Nearly every parent I talk to will tell me that they wish their kids ate more veggies. Some will say, “my child eats NO veggies” and even more often I hear, “my kid is super picky, how can I get them to eat a wider variety of veggies”. So, you’re not alone! This is a challenge we all face, myself included.
Before my daughter turned two, she would eat pretty much everything we put in front of her – onions, celery, sauerkraut and lots of variety. Basically if we ate it, she ate it. I had a feeling that it might not last given what I’d heard from other parents. It makes sense though because a big part of a child’s development and establishing independence is having an opinion. They learn to assert their independence by saying no to certain things and in this case, saying no to certain fruits and veggies.
We all want our kids to eat more plant-based foods such as fruits and veggies because they are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, fibre, complex carbohydrates and thousands of phytonutrients.
So, on that note, here are my top strategies to help you to do just that. Before I get into it, I want to tell you that you’re a great parent for even taking the time to read this post in the first place. Establishing healthy eating habits when our children are young has life-long benefits. Children who eat healthier are more likely to grow into healthy adults. So don’t give up on your efforts! You’re doing a great job!
Here are my top tips for getting your kids to eat more fruits and veggies.
1. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies yourself.
You don’t really need me to tell you this but I’m going to tell you anyway because children observe and emulate what you do! If you want your child to make healthy eating choices, you need to be the example. From snacking to main meals, make sure your plate has plenty of variety. I suggest at least half of your plate at breakfast, lunch and dinner is something from the plant-kingdom. For example, at breakfast you may toss a large handful of spinach into a smoothie or like I do into scrambled eggs. As a snack, you can slather sliced apple with almond butter or serve enjoy cheese with a sliced pear instead of crackers.
2. Buy lots of variety when you grocery shop.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of buying the same fruits like oranges and bananas as well as veggies such as broccoli and lettuce every week because you know this is what your family will eat. However, if you always buy the same fruits and veggies, when you finally buy something different, your child may resist because they’ve gotten used to the norm. That being said, don’t give up!
Slowly start introducing new foods. Start with one new fruit or veggie every week and build from there. A child needs to try a food anywhere from 3 to 7 times before they like it and it’s okay for them to dislike a food too. Do you love every single fruit or veggie? I bet you don’t. I remember being so confused as to why my daughter wouldn’t eat butternut squash when she loves sweet potato. Rather than let it get to me, I finally had to just let it go and accept that she simply doesn’t like it right now. Plain and simple!
3. Prepare them in a variety of ways.
If you’ve experimented with broccoli and your child just isn’t into it, consider preparing it in a different way. I remember when my daughter Vienna refused to eat raw or steamed broccoli I was about to give up and then I realized that raw and steamed broccoli isn’t my favourite either! I would much rather eat roasted or baked broccoli with a little bit of sea salt and olive oil; so that’s what I did, and suddenly broccoli became one of her very favourite veggies!
Another example is beets. I love beets and really wanted Vienna to like them because they are a rich source of fibre and a whole variety of vitamins and minerals. She wasn’t into roasted beets but she absolutely loves raw beets, especially in my beet apple slaw or my Beet Cashew Dip!
The other way I get Vienna to eat more fruits and veggies is by offering her Love Child Organics Purees. She LOVES them!! They are super convenient and I often bring her one when I pick her up from preschool. It makes me feel good to know that, not only is she getting a variety of fruits and veggies, but superfoods too, like quinoa and acerola!
4. Get them involved.
This is my favourite strategy to share with parents because getting your child involved in food prep has many benefits beyond establishing healthy eating habits. The best part about cooking with your child is that you can give them your undivided attention and it’s a wonderful opportunity for connection.
This is especially true for toddlers and younger kids (teenagers are a whole different ballgame) but having your full attention on them is pure joy for them. The best gift you can give your child is your attention. My daughter LOVES making these Carrot Cake Cookies with me (because, well – who doesn’t love cookies?!), and it’s great because we can talk about all the different ingredients we’re using.
There are more habits worth mentioning, but I will keep them short and sweet:
- Serve vegetables when they are starving! Well not starving, but super hungry. When they are really hungry, they will be less picky. You may not reach for an apple as your go-to snack all the time, but if you’re super hungry, you’ll probably eat anything, right?
- Take your child grocery shopping with you. Many grocery stores now have child-size grocery carts! Many children love being a part of this experience
- Give them a choice! You can do this both at the grocery store and at home. When you’re grocery shopping you could say “hey do you want butternut squash or sweet potato”? Kids love to assert their power and independence!
- Have a snack shelf in the fridge that your child can reach with cut up fruits and vegetables
- Keep a grocery list handy and add to it during the week, then you can remind yourself to buy a new or different fruit or vegetable you haven’t tried before
- Talk to them about what they like and dislike about certain foods
- Serve vegetables with dips like hummus, pesto or plain yogurt
- And finally, don’t pressure them to try something new. Sometimes they will just try things on their own.
I truly hope this gives you some solid ideas for how to get your child to eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables!
Joy McCarthy is the Founder of Joyous Health, a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and best-selling author. A trusted nutrition expert, Joy has been featured in hundreds of publications both online and in print; and is a regular health expert on TV. Through her innate drive to inspire others, Joy has created numerous online programs and eBooks under JOYOUS U and is a faculty member at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. Joy lives in Toronto with her husband Walker and their daughter Vienna.