Got a fussy eater who refuses to gobble up greens (and reds and oranges)? Open wide for these healthy eating tips for your toddler...
“Help! My kids won’t eat any veggies!” As a former psychologist and Certified Health Coach, I heard this ALL the time from toddler parents. It was one of the most pressing concerns that parents brought to our sessions. And while unfortunately there are no quick fixes or easy answers, I do have some ideas that have worked well for parents. And when it comes to healthy eating tips for kids, the key is consistency and patience.
First know that kids aren’t born loving vegetables. (Well, maybe some are, but the vast majority are not.) Vegetables are a learned taste. It’s been said that a child (or adult, for that matter) needs to taste a food ten to twelve times before they can say they don’t like it. That’s ten different meals, not ten bites in the same meal! Remember, patience and consistency. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep at it, things will eventually change. Here are my go to tips for parents to help toddlers eat their vegetables and kickstart some healthy eating habits…
5 healthy eating tips for toddlers
1. Get the kids into the kitchen and have your kids help out
Find an hour when you are not crunched for time (because having kids in the kitchen can make things go verrrry slowly). Pick something they want to make and health-ify it. Are kids asking for pizza? Make your own! Add veggies to the sauce, and make the dough too. It’s super easy, and I am not a baker at all. Here is my go-to pizza dough recipe (I use organic flour). Make the kitchen a fun place to be. Cut the veggies into funny shapes or have the kids squeeze fresh tomatoes with their hands for the tomato sauce. Kids are much more likely to eat any food that they themselves have prepared.
2. Keep introducing (and reintroducing) vegetables
Remember what I said about tasting foods ten times before saying you don’t like it? Well here you go. Try different meals with that ‘yucky vegetable’ in there to reintroduce the flavours to your toddler. And if all else fails, introduce new vegetables too, until you find one that passes the taste test!
3. Add veggies to breads, muffins, eggs etc.
Don’t “hide” the veggies but have your children see them and taste them but in a way that is more palatable for them. A popular dish in our house for a quick and easy breakfast is veggie egg muffins. It’s a great recipe to use with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Loaded with veggies and cheese, they are a crowd pleaser. Zucchini bread with dark chocolate chips is another favourite. Top tip: swap maple syrup or honey in sweet recipes to make them even healthier!
4. Have the veggies ready first
Just before mealtime, kids start to get hungry (especially if you avoid giving snacks for at least two hours before meals, which I recommend.) So, it helps to have cut veggies at the ready for hands to grab onto. Have a nice tray of cut veggies and a dip (there are so many recipes online for healthy versions of ranch dressing which kids love) for kids to snack on before dinner.
5. Battle-free mealtimes: a time to connect
Instead of thinking of mealtime as a battleground where you feel in order to be a good parent you “must” get your child too eat X number of veggies, try to use it as a time to talk about what happened during the day, tell funny jokes, talk about healthy foods or just have a laugh. While getting veggies into those little bellies is important overall, it’s also vital for the family as a whole to connect daily over the dinner table. Think of mealtimes as a chance to connect with your children. It will make the meals far less stressful and kids may be more willing to try new foods and retry others if they are not feeling pressured to do so.
Your toddler may not become a veggie lover overnight, sorry to say. But by consistently and patiently making vegetables available in a relaxed setting without expectations, they will start to become more comfortable at trying (and retrying!) those veggies.