Are you tired of struggling to get your picky eater to consume their daily dose of vegetables? Well,worry no more! In this blog, I share 19 creative and delicious ways to expose vegetables that are guaranteed to make even the most reluctant eaters fall in love.
Whether you have a picky child or simply want to incorporate more vegetables, we’ve got you covered. Additionally, I have included some of the best vegetables for picky eaters that are sure to win over even the toughest critics. So, get ready to transform mealtimes into a veggie-filled adventure!
Why kids might be picky about vegetables
Vegetables can be bitter – It is well known that we have evolved with a gene that makes toxins in plants taste bitter and this is a way of protecting us from anything poisonous and therefore making us more reluctant to try bitter foods (plants).
Lots of vegetables are bitter, particularly green ones!. It therefore takes longer for kids to accept vegetables because it takes a lot more attempts to try vegetables compared to sweeter foods. Research shows that it can take up to around 10 times of trying a new food before it is actually accepted and liked.
It’s new to them – They can also display what is called ‘neophobia’ which is fear of new foods (1). This tends to start around the age of 18 months and can carry on for a number of years.
No one else is eating vegetables – If other family members are not eating vegetables then kids will generally follow. Kids learn by copying so make sure you eat up your veggies too!
Other foods are more desirable – if sweeter foods are available, their desire for these is often greater than other foods like vegetables.
They can look horrible – If they don’t look appealing then they will be judged as disgusting vegetables! Think when was the last time you ate a grey overcooked cabbage?
Why is it important to eat vegetables?
Vegetables are one of the five food groups that we need to be eating everyday and we should be aiming to have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. (2) This is challenging for most children but even harder to get into a fussy eaters diet.
There is a myth that vegetables are best to be eaten fresh. You can introduce vegetables in different forms i.e frozen, canned, juiced & dried as well as fresh but variety is key.
If you introduce lots of colourful vegetables (think rainbows) they are more likely to be getting a range of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre and phytonutrients. These are important for the immune system and helping to protect us against diseases.
So we know that vegetables are really important for our health which makes it even harder when it comes to feeding kids vegetables. We can get so caught up in getting them to try vegetables that at mealtimes the power struggles can begin.
So how do I avoid the vegetable battlefield?
Avoid pressure to eat vegetables otherwise it can make it worse and even end up disliking vegetables even more!. Here are some examples of things to avoid:
- Hiding vegetables and not telling them what’s in it or lying about what’s in it.
- Bribing them with a dessert if they eat their vegetables
- Asking them to take a bite of a vegetable
- Making them eat them all before they leave the table
What do you do instead? Remember that it’s your job to provide the opportunities to eat vegetables and let them decide if and how much they want to eat. No pressure! If you are wondering where to start then I recommend starting with exposing them slowly.
What ways can I get them exposed to vegetables?
Before you can get your picky eater to actually eat vegetables you may want to think about other ways to increase exposure to vegetables and help them to take the first steps. The more familiar they are, the more likely they will be more comfortable with them and try them.
We know it takes many tries before happily eating a new food. So exposure is so important in the first steps towards eating vegetables and any new food.
Many parents fall into the trap of only exposing their child to a new food a few times and then think they won’t eat it or try it again. It takes alot of persistence and consistency.
Also many of the ideas below take the pressure away from mealtimes as they are working towards eating a new food at meal or snack times.
I have listed 19 creative ways to increase their exposure and chances of eating a new vegetable.
- Grow vegetables – whether this is in your garden, inside on a windowsill or at an allotment. Any opportunity to do this will be an exposure to a new vegetable or salad and used in cooking. If your child likes books then you could try these plantable story books from Willsow.
- Picking vegetables -Research shows children are more likely to try vegetables they have grown and picked themselves than ones not homegrown. (3)
- Cook with vegetables -Make simple recipes together. Good ones to start with would be smoothies, soups and simple salads.
- Shop for vegetables – let them pick out one new vegetable when you go shopping or let them take the vegetables from the shelf. This is the first step in touching and maybe smelling the vegetable.
- Messy play with vegetables using different senses – you can play all sorts of games which involve smelling, touching, listening to snapping or chopping vegetables.
- Reading and talking about vegetables – There are some lovely vegetable books. I particularly like these dual purpose books that you can read and then grow afterwards.
