Pediatric Healthy Eating: Helping Your Child Like Vegetables
Children may be “picky” eaters when it comes to vegetables. Helping your child to have more vegetables in his diet can be a challenge. Here are some ideas for you to try.
Toddlers and preschoolers grow more slowly than infants. Therefore, their appetite and food intake is less. They may eat a lot one day, but not very much the next. This is OK as long as they are eating enough to grow. This is also a time in which children want to be more independent. They want to feed themselves and want to control what goes into their mouths. Offering vegetables regularly at this stage can help encourage healthy eating habits for life.
Children should average 1-1 1/2 cups of fruits and 1-1 1/2 cups of vegetables every day. They may eat more on a “hungry” day than on a “not-hungry” day. The average is what counts! Juice should be limited to 1/2 cup per day. The other servings of fruits and vegetables should come from fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits and vegetables.
When and Where to eat?
Experts tell us children will eat better if they have scheduled meal and snack times and are not eating or drinking (except water) in between meals or snacks. Other hints include:
- Sit at a table away from distractions like TV.
- Eat after playtime. Your child will be hungry and more relaxed.
- Eat together after a quiet activity such as reading a book or telling a story.
- Offer vegetables along with a favorite food.
What Can I Do?
- Be a good example. Eat vegetables yourself.
- Do not automatically assume children will not like vegetables.
- Serve vegetables with meals and snacks. Children may need to see a vegetable 10-15 times before they are ready to try it.
- Do not give vegetables a “bad” reputation. Try to enjoy them. Point out interesting facts, such as the many ways you can eat carrots: cooked, raw with dip, as soup, or shredded in muffins. Make it fun and interesting.
- Avoid using dessert as a bribe to eat vegetables. Your child may then see veggies as “yucky” next to the “good” dessert.
- Allow children to help prepare them for a meal. They can shuck peas, snip green beans, open and pour packages into a bowl, place veggie pieces on a pizza, or assemble a sandwich with lettuce and tomato.
- Grow them in a small container or area in your garden. Patio tomatoes, purple green beans, or a row of lettuce, beets, or radishes may increase interest in veggies.
- Create interest with veggie play. Make boats out of squash wedges, cucumber moons, carrot coins, green pepper mustaches, broccoli trees, or asparagus batons. Mix different vegetables and fruits on a toothpick for a colorful snack. Fill a celery slice with cream cheese and add raisin “ants” along the top.
Ways to Serve Veggies
- Crunchy and slightly undercooked such as steamed green beans, carrot sticks or broccoli
- Separate from each other and not mixed up
- Top with cream cheese, peanut butter, yogurt or melted cheese
- Served with a dip such as bean dip, cottage cheese, tofu dip, guacamole, or ranch dressing
- Grate veggies such as squash, carrots, zucchini, or pumpkin and add to muffins, bread, and pancake batter or mix into spaghetti sauce, chili or soups
- Cut into bite size finger foods
- Glaze carrots or squash with honey or brown sugar and margarine before cooking.
Do not worry if your child avoids vegetables. As long as he does eat fruit, whole grains, and meat or meat substitutes (such as beans, legumes, eggs) in the right amounts, he will get the proper nutrients. A “taste” for vegetables will probably develop over time. Encourage your child to eat a variety of vegetables to grow a healthy, strong body.
Bright Futures in Practice: Nutrition 2nd Edition. Arlington, VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health 2002
Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family, by Ellyn Satter, Kelcy Press, 2008
If you have more questions please contact UW Health at one of the phone numbers listed below.
Nutrition Clinic Room
2880 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53705
Nutrition Clinic Room
UW Health West Clinic
451 Junction Road
Madison, WI 53717
Nutrition Clinic Room
UW Health East Clinic
5249 East Terrace Drive
Madison, WI 53718
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 07/17/2012
Copyright © 11/03/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#240
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