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How do I make veggies appetizing for my toddler?
Q: From April in Louisville
My 22-month-old son will not eat vegetables. I have tried tricking him with baby food, putting syrup on his carrots and mincing the vegetables with meat or rice, but nothing works. As soon as it goes in his mouth, it's right back out again. I give him a vitamin every day, but I'm worried that he’s not getting the nutrition he needs or developing healthy eating habits. Any suggestions?
A:
From Amanda in Edinboro
I have a 21-month-old who was the same way. Then my 5-year-old niece ate with him, fed him and told him how good the vegetable was—the same vegetable that he would not eat for me! Now I can’t get him to stop eating corn! So, maybe you can try having an older sibling or relative help out. I know it worked with my son.

From Summer in Weaverville
I take a bite of vegetables, and say to my 24-month-old son, “Oh, that is so good. Do you want a bite like Mama had?” Then he will come over and take a bite. After that I give him another bite of whatever he’s eating with the vegetable to get his mind off it.

From Terina in Kalispell
I went through this with my son, who is now 2, and it is very frustrating. Is your son eating any fruits? I try not to worry too much as long as he gets some fruit each day. Also, giving him plenty of choices has made a huge difference. If he still refuses his food, let him know he made his choice not to eat right now and let it go. He will eventually eat, and sooner than you think. He will also pick up on how badly you want him to eat and use that to his advantage. Just hang in there!

From Rebecca in Houston
My 6-year-old son had the same problem until we found out that he loved to help fix the foods we ate. We let Ben help “cook the veggies” and told him what they were and how they would make him strong. Now he will eat his veggies only if he is able to “cook” them himself.

From Natasha in Arlington
If your son likes ranch dressing or ketchup, try getting him to dip his vegetables in those for a while. The rule of thumb at my house is that my kids eat what I put in front of them. If my son refused to eat something, then he didn’t have to eat anything. Sure enough, an hour later he would eat it because he was hungry. My suggestion is to have him try it. If he refuses, wait awhile and he’ll eat when he gets hungry.

From Kim in Richmond, Va.
My third child is 14 and has not eaten a fruit or vegetable since he turned 2. Except for him, my three other children have all chosen at different times to add vegetables and fruit to their diets. I decided a long time ago to “not sweat it.” I make sure I offer him lots of other healthy foods from the other food groups.

Susan M. Leisner, RD, IBCLC, RLC
It is the rare child who will eat vegetables without bribery. There are a number of factors that cause vegetable aversions in young children, including texture, taste and parental response.

Toddlers and young children are naturally distrustful of new foods; vegetables, in particular, have such a large variety of textures that many kids are simply afraid to try a new one. Like fruits, they have very distinctive tastes but usually don’t carry the sweetness found in fruits and juices. Those veggies with the strongest odors may never make it to a youngster’s mouth just because of the fragrance, even through your child may like the taste in the end.

Parental response is probably the biggest culprit keeping kids from eating vegetables. Serving a new vegetable often comes with begging and pleading, a fun game for most manipulative little ones. As parents, we also have the unreasonable belief that if a child does not eat his vegetables, his health will be ruined for years to come – a notion instilled by generations of mothers! It’s hard for parents to back off, but the reality is that, if left alone, many children will eventually begin to eat vegetables on their own.

Still, you can encourage your child to eat vegetables without making a fuss. To do so, try the following mealtime techniques.

  • Put a single piece of the food on your child’s plate. Encourage him to try it, but don’t make an issue if he doesn’t. Praise him if he does and move on.
  • Put the new vegetable on your plate, not his, and
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education