Vegetables are nutrient-rich foods that come in several colors, tastes, textures, and forms. Besides adding variety to your diet, they offer bioactive components beneficial for long-term health.
However, while you know why veggies are essential for health, explaining this to your young child can be tricky. Let alone explaining, making children eat veggies is a real challenge for several parents. Thus, knowing some tips to get your child to eat veggies without much fuss could be helpful.
This post shares some simple tips on how to make your child eat veggies across meals with much ease. But before we get into the tips, let’s learn the amount of veggies a child needs to eat in a day.
How Much Vegetables Should A Child Eat In A Day?
Experts recommend children eat one to three servings of vegetables each day (1). But to better understand your child’s vegetable requirements per day, the USDA’s MyPlate suggests the following plan (2).
USDA MyPlate Recommendation
|Age (years)||Cup equivalent (per day)|
|2 to 4||1 to 2|
|5 to 8||1½ to 2½|
Feeding one to two cups of vegetables in a day to young children isn’t easy. So, it is good to serve the recommended amount in small portions across meals.
Note: An active child needs to eat more food to meet their energy needs. And thus, their total veggies intake will depend on the total calorie intake. For instance, an older child consuming 2,200 to 2,400kcal a day would need three cups equivalent of veggies per day (3).
Why Children Should Eat Veggies
Vegetables contain several nutrients, each of which serves a function in the body. Besides, veggies have functional aspects that add value to the diet. Here’s why your child needs veggies in their daily diet (2) (4).
- Balances calorie intake: Most vegetables are low in calories. As a part of an overall diet, they balance the total calorie intake. Monitoring children’s calorie intake is vital to avert chronic health issues, such as childhood obesity.
- Offers several micronutrients: Vegetables give several micronutrients, such as folate, potassium, magnesium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and E. So, add various colorful, seasonal veggies to the diet. Remember, there’s no single veggie that can offer you all the nutrients, so eating a variety is imperative.
- Offers ample fiber: Vegetables contain dietary fiber that adds bulk to the stool and keeps constipation away. Besides, the fiber acts as prebiotics that feed healthy microorganisms (probiotics) in the gut, imparting several long-term benefits, such as robust immunity.
- Provides bioactive compounds: Lycopene in tomato, anthocyanins in pumpkin, beta-carotene in carrots, and allium in leeks and onions are a few bioactive compounds with antioxidant effects. Antioxidants combat free radicals and enhance overall health by lowering the risk of chronic diseases, such as some types of cancer and diabetes (5) (6).
Vegetables aren’t the only foods that offer all these nutrients, but they contribute to the diet’s overall nutritional value. In the next section, we give you some practical tips to help you make your child eat veggies with minimum hassles.
Tips To Make Your Child Eat Veggies
- Start eating healthy early. Introducing your child to different veggies from a young age can help them adjust to the food’s taste and digestibility. Also, it lets a child accept new or unfamiliar foods with relative ease. So, right from when you begin weaning your child, gradually introduce different, age-appropriate veggies to them.
- Be patient and persistent. Making drastic changes to your child’s diet isn’t practical. Instead, train your child to eat veggies gradually. Introduce one new vegetable at a time and give them ample time to get accustomed to it. Remember, taste preferences change over time, and a young child may need to eat a veggie several times before accepting it.
- Be a role model. Eat veggies daily across different meals and encourage your child to do the same. Never make faces or show dislike for a particular veggie in front of your child. Remember, children, especially young children, mimic your behavior. So, be their role model and make healthy choices while eating at home or outside in a restaurant.
- Plan and cook meals with your child. Actively involve your children in planning a day’s menu. Let them select the veggies that the family would eat in a day, and based on the selection, prepare healthy and wholesome recipes. While cooking, assign age-appropriate tasks such as washing veggies, chopping, and sauteing or stir-frying. It will teach them how veggies add color, texture, and flavor to a dish. Also, they will understand that every vegetable is unique and equally important for making a healthy diet.
- Go grocery shopping together. It will help the child see different colors and shapes of veggies and acquaint them with their versatility. Also, it will offer you an opportunity to share with them about each veggie’s specific benefits. While sharing the benefits, do not forget to emphasize the importance of having a balanced diet.
- Visit a vegetable farm. It allows your child to see how veggies are grown and harvested, building their interest in them. Let them pick the veggies and prepare a dish. It will encourage them to eat veggies with enthusiasm. Alternatively, you can start a veggie garden in your backyard and pique your child’s interest in growing vegetables and eating fresh produce.
