Making Vegetables a Hit with Kids

Most ploys for getting kids to eat vegetables just create lifelong negative attitudes about veggies. And bribery to eat their vegetables is even worse! That tells a child that vegetables must be truly awful, if such measures are necessary. Here are some simple and positive steps you can take to increase the chances your children or grandchildren will like at least some vegetables:

Omniheart diet

1. Get kids cooking! Children who help cook healthy meals are likelier to eat them. Get kids tearing up lettuce or spinach for a salad. Help them bake a sweet potato in the oven (45 minutes at 450°F) or microwave (several minutes). Or steam chopped carrots, broccoli, or green beans.

2. Serve fresh vegetables whenever possible, with frozen as your backup. Fresh (and some frozen) vegetables taste much better than canned ones, look prettier, and have better texture. Would you want to eat mushy, gray lumps that taste like metal?

3. Take your children grocery shopping and let them pick whichever fresh vegetables interest them. That gives your children some ownership in the vegetables, making them more likely to eat it.

4. Serve vegetables (including green salads) as a first course. Children are hungriest at the beginning of the meal. If you serve all the meal together, your child may fill up on other foods before getting to the vegetables.

5. Cook vegetables lightly. The best methods are blanching, steaming, microwaving, and stir-frying. All these methods preserve both nutrients and taste.

6. Perk up vegetables with seasonings other than salt, butter, or cheese. Experiment a little – a wide range of spices and juices can add some flavor and zest to veggies. For example, try lemon juice, pepper, dry mustard, nutmeg, basil, curry, oregano, or garlic on cooked broccoli. With steamed carrots, try parsley, cinnamon, lemon juice, allspice, nutmeg, mint, caraway seeds, dill seeds, ginger, mace, thyme, marjoram, honey, or pepper.

7. Make a colorful plate. Be creative in presenting vegetables – naturally vibrant colors will grab a child’s eye. For example, add bits of sweet red pepper to green beans or broccoli to spark your child’s interest.

8. Serve lots of raw vegetables. Don’t ask kids if they want a vegetable plate, just put out a platter. Include such things as carrot and celery sticks with a low-fat dip or dressing. Some kids who hate cooked carrots, for example, will gobble them down raw. For children under age 4, cut raw veggies into small pieces to avoid choking hazards.

9. Gardening is fun! Like cooking, it’s fun to plants vegetables in a backyard garden or large pot and then watch them grow. Most kids enjoy gardening, harvesting…and eating.

Originally published on August 19, 2013.

For more tips on how to diet click here!

37 Replies to “Making Vegetables a Hit with Kids”

  1. I wish this section were not called “how to diet.” I wish it were called “how to eat well.” I’m very uncomfortable with a page of advice on kids and veggies under a heading about dieting. Otherwise, it’s all great advice.

    1. I agree. The word diet does have multiple meanings. Diet does mean “what you eat,” but here it is used in a connotation that implies being on a diet. Eating healthy isn’t and shouldn’t be considered a diet. When people hear the word diet they usually might think about the foods they “shouldn’t” eat. I think the article gives great advice though on how to involve your children in the process of consuming vegetables.

  2. Excellent advice. Our daughter freezes and saves all leftover green or white cooked veggies in one bag in the freezer. When she has enough (about 2 to 4 cups) she simmers them all together in broth until tender, adds leftover cheese sauce, and uses her hand blender to completely smooth it all into a lovely bright green soup. Her little one called it “”

  3. Some good ideas I will try; however, #7 is questionable for small children who are naturally suspicious of anything new thrown in the mix. Red peppers mixed in with the old standby and security of nationally accepted green beans could easily cause a number of children to abandon the whole serving of green beans, or if they’re laid back, pick out the green beans and leave the “color” for the disposal. Possibly a child could see some adult persuasion here! But good try!

  4. All good info. Especially put out veggies and don’t ask the kids. If they’re hungry, REALLY hungry, they’ll eat whatever is there. If they’re not hungry they won’t eat. That’s a win/win in my book.