- Role model – eating together and showing that you enjoy eating vegetables will allow your child to see the food is tasty and are more likely to try it. For more on this and other ways to create happier mealtimes you might like to check out this blog on 6 proven tips for happier mealtimes
- Get kids to help in the kitchen – by preparing vegetables if they are old enough or simply washing vegetables they are getting a chance to be exposed.
- Letting them help themselves at mealtimes to how much they can manage if any as this gives some control on choice i.e whether they want to try it or not. Also if the food is on the table they can see it.
- Try a learning plate which is simply a separate plate to their meal. For some children having it on the same plate as the meal is too much to begin with. so getting them used to it nearby is a first step.
- Offer a familiar food alongside a new vegetable – this will ensure they have something they like and often an accompaniment to the vegetable makes it a lot tastier. For example a sauce or grated cheese with vegetables can help.
- Provide vegetables with every meal. As simply as it sounds it is just another exposure and step towards trying a vegetable.
- Make them look appealing – Use lots of colourful vegetables that are not cooked too long so they keep their brightness. No one likes the look of overcooked soggy, grey, gross vegetables! These are the worst vegetables to eat.
- Make a display of vegetables – Arranging vegetables in a vase or making a simple display that you leave out on the kitchen table is a way of exposing them visually and interesting too.
- Art with vegetables – make stamps out of carrots, potatoes or broccoli. Or use edible paint on vegetables.
- Food play – such as using plastic or wooden vegetables to play with. Recreate a kitchen or shop with lots of vegetables they can pretend to buy.
- Buy a new or unusual vegetable – you could do this every few weeks as this builds curiosity. Research what to do with it and try a new recipe.
- Serve vegetables earlier. If you serve vegetables early or before a meal/pre meal then you can get the vegetables first. I sometimes offer vegetables whilst dinner is cooking and avoid the ‘I’m hungry’ scenario’.
- Include vegetables in different ways from raw to cooked. There are many ways to use vegetables and some work better than others depending on your child.
Best vegetables for picky eaters
Depending on the level of pickiness of your child and what textures they prefer will depend on the best veggies for them. From my experience with my kids and clients, vegetables kids like have milder flavors, crunchy textures and slightly sweeter ones. These are the best tasting vegetables to start them off with.
The Sweeter vegetables are the ones that are usually brighter in colours like reds, oranges, yellows such as
- Bell peppers – particularly the red ones which are sweeter but orange and yellow are still sweet. Serve raw cut into sticks with a dip or on their own.
- Carrots – Serve raw as either batons, matchsticks or grated as a side dish. Put grated carrot into wraps or a sandwich with some protein of choice.
- Cherry tomatoes – chopped into halves or quarters depending on their size
- Peas – petit pois are particularly sweeter. Frozen ones are convenient and quick to blanch and add to many dishes particularly pasta, rice or blended into a dip. Check out my feta and pea dip recipe. You could also take them straight from the freezer and try them frozen for a different texture.
- Sugar snap peas – can be eaten raw and the perfect size for dipping or lightly cooked in a stir fry to keep their crunch.
- Parsnips – Great in a soup for its creamy and sweetness or roasted with a little hard cheese.
- Sweet potato – make into mash potato and put onto the top of meat mince pies or fish pies. Bake whole with skin on and add your favourite topping.
- Sweetcorn – corn on the cob boiled and eaten off the cob or roasted in the oven to give a little charred flavour. Baby corn lightly boiled so still crunchy are very mild in flavour.
- Butternut squash – Roast whole or in chunks with some olive oil to intensify the sweetness. Blend up to make a velvety soup or sauce.
Other good options for their mild flavour include:
- Cucumber – Eat raw by slicing into sticks, rounds or even cut out fun shapes with small cutters.
- Cauliflower – Lightly cook by steaming or roasting and adding a cheese sauce or pair with other flavours like garlic, paprika or cheese. If you kids prefer crunch then add some florets in some beaten egg and then breadcrumbs before roasting in the oven.
Make cauliflower rice as an alternative to rice. Simply grate or blitz in a blender to create fine pieces.
- Lettuce – gem lettuce is mild in flavour and gives a good crunch. Add to sandwiches, wraps, burger buns or as a side with some favourite dressing.
- Celery -cut into sticks and eat on their own or fill the gap in the middle with some soft cheese or peanut butter for a nutritious snack.
