You’re likely here because you have a picky eater. You might be begging your child to just take a bite of any veggie. Seriously, any one will do. You just desperately want them to get the nutrition they need.
I get it. It’s so frustrating when your child won’t touch an entire food group, and vegetables are certainly one of the most commonly avoided. As a dietitian that works with parents just like you every day, I understand your disappointment and worry.
And lucky for you, I also know all the strategies that can help! Read on if you want not just a list of vegetables for picky eaters, but to map out a plan to help your specific child learn to like vegetables.
Get out a piece of paper and something to write with. By the time you get to the end of this article, you’ll have an actual plan to start introducing your picky eater to the veggies they are most likely to eat!
Table of Contents
Finding the best vegetables for picky eaters
There’s a couple things we need to consider before we dig into the specifics of helping your picky eater learn to eat vegetables. Without these considerations, you could be setting yourself up to fail at this task, so don’t skip this section!
Pick vegetables you have access to and routinely serve
First, you need to consider the vegetables that are even going to enter your home. If you never eat eggplant, you have absolutely no reason to help your child learn to like it. You likely won’t put it on your grocery list, know how to cook it, or even model eating it yourself.
You also want to consider vegetables you have easy access to. If jicama or romanesco aren’t even at the store where you shop (or are wildly expensive), again, there’s no point in helping your child learn to eat it, at least right now.
So, skip any veggies that aren’t commonly eaten in your family, readily available, or financially accessible.
Do start a list (yep, I mean actually start writing) that includes vegetables that you and other family members like, ones important to you culturally, ones that are eaten for family holidays or traditions, and ones you have easy access to obtain.
Avoid vegetables that your child lacks skills to eat (for now)
Another thing you’ll want to consider is vegetables your child is developmentally ready to eat. Children need to learn 5 skills in order to be successful eaters. These skills include sensory tolerance, postural stability, tongue tip lateralization, rotary chewing, and a positive mindset.
Deficiencies in any of these skills can prevent a child from learning to like vegetables, until they are addressed. For example, kids struggling with rotary chewing might avoid hard carrots. A child that hasn’t built sensory tolerance might struggle with wet cucumber.
To learn more about these each of these skills and work to find out if your child is struggling with one or more of them, check out the free Causes of Picky Eating course.
Avoid vegetables that are a choking risk (for now)
Last, you’ll want to be sure you’re serving vegetables that are safe for them to eat. Safety is especially important to consider for toddlers, as many foods can be a choking risk for children under 4 years old.
Check out my post, Everything You Need to Know about Choking Risks to be sure you’re selecting vegetables and preparation methods that decrease the risk of choking.
No veggie is off limits forever, but you’ll want to start with some that are safe and they stand to have the most success with.
Get more specific with vegetables for picky eaters
Now, it’s time to take the veggies on your list and get more specific. While any and all exposure is helpful, you’ll have more success with moving toward actual tasting if you have a strategy.
Take your piece of paper and flip it over. Now we are going to think about your child. First, make a list of their top 10 to 20 favorite foods (more if you are motivated). Then, take a look at those foods. What trends do you see?
Most kids have a preference pattern in the foods they feel safe eating. Here’s some things you might see come out in your child’s preference pattern.
|crunchy||salty||hot||bite sized||with dips|
|crisp||sweet||cold||long strips||inside “bready” foods |
(muffins, pancakes, breads, etc.)
|soft||umami/savory||room temperature||round – balls or coins||pureed in other foods |
(smoothie, sauces, yogurt flavors, etc.)
|soft||big flavors (high sensory input)||frozen||triangle||breaded|
|rough||bitter||fun shapes||with cheese|
|big textures (high sensory input)||roasted/grilled/charred||grated or shredded|
|starchy||mild flavor||crinkle cut|
Once you’ve determined the veggies you’ll be serving in your home AND your child’s preference pattern – you have everything you need to gather some specific recipes to start to prepare for your family.
Example picky eater vegetable plan
Let’s say for example, the following vegetables are ones you routinely buy: carrots, peas, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and asparagus.
Let’s also say, your picky eater is 6 years old, so you don’t need to consider any specific modifications for choking risk.
In this example, the child’s preference patterns include foods that are crunchy, crispy, salty and sweet combined, salty alone, sour, umami, big flavors, and frozen. He will also eat mixed foods, if completely pureed inside another food (and aware it’s there), such as smoothies, yogurt and bread. He has no preference in size or shape.
Here’s a list of vegetables with specific preparations that would be good ones to serve, based on this child’s preferences:
- Brown sugar and buttered Brussels sprouts (salty/sweet combination)
- Bacon wrapped asparagus (salty, crispy)
- Raw carrots, sugar snap peas, green beans, romaine lettuce, and peppers (crunchy)
- Salad with vinegar based dressing (crunchy, sour)
- Fruit smoothie with peas, cauliflower, or cucumbers (pureed inside another food)
- Zucchini bread or muffins with zucchini very finely chopped (pureed inside another food)
- Broccoli with butter and Parmesan cheese (salty/umami combination)
- Sweet potato coconut freeze pop (frozen)
- Pureed potato soup with cheese (pureed inside another food, salty, umami)
Can you see how I’m not interested in just putting steamed Brussels sprouts on the table? They are mushy and bitter, and are likely a food he isn’t even interested in looking at. They give me no gateway to taking next steps like talking, smelling, touching, licking, or biting.
