How Do You Get Your Kids to Eat Veggies and Other "Gross" Stuff?

Updated on February 04, 2012
M.R. asks from Charlottesville, VA
19 answers

My co-worker wrote these blog posts ( where she interviewed a registered dietitian about how to get your kids to eat better. And she tried the tips on her own kids and had some luck, but they're still pretty picky.

I used to think it didn't matter, that kids ate what their bodies told them they needed and they'd be okay, but now I'm hearing about kids being diagnosed with nutrition deficiencies.

Do you try to force your kids to eat well or just let them eat what they want? Or do your kids actually like healthy foods?

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answers from Denver on

I agree that is starts from an early age.

My son has always loved veggies. One of his favorite dishes is vegetable soup. if he is hungry he is usually snacking on veggies - LOVE IT!

My youngest dd isn't a big fan of veggies. We always put a serving (her size serving) on her plate and if she eats it great if not no biggie.

I have learned to try to prepare veggies in different ways too which has helped. My son loves cold veggies but youngest we have found that warm is best for her.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kalamazoo on

I think it all starts when they are VERY young. My kids have always eaten vegetables because that's what I gave them and that's what I and their dad eat as well. No, my kids don't love broccoli as much as a donut, but they know that they have to eat well to grow up healthy and strong and if they want dessert they must first eat a balanced meal.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Boston on

To a degree, I think that there is a false dichotomy here. Eating well and eating what they want aren't mutually exclusive in my world. I wouldn't bring food into my home that I'm not OK with them eating, and therefore what they it is generally healthy. If you don't make lousy food available, they can't eat it even if they want to. Does that mean that my kids never have treats? Of course not...they generally have dessert every day and we bake a lot. But, breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as school snacks are chosen from the good, healthy, whole foods that are available in my house. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a part of every meal, as are lean protein, good fats, whole grains, and dairy products. Some of my kids went through picky phases but they were fairly short and we didn't make a big deal out of them.

Overall, I think that unless a child has unusual issues (texture, control, additional nutritional needs) then jumping through hoops to force or sneak in healthier options is a lot more work than just offering healthy options to begin with.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

My son eats healthy food because that is what we all eat at home. Of course he likes healthy food - if they are not exposed to what are essentially addictive foods - they will like grains and veggies and fruit. These taste good, help your body feel good and are good - why would you NOT like them. It sounds like you are assuming these things don't taste good and your kid shouldn't like them.

Now - fast food is DESIGNED to appeal to our evolutionary programming to like high fat, calorie dense, salty food. We evolved in the context of shortage and these are appropriate strategies when all food is scarce, especially protein rich, calorie dense foods. However, that is NOT the world we live in today. And yes - I lump 'kid friendly' food in with the highly processed, fat and calorie laden foods that are MARKETED as palatable - pizza, french fries, chicken nuggets, mac & cheese.

I like recommendations 9-12. I am rather disappointed that what appear to be some breaded flat processed item (chicken nuggets?) are shown on the plate. As far as always offering them something they like - we feed my son exactly what we are eating. We have since he was a baby (pureed initially, then chopped) so chances are good that something we are eating he has already eaten. But I see no reason that a kid who already eats fries and chicken nuggets is going to see the need to try real food.

A question for moms? How many of you eat chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, hot dogs, pizza and fries when that is what you serve the kids? If you do - is this what you ate before having kids? I am curious because (other than pizza (the real stuff from the pizzeria) - none of these are foods I ever saw people eat before having kids. Then suddenly they are ubiquitous.

