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#31: How To Get Your Kids & Toddlers To Eat Vegetables

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There’s something weird about what happens when kids eat—or don’t eat—their veggies. If they eat ‘em, we feel like THE best parents to ever walk the earth. Like, we are ready to write our very own parenting books! Confidence through the roof! It’s the best feeling ever. But if they don’t eat their veggies? Oooof! Cue the guilt, the shame, and the spiraling “What am I doing wrong?!” thoughts.

So in this episode, we do teach you how to get toddlers to eat vegetables—but we do more than that, too! We unmask veggies and show them for what they truly are (one of MANY healthy options available to our kids and toddlers) and what they are NOT (the be-all and end-all, the enemy, or the measuring stick we rate worth as parents by). We acknowledge that produce of all kinds are great for growing bodies though, and we teach you 4 simple strategies for getting your kids to eat veggies in gentle, no-pressure-for-them, and no-stress-for-you ways. And, we share toddler-approved, veggie-packed recipes that your whole family really will enjoy.

In This Episode, I Share 4 Strategies For Getting Kids To Eat Vegetables:

  1. Including Veggies In Foods They’re Already Eating (04:25)
  2. Letting ‘Em Freestyle It (06:40)
  3. Making Veggies Cute (08:27)
  4. NOT Bribing Them—And What To Do Instead! (10:50)

Listen to the full episode here:

Easy access to the free resources, products, recipes, and guides we talked about in this episode:

  1. Picky Wins Membership(Launching February 17th): Get your toddler to eat more foods one food, one meal, and one month at a time! (The simplest and most affordable way to access 1:1 support from me!)
  2. Veggie-Packed, Toddler-Approved Recipes:
  3. Veggie Shape Cutters on Amazon
  4. Veggie Food Picks on Amazon

Got Picky Littles? Grab My Picky Eater Starter Guide!

If you’re struggling with a picky eater—AKA if you’re feeling like a short-order cook with a $400/month nugget budget—this free guide can help. It outlines 4 steps that will take you towards happier mealtimes and get them eating more foods.

Episode #31: How To Get Your Kids & Toddlers To Eat Vegetables (Complete Transcript)

There’s something really interesting I’ve noticed about parents, being one myself and being in the business of feeding kids, and it’s that we get this huge amount of pride and satisfaction when our kid eats their vegetables. Where does that come from?!

Do you think it’s because we were always told to eat them growing up, so we view this as an accomplishment? Is it because we feel some sort of ownership or maybe obligation to teach them, and we feel like we’re fulfilling that duty when they eat vegetables? Like, it almost feels like a party trick sometimes when you watch them eat a vegetable that you prepared, right? I honestly don’t know the answer here. I just know that we put a LOT of pressure and burden on ourselves. 

Especially as a mom, you feel it’s your job for them to eat well, and you often will feel a sensation of success or failure based on what they eat at a meal. And veggies can feel like the pinnacle of that success—it’s something tangible we can point to that says, “You’re doing a good job raising this tiny human.” So what does it say about you—or mean for your child—if they’re not eating their veggies?!

Free Yourself From The Veggie Comparison Game!

As a registered dietitian nutritionist who understands the full picture of holistic nutrition and everything that goes into a child’s healthy diet, I know that they can still get what they need nutritionally even if they don’t eat ANY veggies—or if they eat very few. This is something I mention a lot because I think it should be in the parenting handbook! So that we don’t feel crappy about ourselves when our kids hate vegetables and love sweets and maybe even love fruit.

So even though I’m going to give you tips today on how to get kids to eat vegetables, I want you to breathe a little easier knowing that this is not the only path towards parenting domination. A lot of times you are fighting against genetics when we are talking about picky eating, and that’s not an easy battle.

Two things are true: Veggies are healthy and wonderful and important AND your child can be healthy and wonderful and important regardless of whether they eat zero veggies or 5 servings a day.

Getting Kids & Toddlers To Eat Their Veggies: 4 Simple Strategies

Welcome back to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy, where I nerd out on nutrition for kids and try to make this one piece of parenting less stressful and easier on you. I’m Kacie Barnes, RDN, MCN, mom, etc. If you like having this podcast as a resource, make sure to FOLLOW and also leave me a 5-star rating and review. Because it would make me happy and it helps other parents find the podcast WHICH MEANS you’re helping them get solid, research-backed advice instead of whatever some random Facebook person has to say about feeding kids.

There’s a few key strategies when it comes to getting kids to eat veggies. Actually, my brain is overflowing right now because I have so many ideas that are all flooding in and it’s literally a tidal wave up there. I want to tell you ALL the things, but I do that inside of Simple Steps to Picky Wins, my membership, launching February 17th to get them to actually eat new foods. So today, let’s focus on the easiest ways to get your kids and toddlers to eat vegetables:

#1 Include Veggies In Foods They Already 

Think of the veggies as “back up singers” when you do this—not Beyonce!

