Eat your veggies! How many times have you said that at the dinner table? You’re not alone. Getting your picky eater to eat vegetables can be difficult. But remember that it can take them as many as 10 or more tries to decide if they like a new food. So, don’t give up.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests being creative when serving your picky eater. Think fun colors and shapes. Involving them with meal planning has its benefits too. Allow them to select the vegetables served and pick out new recipes to try from a cookbook. And once your child finds a food they like, introduce other options with similar color, flavor and texture.
“My youngest is super picky when it comes to eating vegetables. He will eat lettuce, cucumbers and carrots, but only if I give him a ton of ranch dressing to dip them in,” says Catherine Hagen, a mom of two boys, ages 5 and 7. “He will also eat kale if I make chips that are baked and salted.”
Kristin Coursen says she has tried everything to get her 3-year-old son to eat veggies. “It’s been quite a challenge,” she says. “Since vegetables are either too mushy for his liking or too difficult for him to chew when not cooked, we have to get a little more creative with those.”
So, how can parents get their picky eater to pick up a veggie? Lisa Suriano, creator of Veggiecation, a culinary education program for kids, says engagement and exposure are key.
“Increase exposure to veggies by engaging kids hands-on in the cooking process,” Suriano says. “Let them select and handle whole produce at the grocery store. Guide them in peeling, chopping and recipe preparation. It takes a little extra time and patience, but these efforts help develop the comfort level needed to eat new foods.”
Stacey Antine, MS, RDN, founder of HealthBarn USA, a business that educates children (and adults) about better eating habits, agrees. “Hands-on growing, prepping — chopping, shredding with hands — and taste-testing are great tricks to get a picky child to eat their veggies.
“They love giving a thumbs up if they like it, to the side of it’s OK, and a thumbs down if they don’t like,” Antine says. “But as long as they try it, that’s the goal.”
Here are five kid-friendly vegetables that may persuade your kids to think veggies are cool.
This leafy, green vegetable is loaded with nutrients and antioxidants. “And it’s high in lutein (a carotenoid vitamin that promotes eye health),” says Antine. Made mostly of water, it’s an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Suriano suggests adding raw spinach into a smoothie because it has a “very silk consistency when blended.”
High in vitamin C, snap peas are also referred to as sugar snap peas because of their sweetness. “Peas are often overlooked for its ever-popular counterpart, the green bean,” says Suriano, noting that snap peas can be quite appealing to kids. “Take a raw snap pea and show your child how to gently crack open the pod,” she says. “They will love picking out and tasting the sugary little peas inside.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, this fiber-rich vegetable is also a great source of potassium, “a nutrient that is key to our nervous system and can help to alleviate anxiety and stress,” says Suriano. Antine suggests making sweet potato pancakes while Suriano is a fan of sweet potato chips.
High in beta carotene, which is good for your immune system and eye sight, carrots are also full of fiber, “helping keep digestion smooth and little bellies feeling at ease,” says Suriano, who suggests serving them shredded in a salad. “Carrots are super crunchy and best eaten raw,” Antine says. “Serve them with your child’s favorite dip.”
Low in calories, zucchini is a summer squash made mostly of water, but still containing fiber and protein. “Orange juice gets all the credit, but did you know that zucchini also contains a significant amount of vitamin C? As any parent of a young child knows, kids are germ factories and immunity boosting is critical for our survival,” says Suriano, adding that kids will enjoy squeezing out the excess water in zucchini when it’s used in recipes.
These simple recipes will help integrate vegetables into your child’s everyday eating habits.
Yields 5 servings
1-2 cups washed spinach
8 ounces frozen unsweetened strawberries
2 cups plain or vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
Place all of the ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth.
Super Snap Peas Stir-fry
Yields 5 servings
1 pound fresh snap peas (snip the end, wash and dry)
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
In a large skillet or wok, heat the oil. Sauté the snap peas and carrots until tender. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the teriyaki sauce and sauté for 30 seconds.
Yields 2 servings
1 medium sweet potato, thinly sliced in 1/4-inch think round pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil or melted coconut oil
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, place sweet potato slices. Drizzle in olive oil and gently toss. Sprinkle in salt and toss again. Lay sweet potato slices on a baking sheer covered in a piece of parchment paper. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown. Allow chips to cool before serving.
Carrot Ginger Dressing
Yields 5 servings
1 1/4 cups olive oil
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup tamari sauce or soy sauce
1 cup diced carrots
1/3 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
Sesame oil to taste, if desired
Combine all ingredients and process until smooth. Serve as a dip or on greens and tofu.
Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs
1 pound ground turkey
1 medium zucchini, grated (squeeze out excess water)
1 tablespoon grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon pink salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix completely. Take a small handful of mixture and roll it into a ball. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat until all mixture is rolled. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Top with more grated cheese and tomato sauce, if desired. Serve warm.
— All recipes are courtesy of Lisa Suriano, Veggiecation