15 Creative Ways to Get Your Picky Toddler to Eat Vegetables
Picky eating is a toddler right of passage. Many children go through a picky eating phase somewhere between 1 and 3 years old. The good news is that it doesn’t last forever. The bad news is that it’s incredibly frustrating for parents.
All three of my kids were fairly good eaters as babies. But without fail, every single one of them went through a phase as a toddler where they didn’t want to let a single vegetable pass their lips.
I developed a few strategies to get my toddlers to eat vegetables. The goal was to never make it into a battle, but to present a variety of different vegetables in a variety of different ways, in hopes that they would eat some of it. Our philosophy is that it’s our job to offer a variety of nutritious food, and our child’s job to decide how much they eat, if any (read more about Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility here).
Below are some of the strategies that proved most successful for us to get our toddlers to eat vegetables. These are a mix of food ideas, preparation tips, and general advice that worked for us when our toddlers were at the height of their picky eating phase.
As always, remember that I’m not a dietician, I’m not a nutritionist, and I’m not a doctor – I’m just a Mom who’s struggled through toddler pickiness three times. If you have concerns about your child’s nutritional intake, please consult your family doctor or pediatrician.
This isn’t an original idea, but it’s worth mentioning, because it’s not uncommon for these baby food pouches to be the only vegetables that toddlers are willing to eat. If this is the case for your child, don’t worry! No, they shouldn’t be your child’s only source of vegetables, but at least you can feel better about getting some nutrition into them. If you want more control over the ingredients, make your own purée and use a reusable pouch.
2. Offer vegetables before a meal
My kids are more likely to eat vegetables when they’re hungry, and vegetables are the only option. I often serve raw veggies as a side with dinner, and will offer them to any kids who are looking for a snack while I prep dinner. This is also an excellent way to keep toddlers entertained in their highchair, instead of underfoot in the kitchen!
3. Green smoothies
Green smoothies have been a hit with all of my kids, and are a fantastic way to get foods into them that they wouldn’t touch otherwise. Our go-to favourite is based on Jugo Juice’s Mighty Kale smoothie. It’s a mix of frozen pineapple and mango, greens (spinach and kale if we have it, or just spinach works fine), juice (apple and orange), and water. You can skip the juice and increase the water if you want to, and add plain greek yogurt for some extra protein.
4. Broccoli & cheddar cheese nuggets
These broccoli and cheddar cheese nuggets from Wholesome Baby Food were a hit with my oldest as a toddler, and probably the last time he enthusiastically ate broccoli!
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5. Offer different vegetables and different preparations
It’s easy to fall into a rut when your child is rejecting every single vegetable you put in front of them. After all, why bother with the time and energy of preparing something different, when it’s all going to end up on the floor?
I remember being at a party when my oldest was a toddler. This was at the height of his picky eating phase, and I was admittedly struggling to get him to eat any vegetables. At the party, he found a veggie tray and devoured handfuls of red peppers. I don’t know if it was the novelty of the preparation, or the novelty of the environment, but from that day on, red peppers have been one of his favourite vegetables.
The lesson? Keep trying. Try different vegetables – even the ones that you don’t like. Try them roasted, steamed, pan fried, and raw. Keep offering different options and you might just stumble on something they enjoy.
6. Yogurt mix-ins
Greek yogurt is one of the most reliable protein sources for my kids. For toddlers, I increase the nutritional value by choosing plain greek yogurt, and mixing in fruit and vegetable purees. My go-to is unsweetened applesauce and pumpkin, but the sky’s the limit – sweet potato and squash would also work well.
7. Try frozen vegetables
My kids’ daycare let me in on this trick. My kids are unlikely to eat a serving of peas, but place a bowl of frozen peas in front of them, and they’ll happily nibble away. I suspect the cold is soothing for teething gums. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it!
8. Toddler muffins
Toddler muffins are a fantastic way to sneak vegetables into your child without them noticing. There are a ton of toddler muffin ideas on Pinterest. One of our favourites are these “Hulk” muffins from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.
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9. Green smoothie pancakes
Along the same vein, I’ve also had success mixing vegetables into pancakes, with these green smoothie pancakes from Oh, Sweet Basil.
Toddlers love control, and they love to do things for themselves. Give them control over their own dip and you might just encourage them to consume a few bites of vegetables (or, they may use the vegetable as a utensil, but the only way you’ll know is to try!).
Ranch is an always-popular accompaniment to raw vegetables. Hummus is another great option, and has been a surprising hit with my daughter. If your child enjoys dip, don’t be afraid to get creative – here are some fantastic ideas from Feeding My Kid.
I’ve been able to convince my children to eat vegetables in soup that they wouldn’t touch otherwise. If the texture is an issue, try puréed soup – they won’t even notice the vegetables!
12. Add vegetables to foods they love
If there’s a food your child devours without fail, try adding vegetables. I’ve had success adding peas to Annie’s Mac and Cheese, an array of vegetables to pizza and quesadillas, and spinach and peppers to scrambled eggs.
You can hide all manner of vegetables in spaghetti sauce. I grate carrots into every bolognese sauce I make – they have to look pretty hard to spot them! You could also add mushrooms, peppers, onions, or zuchinni. If your kids like to pick apart their food and reject any unfamiliar ingredients, simply purée them and they’re practically undetectable.
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13. Plant a garden
Involving kids in the process of planting and harvesting a garden might just encourage them to try the fruits of their labour. We’ve been blown away by what our kids are willing to eat when they pick it themselves. We had a playdate last summer where every child was happily chowing down on a whole cucumber that they picked straight from the garden!
14. Cut them differently
My older boys happily eat cucumber rounds, but my daughter usually rejects them. The other day I cut them into spears, and she happily gobbled down more cucumber than she’s likely eaten in her entire life.
The same goes for the matchstick carrots I was chopping for salad rolls last week, the roasted sweet potato in rounds instead of cubes, and those tiny bell peppers that they love to eat whole. Never underestimate the power of a novel presentation.
15. Keep Trying
Finally, perhaps the most important thing you can do – keep trying! Experts say children may need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it. Our job as parents is to give them that exposure – even if they’ve already rejected it 8 times!
Many of the strategies I’ve included above involve sneaking vegetables into food. As helpful as those strategies can be when your child is rejecting every single vegetable you put in front of them, don’t let it be your only strategy. It’s important to keep offering them vegetables on their own – and for them to see you eating and enjoying vegetables. Afterall, the goal is that they will one day willingly choose to eat vegetables.
Good luck! As frustrating as this stage is, it is (usually) a temporary one. Keep exposing your child to different vegetables, and one day they may just surprise you!
Do you have any other tips to get your toddler to eat vegetables? I’d love to hear them!