I work both in an adult medicine and pediatric clinic and one of the common issues our parents face is that their kid doesn’t like to eat veggies. I reassure them that this is normal, but also point out that it is hard to be healthy with a diet void of vegetables.
In fact, the USDA recommends that we all eat vegetables, everyday. At different age ranges that intake varies, but here’s a general daily guideline for kids:
2-3 year olds: 1 cup of veggies
4-8 year olds: 1.5 cups of veggies
9-13 year olds: 2 to 2.5 cups of veggies
14-18 year olds: 2.5 to 3 cups of veggies
If you find your child isn’t eating that amount of veggies per day, here are some tips that have worked for the families I work with.
1. Focus on what they like. Does your child really not like any vegetables. At all? Parents often say yes, but when I turn around and ask the kid: do you like broccoli, do you like carrots, do you like cauliflower, etc., the answer is usually yes to at LEAST a couple of vegetables. This is a great place to start. Reward your child for eating vegetables they like and encourage them to venture out and try a few more veggies. It often helps if you explain that veggies will help them grow and be strong just like mom and dad.
2. Let them have a choice. Many kids want to feel like they have a sense of power over what they eat. When it comes to veggies, offer two choices at mealtimes. For example, let them choose between carrots and broccoli or asparagus and cauliflower. Being a part of the decision making process may be all your kid needs to try something new.
3. Make it fun. I love love love this Vegetable Discovery Table from Cook Smarts. I even created a Spanish version since 95% of the pediatric patients that I work with are Spanish speaking. The idea is that each time your child tries even a bite of a new vegetable, they can add a sticker to the chart. Red = they didn’t like it. Yellow = so so. And green means it’s a go.
4. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. And again. And again and even again x 10. Most kids need to be exposed to a new food 10-15 times before they start to tolerate, or even like it.
Don’t give up if your kid doesn’t like vegetables on the first tasting, as it will usually take several before they are open to more.
5. Be a good example. A lot of times parents will complain that their child does not like x,y or z, but when we get down to the nitty gritty, the parent is not actually eating a vegetable rich diet either. Remember that often times your kids will follow your lead, so if you are eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet, they are more likely to also.
6. Sneak ’em in. Okay, so sometimes nothing you do works. In these instances, I opt for the sneak in. A great places to start is a smoothie. I co-teach a pediatric healthy eating group with one of the pediatricians at my clinic and we make different healthy recipes each week. A couple of months ago I made my green smoothie recipe that consisted of almond milk, non-fat plain Greek yogurt, pineapples and spinach. The kids had no idea that there was spinach in the smoothie and you know what? They gulped it down with a quickness. Other ways to sneak in veggies are shredding carrots and adding them to pasta and pizza (like the example above). Or pureeing onions, peppers, garlic, carrots, broccoli and adding to your favorite soup or pasta sauce. It works!
7. Save it for later. Okay, so maybe Jimmy is not in the mood for his vegetables now. That’s okay. Put them in the fridge and save them for when he is hungry again. When his stomach starts growling, pull them out and offer them again. Make sure that he has at least a few bites before letting him have any treats or dessert.
I hope this was helpful. If you try a few things from this list, let us know if they worked!