- Include veggies in all the meals. Children should have three main meals and two to three snacks in a day. Ensure you add various vegetables to all or most of these meals. Most children like dishes such as pasta, lasagna, spaghetti, pizza, and fries. Turn these recipes healthier by adding loads of colorful veggies in them.
- Offer multiple options. Prepare two dishes with different veggies and ask your child to select one. It gives your child the autonomy to choose what they want to eat. Use different veggies every day so that your child doesn’t pick only veggies with similar tastes.
- Serve a veggie in different forms. Steaming, boiling, sauteing, stir-frying, pureeing, mashing, grilling, and roasting are some cooking methods to try. Cooking a veggie using different techniques adds variety to the diet. Besides, it lets your child explore various textures and tastes of a specific veggie.
- Make veggies appealing and flavorful. Try different ideas where you can use colorful veggies to present the food in unique shapes and patterns. For instance, you can serve rice with veggies in a bunny shape or place veggies on the omelet to make it look like a rainbow. Also, add different herbs and spices, such as oregano, nutmeg, cinnamon, and basil, to enhance the flavor.
- Feed veggies first. As the child would be hungry at the beginning of the meal, serve them veggies first. Children tend to eat foods they like first and then leave the foods they dislike. So, asking them to eat veggies first resolves their habit of eating other foods first and avoiding veggies.
- Plan vegetable snacks. Make vegetable snacks interesting and appealing by trying different recipes. Stir-fried veggies with colorful dips, such as beetroot dip, veggie-loaded nachos, veggie stuffed pita bread, mini veggie sandwich, and burgers, are some good choices to try. You can also serve homemade vegetable juice occasionally. Make these healthy snacks easily accessible to them so that the child can eat them whenever hungry.
- Avoid commercial vegetable snacks. Parents often use commercial products to add variety to snacks. But, avoid them, as these products often have artificial colorings and flavors that do not provide any nutritional benefits.
- Replace meat with veggies. For instance, in meatball soup, you can either add veggies or replace the meatballs with veggie balls made up of veggies and cottage cheese/tofu. While replacing meat in some dishes is okay, do not entirely remove it from your child’s diet entirely. Remember, lean meat is a good source of high-quality protein for people who eat non-vegetarian foods.
- Serve salads often. Make it a habit of serving salad at least once every day. Involve children in preparing different salads, and teach them about salad dressings and ways to use them to make a salad more tasty and appealing. Feed salads to your child from a young age to make them adjust to it.
- Don’t give in to tantrums or whining. For instance, if your child dislikes a particular vegetable and denies eating food, don’t make a separate dish for them. Instead, be stern, and tell them that the food you have made is for the entire family.
- Praise your child whenever they eat veggies. It is crucial, especially for a picky eater who has just begun eating veggies in some meals. You can say, “I appreciate your efforts,” “I am happy that you are eating healthy,” or anything that can make your child feel appreciated.
- Don’t sneak veggies into a dish. Doing so might get your picky eater to eat veggies today, but it won’t help them learn long-term, healthy eating habits. Instead, let your child gradually eat the food they dislike until they develop a taste for it. You can also try mixing the veggie that your child dislikes with the veggie they love eating. For instance, you can mix butternut squash with broccoli to make a sumptuous soup if your child loves eating squash and dislikes broccoli. Here are some more kid-friendly recipes for picky eaters that you can try making with your child.
- Never eat on the go. Instead, sit calmly with your child and observe them eating. It will help you identify any specific issue that your child might be experiencing eating a particular veggie. For instance, a child may be refusing to eat salads or raw veggies due to chewing and swallowing issues.
- Avoid force-feeding. Understand that force-feeding brings about negative food experiences due to which a child may develop fear and anxiety associated with mealtimes. So, allow your child to skip veggies in one or two meals occasionally. Then, explain to them that eating veggies in each meal is crucial and help them develop that habit gradually.
- Abstain from punishing and bribing. Punishing and bribing keep the child away from learning about veggies. Instead, they make eating veggies a task that your child does to avoid punishment or get a reward. So, talk to your child, understand why they don’t like a particular veggie, and find a solution. For instance, if a child doesn’t enjoy eating boiled capsicum, serve them roasted or grilled capsicum.
Your child should be encouraged to eat vegetables at a very young age. If they are fussy about eating veggies, involve them in meal planning and preparation, take them for grocery shopping, teach them ways to make healthy choices, and try the tips mentioned in this post. Be patient and persistent in your efforts to help your child gradually develop a liking for veggies.