  5. All wonderful advice. BUT don’t dis canned foods. Use every opportunity to insist that canned foods be wholesome and tasty. They can be. And today, as world conditions become more iffy, canned foods (unlike fresh or frozen) can be stored and shipped to areas without refrigeration. Canned goods can survive war, storm and flood. Throwing the can away instead of improving its contents is a big mistake. And until those improvements come about, avoid disparaging references that discourage companies developing better canned goods. Thanks, EB

    1. Make sure your cans are BPA free. Fortunately food manufacturers are now beginning to pay attention to this. BPA is the plastic lining inside the cans and is a carcinogen. Tomatoes in a can with BPA are specially harmful as the acidic nature of the tomatoes breaks up the BPA and more of it gets in the food. In good health, Connie

  6. We need to forward this to our national school lunch program. It’s not rocket science, fresh or lightly cooked veggies are more desirable than the gray/green canned peas floating in our local lunchroom line. Two of my four kids like to eat their peas frozen.

  7. Excellent suggestion. I have grand kids 5 and 7 going through this stage.
    The5 yr old will try and eat most vegetables. The 7 yr old has an automatic no to most anything new. I will suggest to my Daughter some your suggestion.

    Thank you

  8. My mother always used fresh or frozen vegetables at home. She also packed our lunches everyday, but after enough of us pleaded she allowed us to eat at the cafeteria once a week. Since we had to be bused to a school with a cafeteria, it was an exciting experience. The only thing I remember about those meals were the canned peas which I loved then. I rarely see them anywhere now, but when I do, I have a spoonful just to remember those ‘good’ old days.

  9. I recently took my grandchildren to the produce section of a grocery store and told them they could each pick one item. The two oldest ones chose a pineapple (they’d never had a fresh one) and jicama, which she’d had at a friends. The youngest (1st grade) chose a TURNIP! I asked him if he’d ever had one and he said he had, at school, his teacher had fixed them for the class. Good job, Teacher!
    Later this little guy told me how to prepare it the way his teacher had and all of the kids and my husband, who had learned when young to hate turnips, thought they were delicious.

  10. Thanks for the positive tips. I think it’s especially important to show kids that we adults enjoy eating many different veggies. One other tip for kids already influenced by the packaged food out in the world: my 4.5yo loves to eat the frozen veggies that can be microwaved right in the bag because she has fun pulling handfuls out of the bag (once it has cooled, of course).

  11. An additional tip for the serving salad or other veggie first is to have a part of the salad or veggie that can be immediately picked up – such as carrot/celery pieces, small tomatoes, cucumber pieces, etc. so even though I want the kids to wait until we are all seated with our food, if they “snack” it is a fruit or vegetable.

  12. I really don’t understand the apparent reluctance of kids today to eat vegetables, or how they become picky eaters at a young age. After our daughter “graduated” from baby food (which of course included the convenience of pureed carrots, peas and beans in jars, but also other veggies that we mashed ourselves), we fed her the same food that we were eating, but cut up small on her own small plate. She saw us enjoying our food and always liked whatever we had. I can’t help thinking that parents whose kids are picky eaters don’t eat with their kids, or convey their own dislike of certain foods to their children. It’s sad that people have to resort to “tricks” to get their children to appreciate the wonderful diversity of food, when their kids should be raised with the assumption that they eat whatever the rest of the family is eating.

    1. I hear this a lot. You are lucky. I was a picky eater of “yesterday” (born 1961). My mom didn’t make me picky and I grew out of it. My daughter is picky. She stopped liking foods that she originally liked and is texture sensitive. Hopefully she will grow out of it. My son is not as picky but does sometimes suddenly stop eating a certain food he always enjoyed before. We expected them to eat our meals, had them at least taste, but we cannot force them to eat.

      We try to encourage and offer different types of vegetables (and other foods) to expand their horizons.

  13. Great ideas here, to which I would add, “Eat vegetables, yourself.” If you serve the kids celery but don’t eat it, yourself, your kids will definitely notice.

    And don’t make the dip low-fat! Fat helps to absorb the nutrients in vegetables, and there is no reason at all to limit children’s fat intake. To the contrary, make sure they’re getting plenty of high quality fats for brain development and overall health.

