunch! - which his friends find hillarious, but he really enjoys snacking on them. :)

Photo by: Andreas Andersson

10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child's Behaviour
10 Simple Ways to Improve Your Child's Behaviour

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Do You Have Any Further Questions or Comments on How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables? - Share your own advice, or ask for help and suggestions.

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    • freesoftware28 profile image

      freesoftware28 5 years ago

      Great lens full of very useful information will have to give them a try.

    • MelissaRodgz profile image

      MelissaRodgz 5 years ago

      I think that there is some good advice here. It's very hard to get kids to eat when we try to force them. I just leave the food on the table and tell them to eat what they want. The only rule is that they have to try everything once.

    • Rankography profile image

      Rankography 5 years ago

      Good idea. My kids never have had problems with veggies. We stick to Edamame, Brocolli and Asparagus but they like all three.

    • profile image

      erydjava 5 years ago

      hohohoho

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      It would upset everyone's dinner when I was at a home watching a parent force a child to eat their veggies while leaving some on their own plate. Sometimes I think so much negative energy if focused on this topic that the child thinks of a vegetable as a punishment. You have shared some good advice that in time would bring around most kids.

    • thememorybooksh1 profile image

      thememorybooksh1 5 years ago

      Very Informative lens, Let me try it :) hope it will work on them

    • AlexTedford profile image

      AlexTedford 5 years ago

      Really awesome lens...keep up the good work!

    • profile image

      sukusin 5 years ago

      Dreat ideas shared by you ! I rember my own childhood without vegetables, totally dependednt on milk or anything else now finding it very diffficult to prepare my son to not to adopt the same.

    • VeseliDan profile image

      VeseliDan 5 years ago

      getting kids to eat vegetables can be really hard. Thank you for these wonderful tips!

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      These are some great tips, it can be a challenge to get kids to eat their vegetables especially when most adults don't like them either. You have some helpful suggestions.

    • profile image

      trendydad 5 years ago

      Making kids eat vegetables can be very hard to do, I'm an adult and unable to eat vegetable, maybe these tips will work for me....thanks nice lens

    • ViJuvenate profile image

      ViJuvenate 5 years ago

      @SteveKaye: I got your wry humor. LOL One came to my own mind that was even wryer, but I try to hold back. :oP

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Have you tried putting the vegetables in an unmarked box under the sink?

    • ViJuvenate profile image

      ViJuvenate 5 years ago

      There are some very good suggestions here! Some I'd not thought of before, so thank you!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Hey, I hope everyone knows I was kidding about the unmarked box. This lens offers a lot of great ideas.

    • Julia Morais profile image

      Julia Morais 5 years ago

      Amazing ideas. Need to get my nephew and niece to love veggies. Hope these tips work.

    • talkies lm profile image

      talkies lm 5 years ago

      thank you for sharing! these tips will come in handy with my 15 month old

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 5 years ago from Kent, UK

      My daughter-in-law started giving her baby vegetable purees from almost as soon as she was eating solids. Sometimes just a taste or two at a time. It worked! I have never seen such a great vegetable eater.

      For myself I had to rely on the grow-your-own method and it did work to some extent.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      Your suggestions have been very helpful. I've been lucky because my stepson will eat anything.

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 5 years ago

      Great tips. I say keep offering veggies. It takes many times for tastes to develop. My kids love hummus and veggies. Dips always help.

    • tjustleft profile image

      tjustleft 5 years ago

      Excellent lens and ideas! I grew up hating spinach and asparagus . It wasn't until I was a dad that I found it was canned I didn't like. Fresh is delicious :)

    • RachelDillin profile image

      RachelDillin 5 years ago

      Such great ideas! I totally agree that modeling makes a huge difference. Why would my kids eat something that I don't eat? Thanks for this lens.

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Ohhh Thank YOU! For featuring my article Container Gardening above!! I am honored to be included in this fabulous article. :)

    • yourselfempowered profile image
      Author

      Odille Rault 5 years ago from Gloucester

      @ismeedee: Thanks for the comment and like. :) Try getting your son to prepare the vegetables for a meal - if he's cooked it himself, he's unlikely to see even the slightest imperfection ;)

    • allenwebstarme profile image

      allenwebstarme 5 years ago

      When I was kid, I too hate to eat vegetables, later on I like everything to eat, it's happens in certain age period, you are giving some great tips.

    • profile image

      mumsgather 5 years ago

      I turn my vegetables into fritters. I know that is not exactly healthy but this way it gets eaten without fuss. Thanks for the tips.

