My son is 18 months and refuses to eat vegetables. I’ve tried mashing it and hiding it in his food and pasta sauces but he refuses to eat it and often spits out his food. On the other hand, he is pretty accepting of quite a number of fruits. How can I get him to eat his veggies?
Well done for getting your son to take some fruits; that is a good start. Many parents struggle to get their children to accept vegetables; sometimes, but not always, parents’ own feelings about vegetables predict how the child views them.
Firstly, make sure your child sees you eating (and liking) vegetables. At this age, children should be sharing their mealtimes with the rest of the family, and eating the same foods as the rest of the family. Offer a wide variety of vegetables, without considering media stereotypes (Hollywood movies are convinced all children detest broccoli; whereas in reality many children really like it). Try to avoid feeding your child on his own, or feeding him “baby food”.
Think of innovative ways to display the vegetables.
Whilst hiding some vegetables in pasta sauces may help a little,
it isn’t a long-term strategy.
As your son likes fruits, try starting him with vegetables that are more similar to fruits, such a cherry tomatoes and cucumber. Cherry tomatoes can be chopped into quarters and given as finger feeds. Cucumber strips work well with dips (as do steamed carrot sticks and steamed broccoli florets); try dipping them into hummus (chickpea puree) or guacamole (avocado puree) – after all, children love playing with their food!
Food presentation counts too. Making a meal visually appealing can help entice a child into eating it. Chopping vegetables of various different colours into fried rice and naming it something appealing like jewel rice or sweetie rice often changes a child’s perspective on a meal: try adding petit pois (tiny sweet peas), sweetcorn kernels and tiny diced pieces of tomato, red and yellow capsicum, etc. to rice to make it look pretty. Salmon and spinach risotto is a firm favourite in my house, partly I think due to how attractive the pink and green look together.
Roasting root vegetables such as carrots, pumpkin and butternut squash in the oven with some olive oil brings out their natural sweetness and makes them taste more like fruits. Enhancing their flavours by using various spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon and even cumin works well too. Cumin is particularly good sprinkled on roasted carrots.
Remember that it can sometimes take several attempts with a new food before your child decides that he likes it, so a certain amount of patience and perseverance is necessary.
Questioned answered by:
Dr Natalie Epton
MB ChB (Birmingham, UK)
MRCPCH (Paediatrics, UK)