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Encouraging Toddlers to Eat Vegetables

By: Catherine Gough - Updated: 15 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Vegetables Toddlers Food Eating Healthy

Toddlers are notoriously fussy eaters and vegetables usually come top of the list of things they won't eat. But 'vegetables' covers a huge range of foods and most children will like at least a few, given the opportunity.

Start Early

Weaning is a great time to introduce all kinds of vegetables. They make perfect finger foods raw or lightly cooked and delicious purees mashed or blended. Commercial baby foods are often very smooth and bland, so preparing vegetables at home as much as possible encourages children to enjoy a wide range of tastes and textures right from the start.

Try Raw Vegetables as Well as Cooked Ones

Many children dislike the taste of cooked vegetables. For example, they may enjoy cauliflower, carrots and courgettes more if they are raw or only very lightly cooked. These are great served with a dip like hummus or guacamole, together with cherry tomatoes and sticks of cucumber and celery. Children enjoy eating with their fingers, so serving vegetables like this can make them more attractive. They also make good snacks which can be served alongside pieces of fruit at any time of day.

Make Vegetables Tempting

Giving exciting names to dishes and individual ingredients - or even making pictures with them - can help to make mealtimes fun and food more interesting. In Lauren Child's book I will Not Ever, Never Eat a Tomato, Charlie and Lola make this into a fine art, with carrots becoming 'orange twiglets', mashed potatoes 'cloud fluff' and peas 'green drops from Greenland'. Children also love bright colours. A few green beans, some fingers of baby corn and some slices of red pepper might be more appetising than a larger serving of one vegetable. Children may prefer also their vegetables with grated cheese on top, in a sauce or with tomato ketchup.

Change the Venue

Although it's good to get into a routine of having family meals, there's no harm in ringing the changes a bit. Having the occasional picnic, using a doll's tea set, eating in a tent in the back garden - all these can help liven up meal times and take the focus off what's being eaten. Getting teddy to eat his broccoli can be quite an incentive to eat your own!

Let them Help

Young children love helping out and may be more inclined to eat if they have helped to get the meal ready. They could:
  • do small jobs like washing vegetables, setting the table or stirring the pot
  • make their own sandwiches from a selection of fillings
  • decorate pizzas with chopped vegetables and grated cheese

Be Adventurous

It's easy to assume that toddlers won't like strong foods. But many children love the taste of watercress, lamb's lettuce, radishes, spring onions and even vegetable curries. Let them try out different flavours and decide for themselves.

Stay Cool and Set a Good Example

Of course we all want our children to eat well, but it's best not to make an issue out of eating vegetables. Toddlers can be quite militant and may refuse point blank if they sense their parents' anxiety. Forcing children to eat, bribing them or withdrawing favourite foods as a punishment, are all techniques that are likely to backfire and turn mealtimes into a battleground.

It's fine to praise children for trying new foods or for making an attempt to eat their vegetables. But eating together as a family is often the best way to show children that vegetables are tasty. If everyone is tucking in and helping themselves to seconds of vegetables, they'll get the message without being told.

Become a Master of Disguise

Vegetables don't have to look like vegetables to do children good. Ideas to try include:
  • mixing carrot juice with other fruit juices
  • grating courgettes and carrots into cakes - it makes them deliciously moist
  • pureeing vegetables with tomatoes to make pasta sauce

Don't Give Up

Even the most patient, creative parents can feel defeated by a stubborn toddler. But they can take heart. Even if a child eats nothing but peas, most of the nutrients found in other vegetables can be found elsewhere - particularly in fruit. Children do change and become less faddy as they get older, so if parents persevere their efforts will pay off.

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