Vegetables for Picky Eaters: The 7 Things You Wish You Started Sooner

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Vegetables for Picky Eaters

Do you struggle to find vegetables that your picky eater will eat? Do you often fight at the dinner table with your kids over “just one more bite?” Are you frustrated with wasting food? If you answered yes to any of those statements, read on for 7 things to start doing now to help you introduce vegetables for picky eaters.

1. Create a Safe Space

The best advice I can give when introducing vegetables for picky eaters is to take a chill approach, as hard as this may be for you. Food introduction takes time and developing a taste for more bitter tasting vegetables is not always easy for kids.

This means that your spouse may glare at you across the dinner table as you let your 6-year-old spit food out in a napkin (as mine does). Now, we are not talking dramatics at the dinner table. Your kids should know that the table is a safe space to try new foods and not feel forced. They should know that you expect them to try the food, and attempt to chew and swallow it, but if it is a no-go for them, they are allowed to *politely* spit out in a napkin and you thank them for trying the new food and go on with dinner. The key is not to draw too much attention to the process and make this a natural part of the meal so they continue to be brave enough to try new foods.

I must also add that this goes for all family members! This can be a hard concept for grandparents, dads … shoot even dietitian moms at times! But you need to stay the course and CONSTANTLY remind everyone that it will work out, even if it takes some time. I promise you that they will remember being force fed … I mean, I still do and it took me many many years to eat a Brussels sprout – sorry, mom! 

2. Make sure you eat them, too!

Family Dinner Table

We can’t expect kids to eat the green stuff if we don’t sit there and eat it with them. Seriously. You don’t how many families I have worked with that prepare meals for kids that are different than theirs, or don’t sit and eat the meal with their child. Modeling behavior around the family table is crucial to your child’s willingness to try new things and learn other important things, like table manners. 

3. Find gateway vegetables

You never know what your picky kid will like so don’t be afraid to start! When I worked with families one-on-one, I would talk about kale chips as our gateway vegetable for my own picky eater. Of course my kids like salty chips, so why not try salty kale chips? Let me tell you, I could not have imagined how quickly their faces were covered in green bits of kale and how they devoured a bowlful – yes, a bowlful! When I got over the kale mess, I was fist pumping. This honestly opened the door to my little picky one trying more new green leafy veggies. I have recommended this to many families and I wish I had a dollar for every one that is has worked for!

When you find a vegetable that your picky eater accepts, use that to help guide your next introductions. Your child liked broccoli, try cauliflower next – they have the same shape and similar texture. Did your kiddo like kale chips? Try salad or a recipe with spinach or cooked kale. 

4. Try new cooking methods/textures

Picky eaters typically have a texture preference – crunchy, soft, etc. Take time to ask what they like/don’t like about a vegetable when you serve them. Talk about how you will try it different next time, this plants the seed that they will continue to try the food in different ways and sets up the expectation that they will try it again in the future. 

Let them try the vegetable raw before you cook it so they can immediately connect how vegetables can change texture and flavor with cooking. This opens up another opportunity to ask what they like better, leading the conversation toward a positive note – they have to choose one thing they liked better, not just talk about what they didn’t like.  

5. Try dipping sauces

Dipping sauces

Does your kid love ketchup? Let them dip their broccoli in it! Who cares if it’s gross to you, if it gets your kid to try a new vegetable go for it! We often have a little plate of dipping sauces for various foods, not just veggies. Try teriyaki sauce, ketchup, sour cream, guacamole, cheese (melted on top or sprinkled – my kids LOVE parmesan), soy sauce, barbeque sauce, salad dressings (ranch, Italian, thousand island, vinaigrettes), butter, salsa, hummus, etc. For the longest time my oldest daughter ate her broccoli with ketchup – repulsive to me, but she ate a ton of broccoli so I let her have at it! Now she eats broccoli like a normal human being. Let them be adventurous and guess what, they tend to take more bites if they try the veggie dipped in different sauces. You’re welcome.

6. Involve your kids 

Now I won’t lie, this one may take the most effort but it’s super important. Kids are more likely to try a food if they feel like they have ownership. Here are some ideas to get them involved in the process:

Kids hands choosing different vegetables
  • Look up recipes together and have them pick what they want to try. We have fun making adjustments to suit our family and then rename our faves! We now have “Princess Pasta” and “Green Soup” regularly.
  • Grow a veggie (or utilize the school garden). When my picky little one came home with radishes that she grew and picked at school and wanted to try them I was shocked! I was even more shocked when she LOVED the radishes. I am ashamed to admit as a dietitian mom that I had never offered radishes. We now buy them often and both of my kids dip them in ranch and Italian dressing. This may have never happened if she didn’t have a hand in growing them. 
  • Take them grocery shopping. I know, I know, taking kids with you slows things down and you often buy things that are not on your list. But the good news is that they can choose the fruits and vegetables they want and are typically more open to finding something new to try. 
  • Take turns picking the vegetable. Kids learn that not all veggies will be their favorite, and that’s okay. Not every food or every dinner will be our very favorite, but we still eat it because it’s sister’s favorite, for example. 
  • Purchase kid friendly knives. This has been a game changer in our household! My kids love to chop food themselves and this is a safe way for them 
  • Fun table settings, colorful dishes, etc. The goal is to get them excited about the dinner table instead of dreading it.

7. Go easy on yourself

It’s never too late to introduce vegetables for picky eaters

If you have older kids and feel like you should have started sooner, trust me when I say that it is never too late! When I was dating my husband he had never tried a fresh green bean before and was not used to eating vegetables daily. It took some time, but he now enjoys a wide variety and this fact surprises even his mom! I have worked with adolescents and families for years and helped them find their own pace at trying new things. 

Don’t overcomplicate it

  • Try one new veggie per week (or each time you grocery shop). You can even choose one new vegetable per month and cook it different way each week.
  • It doesn’t have to be a fancy recipe that takes forever to prepare! Season with garlic salt and pepper, and steam, sauté, bake, air fry, etc. 

It doesn’t have to be expensive

  • It’s okay to use frozen and canned vegetables for picky eaters, too. I often hear people say they have no nutritional value, but guess what? If your picky eater isn’t eating the fresh vegetables, they are getting none of that nutrition anyway! 
  • Buy small amounts while you are trying new things so you don’t get frustrated with waste. 
  • Freeze or repurpose leftovers. One of my favorite things to do when I had toddlers was to use leftover veggies to make little veggie cheese sticks and freeze them for weekday lunches. You can also throw them in a soup with your protein of choice!

I hope that you found some ideas for introducing vegetables for picky eaters in your family. Head on over to the Recipes page to find something new to try as well! 

Please comment below what you found helpful or any other topics that you’d like to see a post about! 

About the Author

Dru Rosales

Dru Rosales, MS, RD, LD is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. She specializes in children and adolescents with a focus on eating disorders, weight management, and sports nutrition. Dru received her Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Southern California and her Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University, Los Angeles.

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