Getting Kids to Eat Veggies

Overall, it may take persistence when introducing—and reintroducing—vegetables to children

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

BrocolliYou may have heard it yourself and now tell your children, “Eat your vegetables.” That is good nutritional advice.

“Vegetables are packed with nutrients,” said chiropractor William Ferris, functional medicine nutritionist at Modern Chiropractic & Pain Relief in Victor. “You get a few calories and a lot of nutritional value, along with fiber, which is important to keep the digestive tract moving.”

Children need between one to two cups of vegetables daily, depending on their ages, according to Unfortunately, some children do not enjoy the flavor of vegetables, which demotivates them to eat enough of them. Ferris said that serving raw vegetables with dip may help children eat more, but avoid sugary condiments. For example, hummus contains no sugar.

“My mom never allowed us to have snacks before dinner except vegetables,” Ferris said.

Keeping washed baby carrots and pepper strips in the fridge may inspire more veggie snacking between meals.

Ideally, parents should start their children on vegetables even before they’re born. Heather Carrera, doctor of clinical nutrition in the office of Lesley James, MD, in Pittsford, said that babies can sense flavors in the womb.

“If the mom is eating a lot of sweets and not a lot of bitter foods, they develop a taste for that,” Carrera said. “Likewise, when breastfeeding, babies get a flavor profile. Moms need to eat a variety of bitter vegetables to prime the baby to eat vegetables. A study showed that moms who ate carrots and drank carrot juice, during the latter half of pregnancy, the babies were more likely to accept carrots when introduced to solid foods.”


Once it is time for solids, serve baby pureed avocado instead of rice cereal or pureed fruit mixed with vegetables. But if that window of opportunity has been missed, parents can still encourage their children to eat more vegetables. Carrera recommends adding vegetables to foods children already like, such as broccoli florets to macaroni and cheese, puréed squash or carrots in pasta sauce or carrots or spinach in a smoothie.

“That can serve a purpose, but there’s a lot to be said for getting kids to appreciate the texture of vegetables,” Carrera said. “If they’re sneaked in their whole life, that’s not good, either.”

Overall, it may take persistence when introducing—and reintroducing—vegetables at the table.

“Parents oftentimes get frustrated and give up too quickly,” Carrera said. “Expose it multiple times.”

When not serving them raw, avoid overcooking vegetables. Steamed, tender/crisp vegetables taste much better than limp, boiled ones. Try additional ways of preparing vegetables, such as seasoning with sea salt and garlic and roasting them in the oven.

Inviting children to help grow or buy and prepare vegetables can make a difference in whether they eat them. It may help to acknowledge “Emma’s salad” or “Cooper’s broccoli” at the table to the whole family so the children feel pride in their culinary creations. Even small children can wash and tear up lettuce for a salad, wash raw vegetables or sprinkle on a dash of sea salt.

“Let them have a sense of ownership,” Carrera said. “That’s not something kids have a lot of. Eating shouldn’t be a control game, where parents are making them eat something. The parents are in control of when and what, but the child is how much and whether or not they eat a food. Don’t force them to finish their dinner.

“A lot of parents are in the trap of preparing separate meals. Children may need things cut or puréed, but they should be able to eat the same things you’re eating. Children will eat if hungry. The control aspect can set them up for disordered eating.”