And just to be clear, you shouldn’t completely blame yourself! But, there are ways to improve your toddler’s chances of growing up with a more positive relationship with the “dreaded” greens and yellows they often slowly learn to despise. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, check out this article that described a survey of moms of 6-12-month-olds and their eating habits. One in four of the mothers reported their children ate zero vegetables on days they were surveyed. Not even a bite. This is such telling information because that is the exact age when it’s most important to start introducing vegetables to your kids! Sure, they probably won’t eat every last bite, they may even spit some out, but having them available on their plate at every meal is one important step in developing a healthy eater (breastfeeding is another good way to introduce them to the taste of vegetables, read my blog post).
My experience with Paige and vegetables has been pretty great (but not perfect). Here are some vegetables I know she will always eat;
- Cooked carrots (must be cooked or she spits them out!)
Here are some vegetables that she eats sometimes, but not always
- Brussel sprouts (she prefers them roasted…don’t we all?!)
- Spinach (wilted with oil and a dash of salt)
- Butternut squash
When Paige first started eating solids, we basically only gave her vegetables! She made a mess, but that’s the point. They explore everything about food.
As Paige has gotten older and more mature, she has shown us that she has a voice and will often repeat the opinions of her daycare colleagues that, “vegetables are yucky”. Of course, the key is to not react and just continue giving her veggies (and eating them ourselves, in front of her). Here are some of my tips for raising a good vegetable eater;
- Read this blog post about the recommendations for servings of fruits and veggies for your toddler
- Don’t ever give up on a specific vegetable. If you and your family eat green beans often, for example, and one day your toddler doesn’t eat them, don’t give up, continue feeding him/her green beans. Did you know that it can take up to ten times of offering a food before your toddler will accept it? Ok, so maybe he/she will end up not ever liking green beans, and that’s fine, but don’t give up too soon.
- If your child eats a vegetable one day, but not the next, it doesn’t mean they don’t like it.I’ve given Paige zucchini before and she’s eaten it by the fistful, but other times she turns her nose at it. I make zero comments. I simply continue giving it to her when I make it for the family (I’m not going to make one type of vegetable for me and Nick, and then another for her!). If she eats it, great, if not, I’ll eat it myself and make no comment.
- Don’t watch your child eat. And by this, I mean don’t sit and stare. I’ve been guilty of giving Paige a plate of food, wondering if she will eat what’s on it, and sitting there across from her watching her eat. She, of course, notices this and takes advantage of “playing tough”; “Nope, I don’t want this mommy!”. She notices when I am watching her intently so she does the typical toddler thing and does the opposite of what I want her to do.
- Don’t force your child to eat a vegetable they don’t want to eat. This only makes eating vegetables more stressful for your toddler and may add an element of stress. The only time I believe this to be acceptable is when, for example, your child has eaten more of his/her meal (including a couple of bites of vegetables) and then asks for dessert without finishing his/her plate. If they have already indicated that they will eat the vegetable, I think it’s ok to ask them to take 1-2 more bites before dessert.
- Let them eat sugar. I had a friend text me not too long ago and ask me when I first gave Paige desserts. She wanted my opinion on giving her one and half-year-old ice cream. I let her know that I’ve been allowing Paige to eat dessert since just before she turned one. Her one-year birthday cake was not the first time she’d had cake. I guess I believe that a healthy relationship with food means not avoiding anything. If Paige eats her dinner, she gets a small dessert (and I don’t make a big deal about it such as “finish your vegetables first!”. If she doesn’t eat her dinner, no dessert. Period. No discussion). Just like I tell my adult clients that deprivation isn’t the key, it’s not the key for children either! Allow them an occasional (or daily, in my opinion!) treat.
Don’t be fooled. She didn’t like the marshmallow; burnt or not.
- Avoid juice. Your child may ask for juice instead of whole fruit and veggies, and that’s just no Bueno. They can drink juice when they are old enough to make their own decisions about what goes into their bodies. I’m one of those dietitians that believe fruit juice has no place in a healthy diet (aside from the occasional 100% orange juice, with the pulp of course!). Juice will also fill them up and not leave room for….you guessed it, fruits and veggies!
- Make sure you and your spouse also eat vegetables. Need I say more?
- Find some good veggie-loaded recipes and make them with your toddler! Need some guidance? Check out my picture book called “Cooking with Paige”! This book is geared towards kids who are in first through fifth grade, but of course any child (younger or older) could find it entertaining. The book takes you on a trip through the grocery store and ends in the kitchen where Paige and her dad make some veggie-loaded meatloaf, a quinoa salad, and ice cream with coconut whipped cream. It also contains some great “healthful” resources”. If this doesn’t inspire your kids to try some new veggies, I don’t know what will!