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answers from Kansas City on

I didn't do 'health' foods for meals but we did eat healthy. Our kids always ate what I fixed, no choice of saying they didn't like this or want this, and we ate as a family at the table. We always had a vegetable of some kind and they didn't have to eat a lot of something but had to try it. They were good eaters as a result. I will say there were times I lifted a plate off the table to see a circle of peas surrounding the plate and that daughter still hates peas, but they did have to eat some and try it at least. I think it's a matter of what you expect and if I had let the kids eat 'what their bodies told them' some would have lived on chocolate and some on hamburgers.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I don't buy any processed foods, I think they shouldn't even be labeled as edible in my opinion so my kids do eat pretty good. 2 of my 3 kids LOVE fruit, if that's all I served I'm sure they'd be happy. They're even happy to eat fruit that isn't quite ripe. I don't feel I need to force them as the items I stock for them to snack on are kid friendly and nutritious. I make a lot of things like chocolate covered frozen bananas, "pudding" made from avocados and "ranch" dressing made from cashews. They still get what other kids eat, it's just the healthy, all natural form of it.

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answers from Provo on

The other day I was crunching away on a green pepper slice, thinking of how it did not go well with my bowl of cereal (long busy day), watching my kids going back for repeats on the green peppers, I thought, "I did this. I taught my kids to eat vegetables! But I did not do it alone." Basically what I do is to serve 1-3 vegetables at every dinner and lunch (if we are home for it). I require the kids to eat a vegetable before getting juice or seconds on any other food. Sometimes they throw fits, but in the end, they eat the veggie. Add to that the positive reinforcement they get to eat veggies at school and day care and I now have kids who eagerly grab handfuls of fresh veggies off the table while I'm still trying to set the table with what I think is the yummier food. It takes a little time to train our tongues to like certain foods, but it can be done-- even for adults. Good luck with your little ones!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Cloud on

I make a meal that includes at least one healthy option that I know they like...even if it's just carrot sticks. Then whatever I made is what we're eating. If they refuse to eat they're simply reminded they'll be hungry for breakfast then. If you become a short-order cook they'll expect you and others to accommodate them all the time. I don't have a clean your plate rule. If we're having a dessert they want and haven't eaten much then I ask them to eat a reasonable number of bites of dinner. A "no thank you" bite is a great way to get them used to new tastes and they only have to take one bite. Involving them in the cooking/baking whenever possible increases the chances of them enjoying food. I bet there are some recipes where you can hide healthy food, but I think that can almost strengthen their resolve that it's gross if it needs to be hidden.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Utica on

Im very very very lucky that my daughter eats so well. She has some texture issues with things like untoasted breads, rice or mashed potatoes but otherwise she will eat almost anything. She loves veggies and fruits but isnt big on it when they are cooked so I dont bother. Makes my life easier anyway without having to cook it. But usually for lunch and dinner I will give her anything from cut up tomato slices to cucumber to green peppers and strawberries, bananas or apples and they are gone. She used to love chicken and steak/beef and still eats it pretty well but we have our days where she trys to fight us on that. As for whole grains she will eat lightly buttered toast like its going out of style so we usually give her a 12 grain blend of that for at least one meal per day and then I just try to find snack food that offers whole grains. Im not sure if we just lucked out or did something right but she has always been an awesome eater - knock on wood. If you are trying to get your kids to eat their fruits and veggies you could always start with smoothies. They are a big hit here too
Good Luck

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I hide them sometimes - Iron defficieny runs in my bloodline, my son does not like to eat most of the iron rich foods if they are "obvious" So I have come up with ways to hide it. Jessica Sienfled and many others have entire cookbooks dedicated to this and they are tastey too!
Here is a simple one
1 cup bisquick
1 can "veg all" or equal in frozen (thawed) veggies, I use my own stash! (if can drain/rinse)
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
2 hot dogs (your choice, turkey, tofu, all beef) diced up
MASH the veggies, mix all ingredients together - form biscuits (your choice in size) bake 350 until golden brown depends on size 5-12 min on average.
My son likes to dip into mustard or have it spread on them sometimes otherwise they are a fun/easy grab and eat on a busy day!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Biloxi on

I never had a problem with my son eating healthy foods - it was what I fed him, and what he grew up thinking was normal. Things like McDonalds, or hot dogs, fries, cake were special treat foods, and only offered on a limited basis. He was allowed to pick anything he wanted from the produce aisle in the grocery store - that was his "special" area of the store. Main meals consist of a protein, a veggie and/or fruit and limited he will fill up on the starchy food first.

