Why children don't like to eat vegetables and how to get them to start
Every now and then I see a toddler who eats no meat or carbohydrates - no chicken, pasta, bread or sausages. They eat only veggies (and fruit). This is, however, more the exception to my day than the much more common scenario. More often than not, I see children who eat a range of carbohydrates, a few proteins and little or no vegetables.
So, what is it about vegetables that makes them challenging for toddlers, children and even adults at times.
Vegetables are unpredictable.
They come in different colours, shapes and sizes. They vary in texture, can have a strong smell and are often bitter to taste.
The variability in shape, texture, colour and taste makes vegetables overwhelming to look at, touch, smell and taste.
In comparison, carbohydrates like pasta, bread and rice are uniform in shape and texture. They are also neutral coloured.
So how do we make vegetables more appealing to kids, more palatable and more likely to be eaten?
1.Serve vegetables with a sauce or dip
Dipping veggies into a sauce, dip or spread is a great way to introduce children to veggies. Exposure is an important part of getting used to the colour and texture of vegetables. In the beginning they may only lick off the sauce or dips. Tomato sauce, hummus, soy sauce and peanut butter can all add flavour and familiarity to these unpredictable veggies.
2. Add seasoning to vegetables
Adding small amounts of salt, butter or sugar to vegetables can also help with acceptance at the start. The salt or sugar can always be slowly weaned once they are eating the veggies more readily.
3. Stepping stone veggies
Stepping stone veggies are foods that are a vegetable but are cooked or prepared in a way that makes them more consistent in look, texture and taste making them easier for children to try.
These are foods like veggie chips made out of root vegetables like taro and sweet potato. These foods are mostly found in the health food section of the supermarket.
As the name implies, I use these as a stepping stone to get children eating fresh vegetables.
4. Hot chips
Another great stepping stone food! If your child is a hot chip eater, try making homemade hot chips, as in you cut up the potato and cook them. Once they are eating these, you can start to play around with the shapes of your hot chips - long ones, short one, square ones - and there you have the start of eating roast potatoes.
5. Vegetable dips
Making dips out of veggies such as pumpkin and beetroot is another way to introduce children to the taste of vegetables in a more uniform texture. Getting children involved in making the dips and allowing them to dip their favourite cracker will encourage tasting.
6. Fruit as veggies
If your child eats fruit but no veggies, serve fruit with some dinner meals so that they get used to having colour on their plates while they learn about veggies.
Children who don’t eat any vegetables often have very neutral coloured meals and frequently become upset when vegetables are put onto their plate even if they are told they don’t have to eat them.
Having some colour on their plate, in the form of fruit they eat, helps them feel more comfortable to accept vegetables onto their plate.
The journey to getting children to eat vegetables can feel never ending. Hang in there! If you have an extremely fussy eater, it can feel impossible!!
- get help from a therapist that works with feeding difficulties if you are struggling or have a child with extremely fussy eating
- persevere with offering and exposing children to veggies
- keep the steps small
- set yourself up for success by choosing the time that you try veggies, perhaps not after a long day at day-care
- keep the meal fun and relaxed where there is no expectation that they will eat the new veggies – just learn about them and become exposed to them.
Remember – if things are not working, there are always other tips and strategies that you can try - so feel free to get in touch if you have any specific questions about vegetables and helping children to eat them.