Ask Amelia Nutrition Tips

5 Ways to Get Picky Kids to Eat Veggies

picky eater

Question: My kids will eat most fruit, but we really struggle with veggies.  This is affecting our whole family, as my husband and I aren’t eating as many veggies now either.  How can we get our family out of this rut?

Answer: While some kids are just plain old picky no matter what, most have impressionable food tastes.  So often times, the situation you’re describing appears when kids learn that if they complain about foods they don’t initially like, someone will make them something else.  It’ll be an adjustment to get out of this habit, but it is definitely possible.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Prepare one meal, that kids can either choose to eat or not eat.  Avoid getting into the habit of making different meals for different tastes, as then kids have no motivation to try anything new (not to mention it’s more work for you).  There may be some complaining and some dinners missed, but after an adjustment period, this will likely end.  And until then, no one will starve.
  2. Involve kids in shopping and meal planning.  Turn veggie-eating into an adventure by letting your kids loose at the farmer’s market or in the produce section and allowing them to pick whatever one thing they want each week.  Then involve them in the preparation of their item.  They’ll be much more likely to try and enjoy whatever they’ve selected.
  3. Incorporate more veggies into kid-friendly recipes. Mix pureed squash into Mac ‘n cheese, shredded zucchini into meatballs or meatloaf, and finely chopped mushrooms and carrots into pasta sauce, like in this recipe.  Don’t think of this as hiding veggies, but rather presenting them in a more appealing way.
  4. Appeal to kid tastes. Kids often like crunchy raw veggies with dips, or cooked veggies topped with cheese or butter.  No need to fight this!  Try serving this type of thing at meal time and you’ll have more success.  Here are some easy dip recipes, or you can go crazy and make this Cheetos-topped broccoli (replace cream with fat-free evaporated milk), or try these stuffed sweet potatoes, which can be altered to suit your family’s taste.
  5. Develop a family rule about dessert. If your family enjoys dessert, pick 2-3 days a week when everyone will have dessert together, regardless of whether they ate their dinner.  (Some nutritionists might disagree with me here, but I think it’s best not to demonize certain foods or use foods as reward, so avoid the “you can have dessert if you eat 2 more bites of ___” conversation).  Serve desserts that incorporate fruit, like apples dipped in caramel sauce, vanilla frozen yogurt topped with berries, or chocolate-banana smoothies…this way, desserts are just another way to get good stuff into your kids’ bellies.

It may take some time and patience to implement these ideas, but it will eventually become habit.  And who knows, soon your kids may be eagerly chomping into plain broccoli like my little friend, Brooklynn (above).

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  • Kim
    January 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Great article. Perfect for many families, including mine!!

  • kari lauritzen
    January 31, 2011 at 10:13 am

    it’s been my experience that involving kids in the process of food opens them up to trying new things. if you take them to the farmers’ market or the grocery store and let them see, feel, smell, and pick out what looks interesting, then come home and make it with them, they are much more willing to eat it. and don’t underestimate the power of peer pressure: if their friends are eating it, they will want it too. that goes both ways, with healthy food and junk food. i know a little boy who LOVES dried seaweed simply bc his 4 year old girlfriend eats it on their playdates. surround them with healthy food and eventually they’ll start making healthy (and delish!) choices!

  • christa
    January 31, 2011 at 10:25 am

    my 6 year old nephew loves to cook with me; it makes eating exciting and gives him a sense of pride. the cheeto topped broccoli is sure to be a hit with him! these tips work not only for kids who are scared of veggies, but for grown-ups who don’t like ’em either! the squash mac ‘n cheese is delicious and easy to make – i’ve made is several times.

  • Deana
    January 31, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Great idea to add squash to Mac and cheese! I will definitely try this I think my 14 month old son will live it!

  • Dana
    January 31, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the great ideas to help keep me and my family healthy! I can’t stand how every restaurant has a kids menu with chicken strips and hotdogs on them – I know kids will eat more healthy options and I agree that involving them in the process is key.

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