He is 15 now and still eats veggies and fruit and drinks milk. But, better than eating well he knows what a balanced, healthy diet is comprised of, so going forward in life he will be able to teach his children the same thing.

I have never force my child to eat anything - rather I prepare tasty, healthy foods, and give him a "voice" in the purchasing and preparation of our meals (he reads recipes with me). If he does not like what I prepared for dinner, there was always a healthy option that he can fix for himself.

Funny - one of our "Special" treat meals is hot dogs, wrapped in Crescent rolls, then baked. Special because hot dogs are still a rarity in our house. He always knows when I am fixing them because I tell him I making him a "Special" dinner. LOL

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

I have one child who is super picky and only likes certain foods. And I have one child who will eat almost anything. She is not picky at all. I don't force either of them to eat anything because my mom had a boyfriend who used to do this to his kids. I have always liked pretty much all foods, so it was not an issue for me. But when his children would come over to our house they would end up sitting at the table till bedtime with their dad getting more and more angry. There would be crying and extreme unhappiness and gagging. I don't do this to my picky eater. We have the rule that he has to take one bite of everything. I serve a variety of foods (I love variety and I love to cook) but I make sure there is one thing he will eat. I do tend to make the simple foods he likes more often than I would normally (dinners like spaghetti, roast chicken). My non picky eater will eat whatever I am eating and has no problem trying something new. The tips that people say to get your child to eat work really well with her - such as serving something multiple times, giving her dips to dip things in, putting foods in a fun tray, using toothpicks. Nothing works with our son. He almost seems scared to try new foods. My aunt gave him a food challenge last year and it kind of worked...she told him she would pay him $15 if he found 3 new foods he liked within the month. He tried so many foods willingly that month...he decided he likes egg rolls, these teryaki chinese noodles, and bbq ribs. Out of these 3 he has changed his mind on 2 of them but he still will eat about 1/2 an egg roll when we are out at a chinese restaurant. It is a start. He will eat 3 veggies and 2 fruits...reluctantly. When he was a baby he gagged at so many foods and would spit them out. When he was a toddler he never would eat so many foods...normal toddler foods like a cheese stick or a banana. He still to this day will not eat these foods. The thing he likes to do is to just say he is full as soon as he does not want to eat what is on his plate. He would much rather not eat all night long than eat something he does not want to. I really hate having a child like this. I just want him to enjoy food. It is my biggest fear that he will be the adult that will only eat chicken strips or pepperoni pizza when he goes out to a restaurant. That would be extremely depressing. I have 3 good friends who give me hope though...they say they were just like our son but worse actually when they were a kid. They all seem to eat normally now as adults.


answers from New York on

My kids love healthy foods, they're great eaters. My one daughter is not as good with veggies as the other, but still eats carrots, green beans, asparagus and edamame, corn, and some other veggies she likes. The other one loves spinach and broccoli and also all of those mentioned veggies. I don't know "how" other than we make veggies every single night with dinner, and we also eat veggies. I usually make a salad plus a cooked veggie.