Worst vegetables to feed picky eaters
Taste preferences are very individual and which vegetables kids prefer. Bitter ones are typically harder to get picky eaters to try due to their bitterness and/or texture. It doesn’t mean you can’t give bitter vegetables to picky eaters, it can just be a harder task.
Bitter vegetables are the ones that are usually green or dark green and include leafy type vegetables listed below. I have given some suggestions below of how you may want to try cooking with them to get the best way of eating them.
- Broccoli – Chop into florets and steam for 3 – 4 minutes or until it still has some crunch. Add to a stir fry or fry with some peanuts.
- Spinach – add to smoothies or blend into soups and sauces. Start off with small amounts so its not overpowering and combined with other ingredients it won’t be bitter. Or use fresh baby spinach mixed in salads as it’s less bitter.
- Courgettes – Use a peeler to create ribbons of courgettes and add a dressing or use instead of pasta and add a tomato sauce. Blend cooked courgettes into a soup.
- Kale – the only way my kids will eat it is shredded, coated in olive oil, a little seasoning and roasted on a high heat for about 10 minutes until crispy.
- Aubergine -Roast whole or in slices. Aubergines are best friends with tomatoes, so having them roasted with tomatoes works well. Or make into the classic aubergine parmigiana.
- Green beans – Steam for 2 minutes and they make perfect finger food. Alternatively add to chopped tomatoes or some chopped up sun dried tomatoes for a tasty accompaniment to other foods.
- Asparagus – Steam until tender and serve with some grated parmesan or ham. Or griddle with some olive oil and add a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end. Asparagus work well in a quiche or simply served with a poached egg (my favourite)!
What meal ideas are good that include vegetables?
There are so many ways to include vegetables for fussy eaters. If you find they don’t like one particular vegetable cooked you could try them raw. It is worth experimenting with different methods of cooking too as we often find kids will say I don’t like this cooked but like them raw, or with a dip. I have included some vegetable recipes for picky eaters too.
Just one note about sneaking in vegetables. If you’re feeling desperate to get your kids to eat more vegetables it’s easy to want to sneak in some vegetables they can’t see. A word of caution!. It may work for some kids and they are happy to have them but I advise you to tell them what’s in the food as otherwise they could lose trust in what you give them and make them more skeptical at trying new foods.
Soups are a great way to include more than one vegetable which makes it easier to reach 5 a day. You can make them tastier with the addition of a little creme fraiche, cheese or croutons. Try this spinach and pea soup
Raw vegetables are often preferred over cooked in some cases. My kids prefer raw carrots, tomatoes, peas, peppers, cucumber because of the crunchy texture and these are easy snack or meal additions.
Smoothies don’t have to just be fruits. You can make smoothies with a combination of fruits and vegetables. Adding vegetables that don’t need to be cooked like avocado or spinach add another texture and flavour.
Vegetable sauces are a firm favourite in our house. Tomato based and green based like peas or vegetable pesto work well. I think the combination of cheese in the sauce or sprinkled on top of the pasta makes this meal irresistible for kids. Try this hulk green pasta sauce
Vegetable snacks like my veggie dippers are worth trying with courgettes and other vegetables as the coating is crispy and it can make it more appealing.
Vegetable bakes are not something I recommend often because of the other ingredients like sugar and butter. However if you want to introduce them another way after vegetables have been tried on their own and you want to get them used to a particular vegetable then bakes like carrot cakes, courgette cake and beetroot brownies are real delights.
Simple vegetable side dishes to win over picky eaters
Salads start with a salad or side dish to ensure they get their vegetables in first. Crunchy lettuce ones go down well in our house with the addition of seeds and nuts. There is some further inspiration here
Vegetable starters are a good way to get the vegetables in first before they fill themselves with the main. This could be as simple as a dip and vegetable sticks, tomato and mozzarella salad or my pesto courgette fingers.
Tips for Getting Vegetables into your picky eaters
- Start small- you don’t need to serve large portions of vegetables. Start with small amounts and build it up.
- Remember to keep it fun – using some role play ideas, games using vegetables like making a tower of vegetables will all help keep things stress free. It also gives them exposure by touching the vegetables and seeing them.
- Serving vegetables to picky eaters can be done throughout the day. Don’t think you need to just keep to mealtimes.
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