On the other hand, when I add salted butter and brown sugar and caramelize them, their appeal increases and we can help this child get closer and explore. Even initial steps like talking about ingredients and using descriptive words are early steps to opening his mind to the possibility of eating.
We can talk about how they are now crispy on the edges and have a salty sweet flavor. We can pick them up and lick them to see if they taste like the caramel from a caramel apple. Or, we can peel a leaf off and bite it to see if it’s crispy (and spit it out if needed!).
For a whole library on how to explore specific vegetables, exact strategies to open a child’s mind to the possibilities of trying new things, and vegetable recipes based on preference patterns, join the Mastering Mealtimes Membership.
Everything is laid out for you so you don’t have to waste your time thinking and planning and can spend it taking action instead!
7 ways to move veggies from yuck to yum
Now that you know what kinds of vegetables to serve your picky eater and how to prepare them, let’s take a look at other considerations that can help your child make progress.
When kids help prepare vegetables they are taking the initial steps to warm up to them. It’s especially helpful to do this in an environment where they are focused on tasks other than eating – like washing, chopping, and stirring.
They are also investing time and energy into the food, increasing their desire to put it on their plate at the mealtime and possibly take next steps. Pride in accomplishments goes a long way when building comfort!
When introducing new vegetables (or any food), keep the portion small. This is less overwhelming for a hesitant eater and still accomplishes the goal of exposure.
Don’t expect your child to love a vegetable the first time you serve it, even when you’ve taken into consideration their preference pattern. Kids need many exposures and interactions with a food to learn to like it, and hesitant eaters in particular should be expected to take things slow.
Serve new vegetables when your child is well rested, pleasant, and hungry (but not hangry). This might be breakfast, as an appetizer before dinner, or for snack. Don’t get stuck in the rut of only serving vegetables at dinner, which is often the most difficult meal for children already.
Don’t ask or require your child to take a bite of food. This type of pressure actually makes kids less willing and likely to try a new food.
Instead, offer for them to use their senses to explore it and go at their own pace. Low pressure interactions will yield a child that actually wants to eat vegetables long term, rather than one that is required to.
Be sure to always offer other foods that your child feels comfortable eating. This reduces their stress around new veggies and helps them feel comfortable to explore them, knowing that they have other options to eat and fill their belly.
It’s just as important to get vegetables on your plate! In the long term, children tend to eat the foods their whole family eats – and that includes vegetables. And if veggies aren’t your favorite either, consider exploring them in the same way your child is. Doing it together has so much power.
Remember that learning to like veggies takes time
I know you want your child to just sit down and dig into their veggies, but in reality they are going straight for the nuggets or fries instead. It’s tempting to beg and force them to eat the variety that you worry they are lacking. You might even want to make them eat veggies first, before getting their cookies!
BUT, taking slow and steady steps to expose your child to vegetables that fit their preference pattern and then engaging them strategically is proven to help them expand and offers the most benefits in the long term! A little support and some great tools that make your life easier never hurt either!
That’s why I’d love to invite you inside the Mastering Mealtimes Membership. Inside you’ll get the tools to address mealtime behaviors, negative parent/child feeding dynamics, mindset blocks (for both you and your child), sensory challenges, and more!
The resources in this community are invaluable. Take it from Rachell D., mom of a 3 year old girl…
“I thought the Mastering Mealtimes Membership would just tell me things I already knew. I’ve bought stuff from people I followed on Instagram before and I always regretted it. Plus, I didn’t want to spend more time prepping stuff that takes away family time.
I work all day and meal time already feels rushed and crazy. In reality, Mastering Mealtimes fits very well into what we are already doing as a family. I don’t feel stressed to make drastic changes to my shopping or meal prep. It’s little tweaks that make life easier.
The biggest win so far is seeing my daughter eat lettuce. I honestly thought it would never happen. The program has given me go-to sentences that roll off the tongue and it makes things easier for both of us. I feel like I’m acquiring secret tools.
Food is important but it shouldn’t be a time consuming, stressful thing. I think the philosophy of this program is to leave some of the burden to the expert, and then just use that freed up brain space to be a goofball with your kid.
And then somehow your kid is suddenly eating handfuls of LETTUCE (still blown away by this) and MIXED FOODS!”
I can’t wait to walk you step by step through finding the right vegetables for picky eaters and helping them learn to enjoy them, so you can raise a happy and healthy kid!
Kim Slack is a Registered Dietitian, Quality Improvement Professional, Parent Coach and founder of On Your Table, LLC. She coaches parents on feeding strategies and parenting styles that support children to learn to eat a varied diet. Kim has helped countless families have happier, calmer mealtimes and grow competent eaters. Kim also has 2 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her from her about page.