answers from Omaha on

I try to have a nice balance for my kids, but it is hard because I struggle with my own junk food/fast food/ sweet tooth addictions myself so it is a group effort!! What I have found time and time again is my kids eat what I eat. They will happily eat grilled chicken, brown rice and steamed broccoli for example just as easily (and be perfectly satisfied with that) just as much as if I put a McDonalds happy meal in front of them. Just last night, my husband was going to make a run through a fast food place. I asked my kids what they wanted and they both said PB&J! My kids are 3 and 4 so we now talk about which foods are healthier and which are not. I also tell them that it is ok to have some of their favorite foods (that aren't so healthy) every now and then, but it is best to make mostly healthy selections as much as possible.This way, they don't feel deprived and are more willing to try a variety of foods without being forced into it. My kids love every kind of fruit and will eat vegetables. Raw vegetables are their favorite, but we do a lot of steamed and some canned varieties too. We drink only skim milk, cheese and love greek yogurt. In fact, we usually have ice cream or some other sweet treat for dessert after dinner, but my kids have recently taken to eating fresh fruit with some cool whip on top or yogurt with it. They think it is delicious and have no idea that it is way healthier than the ice cream! When it comes down to it, the adults really set the example. If kids see the adults and other kids around them making healthy food choices, then they will too and vice versa. It really is as simple as that. At least that has been my personal experience!



answers from New York on

I've been asking the same question myself! So far, I'm on p. 41 of _Food Fights_, by Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu. (They're the same authors who wrote _Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality_.) I'm not done reading yet, but what I like already is their list of "Top 10 Palatable Peacekeeping Strategies" at the end of Chap. 1:
1. Don't fight over food.
2. It's not (just) about the bite.
3. Never let them see you sweat.
4. Food for food's sake.
5. Try, try again.
6. Acknowledge likes and dislikes.
7. Eat by example.
8. Out of sight, out of mind.
9. Make fun of food.
10. Keep a big-picture perspective.
You can get their book cheaper but buying used on Amazon or elsewhere. Or maybe get your local library to order a copy. When you're done reading, let's compare notes!



answers from Beaumont on

I just keep trying new things again and again. Sometimes the 4th try works and sometimes not. My oldest just gave roasted veggies ANOTHER try last night and loved a few of them so I'll keep mixing it up so he just keeps trying them. Also, keep changing the method of how they're prepared. My youngest loves steamed asparagus but not prepared any other way.



answers from Oklahoma City on

In my opinion the more you focus on "making" them eat a particular food if they don't like it the more of a battle it becomes and it is not worth it. I think cooking good food that the kids like is fine. They don't have to eat Brussels sprouts or spinach at every

Kids will eat when they like what they are eating. I think cooking food like spaghetti is a good example. The sauce has good nutrition in it, veggies or fruit if you count tomato in fruits, onions, garlic, is not unhealthy. Then when you add pasta you get a meal that has hidden nutrition in it. No fighting, no arguments, just a fun meal where everyone sits around eating and making memories.

I have seen more and more of the kids of my friends eat garbage away from mom because they cram nutrition down their throats. They go to school and eat PB and J instead of the main dish just so they can have something sweet or something mom doesn't allow. They drink chocolate milk and juice instead of water, they rebel in a big way once they become an adult.

It is not bad to try and offer kids new foods, it's the way it is presented that makes a difference to me.

Introducing new foods but keeping the maid dishes kid food is a good way of getting the kids to try something new. They may try a bite of tofu if there are brownies for dessert and only the people who take at least one bite of the tofu get to have a whole brownie...just saying, it can be made fun or it can be a battle that won't be won.



answers from Savannah on

Variety, expectations, patience & acceptance are my answers. I put 5 things on the dinner table & expect them to eat 3 of them. I expect them to try 3 bites before declaring they hate it. I put the same foods, in various forms, in front of them often. Lastly I accept that people will always have food preferences.

I'm not an expert but I have a reformed picky eater that now loves roasted veggies. If you keep up the work, one day they will eat an overall balanced diet.



answers from Washington DC on

I've never had a real problem - and I think it's because I don't make to order. If I'm making Indian that night, the kids eat Indian. If I'm making chili, they eat chili. Once in awhile (if I'm making something too spicy, for example) I'll make them something else, but otherwise they eat with the family or go hungry. My kids have a few picky tendencies but I have no problem getting them to eat veggies, fruits, meats, etc. In fact, sometimes they PREFER the more ethnic stuff over the normal.

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