  14. I agree with the “diet” comment…I’d like to eliminate that word from our collective vocabulary!

    Two other ideas…

    Roasted veggies of almost any type are delicious. Just chop, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and cook in oven at 375 degrees or so. Many things, like cauliflower, were not liked by my kids until we tried this.

    Also, pureed veggies can be a gateway to a flavor. My son won’t touch a carrot, but he gobbled down carrot soup made with onions carmelized in olive oil, carrots, and low salt chic broth.

    Kathy, Health Educator and Food Lover!

  15. I don’t like the “d”(diet)word either.Over the years it has gained such a sacrifical,almost deceptive conotation.
    The world is full of good things to eat(by good ,I mean tasty too)I believe if you cook it to get the food’s best taste you will be satisfied.
    I teach cooking classes to families,even grandparents with their grandchildren.It never ceases to amaze me ,with all the info in the world about food….that so many people know so little about vegetables and what to do with them,how to keep them safe,how to buy them and how to cook them to get that rich,glorious flavor.

  16. Why perpetuate the demonization of fruits & vegetables? I grew up eating and loving vegetables. I still see plenty of kids doing the same. Kids are stomping around our farmers market with berry-stained faces, and chomping on cucumbers. If you keep telling kids they’re going to hate vegetables and make a big fuss about it, you’ll get what you wish for.

    1. the gene expression doesn’t dissipate.As the article you cite says…Experience and culture appear to override the genetic effect. Sensitivity to bitterness doesn’t stop many people in, say Japan and China, from learning to love bitter vegetables. So the sooner kids are introduced to a variety of vegetables, including bitter ones, the sooner they have the opportunity to learn to love them. You could make an analogy with chili peppers. Aversive to the naive palate, loved by those who eat them habitually. Training may start in infancy via breast milk.

    1. Nancy, I don’t know how the teacher prepared them, but you can peel, dice, and boil (or steam) turnips and mash them just like potatoes. You can do the same with parsnips. Mixing either (or both) of those with new red potatoes makes a particularly wonderful mashed “potato” dish.

      Also, roasting (as Kathryn Middleton suggested on August 19th) also brings out the sweetness.

  17. It is really good to have this discussion. When I put out a plate of raw vegetables for the kids in the afternoon when they were hungry, they ate it all with no dip. It never occurred to me and they did not need it. I think simplicity is kind to the body.

    I take issue with the idea of microwaving anything. Don’t give kids microwaved food. Look up what microwaving is. Its the reversal of water molecule poles at
    as much as a billion times per second. How could any food molecule survive that!

    It deforms it and the fiber packaging it. It deconstructs the food. Ingested it becomes problematic for the body’s functioning.

  18. This is such an exciting topic for me — Fruits and Vegetables. I have 5 Grandgirls who I have encouraged since they were very young the benefits of eating plenty fruits and vegetables. I am convinced that fruits and vegetables are the same. Some are just sweet and some are not so sweet. One of my greatest treat is to have a fruit and vegetable smoothie. The combination is just the best. Try some fresh kale or spinach with mango, pineapple, strawberries, papaya, carrots, etc. Any combination of the above. This is actually a treat that you consume more than once a day — but once a day you can get in your required daily fruits and vegetables. Parents if not cook your vegetable with little or no water or olive oil. Don’t forget the sweet red, yellow, and orange peppers. Make it colorful — kids love colors even in their food. Enjoy and have a Wonderful School Year!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Your suggestions encourage kids to eat vegetables. But that is not good enough and should not be the target. The solution that guarantees kids eat vegetables is to avoid toxic animal protein altogether and raise kids vegetarian. This will put them on a lifetime course of optimal nutrition and protect the environment to boot.

  20. When kids 4-11 are asked there biggest concerns, number one is the environment. Don’t dismiss the intellectual ability of youth to grasp the complex positive affects of eating less meat.

  21. When my kids were young and hungry after school, I wasn’t too religious about avoiding the requested cookie or piece of cinnamon toast. But I would often also put out a plate of cut-up apples, carrots, broccoli, red peppers,etc. It all disappeared. They liked to dip fresh stuff in peanut butter sometimes. Salads were the first thing they learned how to prepare. Fruits and vegetables are pretty and fun!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *