Getting Preschoolers to Eat Vegetables

by Kelley Jilek

A healthy diet and lifestyle can never start early enough. MyPlate suggests that half our plates should consist of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, kids are inundated with misinformation from media and advertisements every day. There are many factors that shape food habits and behaviors in children. Here are some tips for getting your little ones to try some healthier foods:

It takes 8–15 tastes before a child says he likes a food. Encourage the child to only take one small bite the first time. A child may not even try a new food until it has been offered two or three times. Even just putting a tongue on a new food may be all you can expect when introducing a new food. Don’t make a big deal over a food. Make it available, and show in a matter-of-fact way that you enjoy eating. Let the child decide how much to eat.

Satiety Value
If you introduce a new food when a child is hungry, you will have a better chance of having the child accept the food. The child will then begin to associate eating that particular food with eliminating hunger. You can choose the time and place the food will be offered, but the choice of how much to eat should be left to the child.

Social Context
Adult attention encourages good food habits. If you notice a child is willing to try new foods, you can say, “Taylor, I really like the way you are open to trying new foods. That shows your adventurous nature.” Avoid rewarding a child for eating all the food; rather focus on their willingness to experiment with new foods. Keep in mind that a child may refuse to eat if she’s emotionally upset, tired or angry.

As a provider, you can help children make healthy food choices by role modeling healthy eating. Serve and eat (even “just a taste”) a variety of vegetables.

Encourage Mini Chefs
If children participate in the preparation of meals, they are more likely to eat the foods.

“Hiding” Vegetables
If all else fails, hide vegetables in foods children like. Pumpkin cookies provide nutrients not found in a sugar cookie. Mashed carrots can be added to a meatloaf. Be creative!

Remember that a serving size for a preschooler is not the same as an adult. A serving size for a preschooler is about two-thirds the size of an adult portion, or one tablespoon for each year of life. Do you have any creative tips to get a toddler to try a new food that have worked for you? Share in the comments!

One thought on “Getting Preschoolers to Eat Vegetables

  1. I always serve veggies and fruit first at meal times, that way I’m sure they get in the requirement before they fill up on grains. I also tell their parents they can do this at home too so the child knows it is consistent. Another tip is to offer homemade dips to accompany their veggies. Avocado ranch is always a favorite.


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