I often hear from parents that they struggle to get their kids to eat more veggies. It’s a common struggle but there are ways that could help increase their veggie intake.
Sneak them in
One way to get them to eat more veg is to sneak it into the food they like. You can blend all kinds of veggies into pasta sauce.
Another way of sneaking them in is by adding them to smoothies. For smoothies I’d keep to veggies like leafy greens, beetroot, carrot and zucchini.
One big drawback to this approach is having the child potentially finding out and feeling tricked, so it’s best to do with much smaller children (1). Another drawback is that the vegetable amount will be relatively small, so while great to get some added veggies in, it shouldn’t be relied on as the primary means of vegetable intake.
Get them involved
This tip isn’t always practical, but on the days that you have a little bit of time when it comes to making your meal get the little one to lend a hand. Research shows that by getting children involved in food preparation is a great way to encourage them to eat more vegetables (2, 3). You can even get them to choose between a handful of recipes, this way you can make sure it’s quick and easy to make.
By getting them involved and interested in preparing the vegetables, they feel a sense of ownership. It also creates a positive association with eating vegetables and make them want to eat more veggies.
Add more veggies to their plate
It might seem a bit counterproductive by adding even more veggies to their plate if they’re already not eating it all, but a new study has found that by increasing the amount of vegetables on their plate, kids actually eat more (4). They’re still thinking they’re leaving some of the veggies on the plate, but by adding more to the plate they actually eat more of it.
Plant some veggies
If you have space outside in a garden or even in some pots inside, research shows that getting kids involved in growing their own veggies increases their intake (5). Once again children feel like they have some ownership over their meals as they’ve chosen and grown their own vegetables. The same research also shows that children are more likely to advocate eating veggies at home when involved in growing their own.
Make sure you eat vegetables
Children mimic their parents’ behaviour, including what they eat at mealtime. Studies show that having parents regularly eat vegetables can have a positive influence on their children and increase their vegetable intake (6, 7). So by making the same vegetables for yourself and your children at mealtimes you can help increase the chance of them eating them (8).
I know, the age old saying of don’t play with your food is coming to mind, but it turns out food play can actually help kids eat more fruit and veg. For really young kids, introducing vegetables can be just as tricky, so a great way to do so is to allow them to play with their food (10). Food play encourages children to taste the different vegetables on their own terms and explore the different textures, both through touch as well as taste.
You might be tempted to leave a certain vegetable off the plate if your child hated it the first time, but research shows that repeated exposure to vegetables actually increases the likelihood that your child will eventually eat it (11, 12, 13). It’s important for children to learn the different flavours and sometimes that takes time, especially when it comes to the more bitter vegetable varieties. This strategy has shown to be quite effective with toddlers.
Hopefully these tips provide you with a few options to try at your next mealtime. The important thing is to try and create a positive experience around eating vegetables. Too many of us have bad memories of being told we can’t leave the table until we’ve finished all the food on our plate. Allowing children to explore, getting them involved and allowing them to have a sense of ownership are all good options to get them to hopefully eat more veg. Also making sure that you practice what you preach and making sure your plate has vegetables on them is also important. It’s worth noting that sometimes your child might just not like the taste of a particular vegetable and that’s ok too. If they’re eating plenty of other veggies, it doesn’t really matter.