Even at the earliest ages, it's not uncommon for children to boycott vegetables. When getting your toddler — or your older child — to eat his greens feels like a battle of wills, coax your picky eater into trying his veggies by experimenting with the strategies below, all suggested by Circle of Moms members who've been through this stage.
1. Dunk or Hide
Circle of Moms member Kerry says that if her son had a choice, he'd "survive on mac(aroni) and cheese, graham crackers and hot dogs." So she blends fruits and vegetables and puts the purees in favorite foods like pancakes and spaghetti sauce. "I still offer [vegetables] openly with every meal," she adds, in case her son is unusually adventurous and decides to eat them solo.
Michelle is another mom who purees and hides. She shares that vegetables can be hidden in basically anything you cook — casseroles, spaghetti sauce, smoothies and juices, "scrambled eggs, shepherd's pie, meatloaf, muffins, you name it."
If you don't like the idea of subterfuge, consider Nichole's approach. She makes a game of letting her 22-month-old dunk his vegetables into different dips like hummus, peanut butter, yogurt, applesauce and ranch dressing. "At first they may turn up their noses," she says, "but eventually being allowed to dip becomes a sort of game. I offered carrots and peppers a million times and one day he just dove in!"
2. Play With Food
Similarly, Fern says making a game of tasting vegetable flavors encourages toddlers to eat. "I asked him to take a bite and close his eyes and really taste the sweetness," she says of introducing her older son to bell peppers. "Then the next bite I said, 'See if you can taste the saltiness, and then sourness.' Having him explore the flavor to its fullest has helped him to enjoy them." She also says serving vegetables in different forms can give your toddler a taste for cruciferous foods. "Some kids prefer raw versus cooked. My kids loved frozen veggie mix," which her family affectionately calls "vegisicles." (Related: 7 Veggie Dishes Kids Love)
Kimberly says letting toddlers arrange vegetables into fun shapes and pictures makes eating vegetables appealing. "Sometimes I think kids just get bored with the same thing, so even just making them look fun on the plate makes a big difference." She suggests faces made from carrot eyes, green bean eye brows, and cauliflower noses, or even snowmen made from mashed potatoes. "My son is 21 months and loves being able to decorate his meal [and] then enjoy it."
3. Grow a Garden
Toddlers sometimes will expand their palates for vegetables when they know where food comes from. Kylie suggests taking your toddler to a fresh produce shop or farmers' market so show her all the colors and help you pick the veggies to buy. "I think when kids are involved with the process of growing, buying and cooking, the veggies have more appeal."
Twila agrees. "My son wouldn't eat veggies for a long time. Then one day we were in the garden picking green beans and he grabbed one out of the bowl and ate it. So we started trying other raw veggies. He loved it!"
"Plus," as Jenni points out, "veggies fresh from the garden taste ten times better than store bought."
4. Save the Best for Last
When games and gardening don't work, Kate suggests moms provide an incentive, like dessert. This has worked for Mel. Her daughter is very quick to eat whatever she puts in front of her because she puts dessert "on the table next to it, so she can see it." She explains that "If she doesn't eat dinner quick enough, she doesn't get dessert and she's made to watch everyone else have theirs."
Kate serves her food in courses, starting with her child's least favorite. "To get to the next course, you have to have four bites of the first, etc.," she says.
5. Keep Trying
Finally, Heather reminds moms to keep trying. "Toddlers are very fickle in their tastes, and I think we can create a picky eater if we throw up our hands and just start counting ketchup as a vegetable." Although her daughter turns up her nose to anything green, Heather says she continues to put veggies on the plate. "And often she surprises me and will start eating it if it sits on her plate long enough."
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