Helping a picky eater learn to like more vegetables is the most common desire among parents in our picky eating support group.
Kids notoriously dislike vegetables and they are by far the least preferred food group among all of the kids in my private coaching program.
Though it seems like one of those stereotypical and inexplicable kid things that parents just have to face, I believe there are real reasons that your child dislikes vegetables.
Why Kids Don’t Like Vegetables
As you probably know from your own experience, vegetables can be an acquired taste. That’s because they are actually pretty unappealing to our inherent preferences. Kids are wired to dislike bitter-tasting foods, and most vegetables, unfortunately, are pretty bitter. Additionally, many picky eaters prefer foods with predictable and homogenous textures. Because they’re not manufactured in a factory, vegetables come with all sorts of inconsistencies and surprises when it comes to their textures. Even baby cut carrots which actually do come from a factory, are completely unpredictable when it comes to their texture and visual appearance.
These barriers are what could be standing between your picky eater and veggies currently, but they don’t mean that your picky eater can never learn to like vegetables.
Try these easy tips to help your child learn to love vegetables.
How to Get a Picky Eater to Like Vegetables
Most picky eaters are particular about texture. Identify your child’s preferred food texture and try to match that. Many foods change texture when they’re cooked, so consider how you prepare the vegetable as well. Identify your child’s preferred texture and go from there.
Starchy Vegetables for Picky Eaters
Potatoes (especially with butter, cheese, and/or salt)
Roasted or mashed carrots
Crunchy Vegetables for Picky Eaters
Sugar snap peas
Raw string beans
Match their Favorite Flavors
New food introductions are most successful when they’re not random. Your child will be more likely to eat a vegetable that tastes familiar, so focus on matching their taste preferences. You can do this by adding a dip, seasoning, or sauce. Cooking can also change the taste. For example, roasting usually makes vegetables taste sweeter.
If your child likes sweet foods, consider the following vegetables:
Roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash (you can add maple syrup or a dash of sugar to these, too)
Pair with a Dip
Dips are great not only because they’re fun, but also because they can mask the flavor and texture of whatever is being dipped into them. When introducing a new vegetable, provide a preferred dip.
Get Creative with Cooking
The way that vegetables are prepared is so important. Cooking changes the taste and texture. We never know what a fussy eater will like, so it’s important to get creative and try a bunch of different preparations. Don’t just offer something one way once and assume that your child’s reaction is finite. Try again and try a different way. The more you try the more opportunities your child has to learn to like it.
Try all of these ways to prepare fruits and vegetables:
In bites, coins, or strips
Start in the Kitchen
Involve your child in cooking. Kids who cook are more likely to eat. Looking for ideas? Check out my favorite cooking activities for a picky eater with impaired sensory processing.
Plant a Vegetable Seed (really!)
Countless studies show that kids who garden are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables. The benefits extend into adulthood – kids who garden grow into college students who eat more vegetables than their peers. You don’t need a ton of space or time to start growing vegetables. Herbs, lettuces, and radishes grow well in containers. Be sure to include your child in selecting and planting the seeds.
The more your child can engage with vegetables using their senses, the more likely they will be to eat them. Encourage play at the table or outside of mealtimes. Build mashed potato volcanoes, create a game of tic tac toe, or just get silly.
Ask for Input
Kids are more inclined to eat when they are part of the decision making process. Include your child in grocery shopping or making the dinner menu. Ask how they’d like something prepared. Their input can increase their willingness to eat.
Pair with Preferred Foods
Studies show that kids are more likely to eat new and non-preferred foods when they’re paired with ones that they like. Serve veggies alongside preferred foods or prepare them together. Add cheese, sauce, or a favorite roll. Don’t worry if it’s not a natural pairing. Your child’s liking it is all that matters.
Serve Vegetables When They’re Hungry
Hungry kids are more likely to eat. So, instead of only serving vegetables alongside preferred foods at mealtimes, pack them in your child’s lunchbox, serve them for snack, or offer them before dinner when they’re whining before the meal is ready.
Most picky eaters don’t like vegetables, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to. If you keep their preferences in mind, involve them in preparing and meal planning, and try many different presentations, you can help your picky eater eat more vegetables.
Which tip can you implement today? Make a plan for trying one new suggestion a week.