    • profile image

      BradKamer 5 years ago

      Great lens. I think #3 - Grow Your own is the best tip. It works for my kids for some vegetables.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Forcing them is not the answer as you stressed here. When kids grow up seeing vegetables as part of adults' meal, they'll eat these. I understand that there kids who are picky so you just have to be creative and follow the tips in this lens.

    • donaldwilson profile image

      Don Wilson 5 years ago from Yakima, WA

      You have provide some very good suggestions. I don't know that they would have worked for my son, had we tried them, but may work for some. To this day, my 19 year old son still won't touch anything green on his plate.

      The only way we have found to get him to eat any veggies is to puree them into other foods. We put pureed peppers, onions, and tomatoes in our chili and we put pureed cauliflower in our mashed potatoes. The funny thing is, we don't even have to do it in secret. He can watch us make it and he's still ok with it. He just won't eat it with visible vegetable pieces.

      Don't worry, I can't figure him out either.

    • DogWatchColumbus profile image

      DogWatchColumbus 5 years ago

      Great lens and well deserved purple star!

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

      If you mix veggies with enough other likeable ingredients, kids will eat them. I make zucchini bread that the kids love. Feed them pumpkin pie. Cut veggies with dip.

    • peggygallyot profile image

      peggygallyot 5 years ago

      I cut it into tiny pieces and make it into a burger or soups.

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 5 years ago

      Great lens! I have to admit reading it has made me realise I've probably made too big of a deal out of eating veg to my youngest son- I think the mistake is I inadvertently compared him with my older two kids who have never fussed about eating their veg!!! What winds me up though is the way he picks out the slightest imperfection and won't eat it because of that! haha, kids know how to push our buttons!

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      It is really hard to get my son to eat vegetable. He will never tolerate or never give in even I tell him that I will give him something he likes if he eat vegetable.

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Congrats on your Purple Star and for sharing your tips!

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Start feeding them cooked veges on their high chair tray while you are feeding them their baby food. When they are old enough of course. Let them pick up the veges themselves and eat them in between bites of baby food. I think this helped with my son and he still loves veges to this day as an adult. Don't make eating veges an issue. Serve them just like any other food and they will more than likely accept them just fine. Great article and congrats on your purple star! :)

    • BunnyFabulous profile image

      BunnyFabulous 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Try them frozen. My 4 year old daughter will eat semi-frozen peas and she LOVES semi-frozen broccoli, but won't eat them cooked. Appeal to your child's interests. My daughter loves animals, so eating ones that her favorite animals eat helps. We call spinach 'giraffe leaves' and I break it into small bite-size pieces.

    • profile image

      ElizabethJohnson 5 years ago

      I really need to try this with my little cousin! Haha she's sooo spoiled, all she ever eats is mac and cheese!

    • profile image

      YourFirstTime 5 years ago

      Loved the resources you listed.

    • MarcNorris LM profile image

      MarcNorris LM 5 years ago

      Thankfully our children have always liked vegetables, so we haven't had any problems, but I'll pass this along to my brother - his children don't eat vegetables at all.

    • futurefocus57 profile image

      futurefocus57 5 years ago

      Start before they learn the word, NO. They don't know what anything is when they are young and learn from you. Since most people don't even come close to eating the 6-8 servings of vegetables and fruit per day that they are supposed to, they don't think to set these examples for their children, because they don't like them. I have vegetarian patients who don't eat enough vegetables...really. I know this is not the case sometimes, but most of the time it is.

    • i Dia1 profile image

      i Dia1 5 years ago

      This is always such a challenge in my house. Great suggestions.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You make it possible for success with everybody leaving the table with a smile and maybe even wanting more vegetables. I have a granddaughter that has actually always had a preference for them. Congratulations on that pretty purple star and for front page honors!

    • bigjoe2121 profile image

      bigjoe2121 5 years ago

      You would make a wonderful unschooler, if you aren't one already :)

    • elibenporat profile image

      elibenporat 5 years ago

      very interesting lens. Given how much my wife and I love salad, I suppose we will subconsciously convince or children to love salad as well.

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      I love your lens! It's fantastic! My suggestion: Alot of family recipe sites have 'fun vegetable presentation ideas' - for instance use slices of tomato, a piece of celery and a pickle to make a friendly face on top of a sandwich (a favorite when I was young!). Or use some toothpicks to make a carrot into a 'Carrot Man'. Thanks for sharing!

    • avigarret profile image

      avigarret 5 years ago

      What a lovely lens! Maybe I only wish my parents could read this when I was a kid, I still have a lot of problems with the veggies.