When you include veggies as an ingredient that’s not overpowering—and maybe they don’t even taste the vegetable—that is a totally fine place to start, so they can get over the fear of that food being terrible. That means they can know the vegetable is in the food, and what’s even better is if you can get them to add it in themselves while you’re cooking or preparing the food!

Great Kid & Toddler Vegetable Recipes:

#2 Let ‘Em Freestyle It

When it comes to getting kids to eat veggies, any way you do that counts as a win.

That means dips and sauces are your friends. Let your child indulge in using their carrot or celery stick as a vehicle for ranch, or ketchup, or mayonnaise—I really don’t care what it is! They could dip it in honey and I would be happy. They will not ALWAYS choose to eat ranch as an entire food group, so let them eat it now. (I used to wrap green beans in American cheese as a kid and no one made me feel bad about it.) 

Remember, however they like to eat it, that’s a positive strategy. There are plenty of times you get food as an adult and you modify it to your liking. Maybe you add hot sauce, or salt and pepper, or garlic salt, or ranch—whatever it is you like. It’s good for kids to have that skill to modify food to their liking because the reality is, they don’t make 99% of their food, and it’s very likely that it’s not always going to be the way they like. So instead of not eating it or forcing you to re-make it differently, they can make it how they want. (My son used to put jelly on top of his grilled cheese sandwiches 🤷🏻‍♀️ )

#3 Make Veggies Cute

No shame in this game! Be the mom who makes their kids’ veggies cute! Here are some fun vegetable ideas for toddlers:

  1. Grab a set of these veggie shape cutters, you can get them on Amazon. A cucumber heart or a cucumber star is a lot more exciting than a regular old slice of cucumber! You can give raw veggies to toddlers—you just want to slice them nice and thin. You can even shred them to start if you are nervous. Veggies that are good with the shape cutters:
  • Cucumber
  • Bell pepper
  • Raw zucchini
  • Thin-sliced carrots
  • Broccoli stalks cut into thin slices 
  1. Make a little face on their plate. You can be the least artistic, least crafty person in the universe and easily pull this off with something like cutting carrots into half-moon thin slices, arranging two as eyes, one as a nose…you get the drift! Think about what it looks like when they draw a person—it’s like a squiggly ball, so they have low expectations. But they do really appreciate the effort to make it fun.
  1. Food picks are another one that works, this can work for older kids too because they bring some more life to the plate!

#4 Don’t Bribe Them

Bribing can work in the short-term but in the longer-term, it teaches them that they have to suffer through their veggies or choke them down, as opposed to actually learning to enjoy them

What Happens If You Don’t Eat Vegetables?

You may have to work harder to get in enough produce servings for the day to hit fiber, vitamin and mineral targets. You may want to include fruit at dinner—which is totally okay! For some people, it feels weird or wrong to serve fruit at dinner but it’s honestly completely fine, especially if it means they get more produce in.

You’ll also want to serve a variety of colors. That’s the easiest way to make sure you’re hitting different nutrients. Each color family has a little something different going for it, whether they’re fruits or veggies. And all brightly colored fruits and veggies have antioxidants! For example, you can help fight disease like cancer and cardiovascular disease with anthocyanins, found in deep red, purple, blues like blueberries, strawberries, and their juices, and in red and purple grapes, sweet cherries, eggplants, black plums, blood oranges, and red cabbage. And most people have heard of lycopene, an antioxidant in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes. Even white foods have these kinds of compounds. Onions and garlic have polyphenols, which can help with chronic inflammation!

Cucumbers have antioxidants. Bananas have antioxidants. And vitamins and minerals. So never feel like any veggies or fruits aren’t “worth it” because the health promoting benefits are huge. Produce is powerful.

How To Sneak Veggies Into Food For Toddlers

In short…don’t! It’s best to let them know you’re adding little tastes of veggies into their muffins, smoothies, and other foods. Even better if you can get them to add-in the veggies for you!

If you’ve got your toddlers in on the game with you though, there are tons of ways to sneak small amounts of veggies they’re not crazy about into foods:

  • Sneak in SMALL amounts
  • Use tiny pieces of veggies as sprinkles
  • Work veggies into smoothies and sauces
  • Bake veggies into muffins

But remember that it’s OKAY if they don’t eat a ton of veggies or they like them floating in a sea of ketchup right now. This is like a years-long process and for most kids—it doesn’t happen overnight. But I love that you are committed to their health and nutrition, because it will serve them well.

If they are picky, I want you to grab a copy of my Picky Eater Starter Guide, which will really help you get moving in the right direction with them. And then I’d love for you to join me inside Simple Steps to Picky Wins, my picky eater membership program launching February 17th, where you will get the support you need to actually get them trying new foods, feel good about the effort you’re putting in knowing that you’re doing the right things, and be right there with other parents who are also just trying to do the right thing for their little ones. 

Talk to you next week!

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Where you share your real life struggles with your toddler, and I help with real life solutions.

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