My son is in no way a perfect eater. Does that even exist with 3 year olds?! I will say though that getting more veggies into Wyatt’s belly has been easier when I started thinking of creative and fun ways to go about it.
Take out the drama
For me, one of the most challenging parts about this was the drama of it all…Me: ”Eat just one bite” Wyatt: (crying) “No! I don’t like it!”. Repeat with different words x10. It was exhausting and I felt I was failing as a parent since he wasn’t eating his veggies and he wasn’t obeying me either. Once I took the drama out and focused on creative ways to get him to eat veggies that were fun and positive, it started to just happen naturally.
Before going into the tips for getting kids to eat more vegetables I thought it may be helpful to quickly cover how we handle meals in our household. I want to preface by saying that every family is unique and needs to customize this for their own family. This is how we handle it, but it may not work for everyone.
How we handle meals in our house
The nights where we are having leftovers or takeout are usually our busy nights where Wyatt will eat dinner on the kitchen bar while I am doing dishes and packing his lunch for the next day and then Ryan and I will have leftovers after putting him to bed.
However, on the nights we cook (usually 4 days of the week) we will sit together and eat dinner at the table as a family. It’s important to me that we have family dinner for many reasons. There is something special about eating together as a family and having fun conversations. These are memories kids will have forever.
Before dinner, I have Wyatt help to set the table. Right before dinner I remind Wyatt of the table manners (we pray before we start eating, we don’t interrupt each other, we use our napkins, etc.). We can only expect so much from a 3 year old. I find it helps a ton when I remind him of these things before we sit down.
I find it very helpful to give Wyatt his vegetable while I am finishing cooking dinner. He is more open to eating it since his tummy is hungry waiting for dinner and it’s the only option available.
For dinner we usually have a meat protein and a vegetable. Sometimes we will have an extra starch like potatoes. I ask Wyatt to eat everything on his plate. Usually it’s only meat/soup/main course (since he usually eats his vegetable before dinner). The only exception to this is if I am putting something on his plate that is brand new or that I know he doesn’t like (asparagus for example), then I tell him he needs to it least try it by having 1 ‘no thank you’ bite.
If he isn’t hungry then I do not make something special for him. I think this is the biggest mistake most parents make. They get so used to making a special side meal for their kids, that their kids continue to be picky eaters and always require something else. The only exception to this in our house, is if Ryan and I are having something that isn’t kid friendly (example: spicy Thai food). In that case I already would have made Wyatt something else ahead of time. If he isn’t hungry, I never force him to eat. He could have eaten a larger lunch, is not feeling well, or is just not that hungry. In those cases, I do remind him that he will not get anything else.
We don’t always have desserts. When we do, it’s a healthier dessert option without processed sugar (dark chocolate, homemade banana mango ice cream, etc.). If its a night when we are having a dessert (usually on the weekends), then I remind Wyatt he must eat everything on his plate if he wants to participate in the dessert eating fun.
Lastly, I think it’s important to teach kids to be thankful for the good food we get to eat, to eat slowly, and chew their food completely.
To summarize: we try to eat dinner together as a family with everyone helping to prepare, have good table manners with thankful attitudes, we try to serve the vegetable to kids before dinner if possible, if anything is served that is new kids must try one bite, we encourage eating slowly, and no desserts are allowed if plates are not empty.
I have talked a lot about dinners so far, but veggies have a place in every meal and also snacks. Below are some of the tips that have worked to get my kiddo to eat more veggies.
10 ways to get kids to eat vegetables:
- Smoothies! Add spinach or a high quality greens powder to a fruit smoothie.
- Kid friendly veggies. Every kid is different, but usually most kids like carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers. Try cutting them in small skinny sticks that are easy to hold and eat.
- Try healthy dips. Wyatt is in love with hummus. In addition to hummus you can also try guacamole, or homemade ranch dip.
- Gardening fun. Kids think gardening is so cool. Wyatt will eat countless snap peas and baby tomatoes straight from the garden. While if I put the same foods in his lunch, he avoids them. I am also a fan of home gardening because it teaches kids where food comes from. Even if you don’t have room for a big garden, you can start by growing a few things in pots on your front porch or wherever you have good sun.
- Be a good example. My 3 year old is not going to eat a big kale salad just yet, but he sees us eating it. If your kids consistently see you eating healthy, this will make a difference in how they think about food and what they eat as they grow and get older.
- Try sweet & soft. Try chopping up and steaming a root veggie (I suggest carrots, beets, or butternut squash). Then serve warm with butter and honey drizzled over.
- Squeeze packets. The best option is to make these at home so you have more control on your veggies vs fruit portions. This is one thing I choose to buy because of the convenience and because there are some great organic options out there that don’t have extra ingredients added. When picking squeeze packets make sure to check the total grams of sugar. Even though the sugar is from the fruit only, I still prefer to have less. I try to limit squeeze packets to using only when we are traveling or when we are out and about running errands, going on hikes, etc. I like this brand.
- Try artichokes. I know what you are thinking…kids and artichokes! Are you serious? Yes, I am. The important thing here is to make it right and to make it fun. Try my husband’s famous artichokes and serve to kids with melted butter for dipping. Show them how to scrape off the leaves with their teeth and how getting to the heart is like getting to the hidden treasure!
- Educate them. Talk to your kids about why it’s important to have vegetables. How the nutrients in vegetables help our brains to develop and help our bodies to grow. How having these nutrients also helps us to prevent us from getting sick. Kids understand more than we think. I had this conversation with Wyatt and now when he eats vegetables he teases me that he is growing stronger and taller.
- Serve Veggies First. When kids are in the kitchen begging for a snack because they are hungry and can’t wait until dinner, give them the vegetable. If the vegetable for dinner is still cooking, pull out a carrot stick from the fridge and hand it to them. Wyatt is way more likely to happily eat a couple carrot sticks if it’s when he is hungry and there are no other options.
Stay away from juice that is high in sugar
I suggest staying away from veggie juice bought in the store or that’s pre-made. By the time you drink it, the nutrients will be in very small amounts. In many cases they will add extra unhealthy ingredients. I never give fruit juice. It is extremely high in sugar, promotes cavities and will spike blood sugar levels.
If you want to give kids a veggie juice then I suggest making it at home with a juicer or going to a fresh juice bar. Try to have all vegetables with 1 apple. This will help to keep the sugar volume down. We do this at home on occasion during the winter when we feel we just need a little extra greens.
You don’t get the fiber from veggie juices, so overall I am a much bigger fan of just eating the actual whole food – which is why I decided not to include juicing in the 10 tips list above.
A note on Vitamins
I do feel vitamins are important during this phase of life when kiddos are going through the most growth physically and mentally. I also feel they are more important in today’s world than they have been previously because our world today is much more toxic than it ever has been.
However, it’s important we think of vitamins as what they are: supplements. They are not a replacement for real whole foods. They are an added supplement in addition to a whole foods diet. I will post in the future about my favorite vitamins to support children’s immune systems.
I hope this post was helpful. Do you have any tips on getting your kids to eat more vegetables? I would love to hear them, post below in the comments!