My 2 ½ year old daughter used to be a great eater when she was a baby. She used to eat everything, fruits, vegetables and meats. Now she refuses vegetables all together. I have tried everything. I’m tired of throwing food away, but I am also worried that she’s not getting the nutrition that she needs. Any tips on how to get a child to eat vegetables?
“At the end of my rope”
Dear “At the end of my rope”,
It is very common for toddlers to be picky eaters. Refusing vegetables is a problem that most parents with toddlers encounter. According to the American Dietetic Association, a 2 to 3 year old child needs 1 cup of vegetables per day. It is recommended to vary the vegetable and give 1 cup of dark green vegetables, ½ cup of orange vegetables, ½ cup dry beans and peas, 1 ½ cups of starchy vegetables and 4 cups of other vegetables per week. (1)
This sometimes seems like an impossible task, and I myself have experienced feeding the garbage vegetables more than my child. Don’t lose hope there are some tricks I have learned from nutritionists, colleagues, other parents, experience and medical journals. If you put plain, unseasoned vegetables in front of any child most likely they will refuse it and the food will probably end up on the floor. You need to spice things up a bit to get a child to eat it. I remember watching a news special a few years back about a contest between day care centers. The competition rated which day care center got their children to eat more food from different food groups. When they interviewed the cook at the daycare center that won the contest, they asked her what she did differently. Her answer was that she put barbecue sauce on top of or in every meal!
I suggest finding the type of food that your child likes and use that as an additive in her vegetable dishes. If your child likes cheese, let your child dip the vegetable in cheese sauce. If your child likes bread, sprinkle bread crumbs on top of the vegetables with a little olive oil to make the breadcrumbs stick. If your child likes Chinese food, cook your vegetables in soy sauce and garlic, and if all else fails add a little barbecue sauce!
For parents who tried all of these measures and are still pulling out their hair, don’t lose heart. You just need to be a little more inventive. Just about every child likes pizza or spaghetti with sauce. Take some of the spaghetti sauce and cook it separately in a small pot and add a jar of pureed vegetables (a jar of baby vegetables). Try to use a different vegetable each time, so that your child receives a variety, some dark green vegetables, as well as some orange vegetables. Stir the vegetable into the sauce and pour it on top of her pasta or pizza. Your child will not be able to tell the difference, the sauce will taste and look the same. This is a great way to add vegetables to your daughter’s diet without her ever knowing it. Jarred baby food will end up your best friend, because you can add it to any recipe that needs moisture; add it to meatloaf, meatballs, stuffing, pastina, soups or stews. Another option is to grate vegetables into recipes. You can grate carrots or zucchini into meatloaf, muffins or breads. There will be no difference in the taste and once cooked your child will not see it.
Bring your child to a salad bar and let her pick out the food that she wants. You may be surprised with what she chooses. This way she has a variety of options and if she doesn’t like something, she doesn’t have to eat it. Children tend to like the control of picking what they can eat. It’s a good idea to bring a friend (preferably one with a good appetite) and make it a fun outing. Children are more likely try a new food if they see a friend trying it too.
No matter how frustrating it is to get your child to eat try not to let your emotions get the best of you. If your daughter sees and hears you complain about her not eating, she may capitalize on the situation and use meal time as a source of getting you to spend a lot of time coaxing her to eat. Soon she will learn to use eating or not eating as a tool to get your attention and meal time can end up a battle. Instead be a good example and eat vegetables in front of your child with a big smile on your face. (2) By keeping meals an enjoyable time there’s a better chance you’ll find success in getting your child to eat a healthy meal.
For more information about healthy eating and dietary requirements for children at different ages you can log on to The American Dietetic Association website at:
(1)United States Department of Agriculture. Mypyramid. The American Dietetic Association Website at: http://www.MyPyramid.gov. Accessed July 2006.
(2) Rosenthal M. Suggestions to help parents change their toddler’s behavior outlined. Infectious Diseases in Children. 2006. March:44-45.
Lisa-ann Kelly R.N., P.N.P.,C.
Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Pediatric Advice About Keeping Kids Healthy