16 Tips For Getting Kids To Eat More Vegetables

Feeding your toddler can be fun and full of adventure. It can also be wrought with frustration, bribery, begging and even anger. Good news: it doesn't have to be this way! The key to establishing healthy feeding dynamics is much more about what you do, not what your kid does. 

On that note, food preferences are formed early on. They tend to be fixed from early childhood and continue into adulthood, making it critical to establish a healthful diet at a very young age. Vegetable intake is generally low among children, especially during the preschool years.

Repeated Exposure Is Important

Children prefer foods high in calories and appear to accept sweet tastes more than bitter tastes from birth. Since vegetables are lower in calories and bitter tasting, this might hinder vegetable intake among children. At the same time, repeated exposure of a new vegetable in early life is known to enhance intake of it. Luckily, that's just one technique for upping vegetable intake. Here are 15 more tips!

16 Tips For Getting Kids To Eat More Vegetables

1. Be Patient. Learning to like vegetables takes time. Age is a significant predictor of eating pattern, with older pre-school children more likely to eat less vegetables.

2. Keep mealtime positive. Do not force your child to eat or make “deals” with your child (ie: “eat your vegetables and you will get dessert”).

3. Piggy-backing the statement above, offering food as a reward is known to be negative and something to avoid. However, there is evidence to suggest non-food tangible rewards (e.g.: stickers), or non-tangible rewards (e.g.: praise) can be highly effective in encouraging children to taste new or less liked foods. They benefit from the 'mere exposure' effect.

4. Repeat, repeat, repeat exposure is the simplest and most convenient way to increase and improve vegetable intake in children. Offering the same food many times familiarizes a child with a food. Mothers often give up after only 5 exposures, yet current recommendations suggest at least 8–10 exposures.

5. New vegetables are best introduced when children are young—during a period when new foods are readily accepted and before the fear of trying anything new begins. Make sure to offer at least one veggie and/or fruit at every meal for exposure to different flavors and nutrients. 

6. When serving a "new" food or a food your kiddo is typically "choosy" toward, always offer a food your child knows and likes on the plate.

7. When introducing a new food, encourage your child to touch, smell, lick, or taste the new food. Let them take their time “exploring” the new food.

8. Allow your child to feed him/herself and offer safe finger foods. I love the baby-led feeding strategy, which you can read more about here.  

9. Always offer your child what the rest of the family is eating, in toddler-sized portions. Over time, these choices will become as liked and familiar as their favorites.

10. For older pre-school children who are fussy eaters, alternative strategies that focus on encouraging initial tastes of the target food might be needed.

11. Involve your child in preparing the meal (like dropping cut-up fruit into a bowl for a fruit salad). Handling, smelling and touching the food helps your child get comfortable with the idea of eating it.

12. Kids love to dip! Using dips and sauces can be an effective way of encouraging fussy eaters to try the target food (ie: fruit, vegetable, meats). There are so many delicious dips on the market right now! My kids love the vegan NuCulture cashew dip. I swear they eat twice as many veggie sticks when it's dipped into this. It would also taste good dipping meat. Other great dips include hummus, mustard, ketchup, olive tapenade, yogurt, bbq sauce, salad dressing, and mild salsa.

13. Although children prefer energy dense foods, adding oil directly to a new vegetable changes both taste and texture and might reduce liking. Try offering plain 'ol Jane foods first.

14. Kids prioritize learning, exploring and mastering new skills, sometimes above sitting at the table and focusing on food. When you bring novelty into mealtime, suddenly the experience is much more interesting because they’re required to explore a new tool or technique. Great novelty choices include measuring cups and spoons, muffin tins and ice cube trays, miniature play cups and tea cups, etc.

15. Lead by example. Caregivers are extremely influential when it comes to food preferences. Even if you don’t like a certain vegetable(s), please don’t assume your child won’t like it either and certainly don’t let your kids know you don’t like it.

16. Breastfeed Your Baby. Food preferences have been shown to occur while mom is pregnant and breastfeeding. For example, flavors experienced in amniotic fluid or breast milk might be sufficient to promote the intake of those specific or associated flavors later in life. Breastfed babies are more likely to accept novel foods including vegetables compared to those who were not breastfed.

I know it’s easy to get frustrated when your child refuses to eat the vegetables you purchased and worked hard to prepare. Don’t give up and consider the repeated exposure a gift to your child. If your persistence eventually teaches your child to like vegetables, s/he will thank you later in life when s/he’s healthy.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods 


1. Caton, Samantha et al. Learning to Eat Vegetables in Early Life: The Role of Timing, Age and Individual Eating Traits. May 30, 2014.

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