Getting Toddlers To Eat Vegetables

I should probably start this post with a disclaimer. My toddler (who I guess won't be considered a toddler much longer, since she's 3 1/2....) doesn't eat most vegetables. She balks at anything new on her plate. And if someone else at the table mentions they don't care for any of the food, she immediately decides she hates it, too.

So why on earth am I writing a blog post about getting toddlers to eat vegetables, when I am not successful at that task myself? Well, I do have some ideas and they do work. Most of the time. Plus, I'd love to hear what others have to say on this subject.

When C was a baby and I started her on solids, I made sure to introduce her to a variety of things. I read a ton of stuff about feeding babies. "They" say its a good idea to offer babies a variety of foods so their palette will be well-rounded. You know, in hopes that once they become independent 3 year olds they will actually want to eat broccoli and green beans and butter beans.

Yeah, right.

C ate every vegetable that came from our garden, plus what I bought at the grocery store. She ate lots of fruits. The only thing I could never get her on board with was grains, but I was okay with that for a while. Once she was able to actually chew stuff up, we discovered that girl loves bread and crackers. (She's definitely my child. She'll eat my homemade bread like its goin out of style, and if I offer her a bagel for breakfast, she's all over it.) From the time she was 9 months to probably 13 months old, sweet potatoes and yellow squash were her absolute favorite vegetables. She didn't care much for anything green, but I could get her to eat some.

Fast forward to now. If this girl had her way, she'd survive solely on meat and bread. Getting her to eat vegetables is a challenge. Thankfully, there are some things she absolutely loves, like raw carrots and broccoli - as long as they're smothered with Ranch dressing (which I'm okay with). I've tried being sneaky and hiding veggies in dishes, but you can't fool C. She inspects every bite and if anything looks even the slightest bit off, she won't eat it. (She gets that from her daddy.) So being creative doesn't really work at our house.

Several months ago, she watched an episode of "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" that focused heavily on trying new foods. There was a cute song about how you should try new things cause they might be good. That Daniel has a lot of influence over my child. (Once, after a teeth-brushing episode, C insisted for several days on brushing her teeth multiple times a day.) So I used that episode to my advantage. For a while, it worked. I'd put a vegetable on her plate, she'd say "I don't like that," and I'd sing that little song and remind her what Daniel said. 9 times out of 10, once she tries something she likes it.

Naturally, that approach quit working after a while. I still try it, but she's too smart for that now, I guess. I don't often cook things that are truly new for us, but when C tries something new to her I make sure to praise her. And if she doesn't like it, I don't force her to eat it. Well, maybe I should take that back....haha, back to that in a minute.

Last week, I roasted some cauliflower. We've never had that before, and we were skeptical, but it was delicious. I mean, even my husband said it was really good. I asked C to try it and she refused at first, but eventually did give in and taste a tiny piece. She hated it. I didn't force her to try anymore, but I made sure to tell her how proud I was that she tried it. I'm trying to get in her mind how important it is to try new foods. I really want her to grow up and be able to eat a variety of things. Super picky people are SO annoying to cook for. (I mean, unless you have food allergies. That can't be helped.) And I refuse to get into the rut of being a short order cook. Meaning I cook a meal and then have to fix something special for her, like chicken nuggets or mac n' cheese.

Growing up, I had to eat whatever Mama fixed, whether I liked it or not. Unless we were sick, we didn't get anything extra or special prepared just for us (again, we had no food allergies). Of course, I hated that, and I have so many memories of sitting at the kitchen table for hours because I didn't want to eat my green beans. I hated green beans. And you know what? Mama made me eat them so many times, now they're one of my favorite vegetables. I keep telling C that story, though I know she doesn't understand fully yet. Taste buds change over time, and you really can learn to like things. Take water, for instance. My whole life, I absolutely hated the taste of plain water. I only drank soda or juice or milk. It wasn't until probably 10 years ago or so that I decided I really should drink more water. It wasn't easy, but eventually I trained myself to like it. Now its pretty much all I drink. (Speaking of water, that's one thing that worked out really well with C. Her main drink is water. She has apple juice or orange juice occasionally, and sometimes I'll let her have a Sprite at McDonald's or wherever, but for the most part she drinks water.)

Every night at supper, I fix C's little plate with everything that we've cooked. If its something I know she thinks she doesn't like, I'll only put one bite up there. She always eats the meat first, then any bread I offer. Then she tries to tell me she's full - "look how big my tummy is, Mama, its full!" Yeah, right. Cause 5 minutes later she'll be asking for a snack. After she's done eating, she likes to take a few swallows of her daddy's Dr. Pepper. The deal is, she has to at least try everything on her plate or she doesn't get any Dr. Pepper. Or if Daddy gets dessert afterwards, C can't have any unless she tries everything on her plate first. Maybe its wrong to bribe her like that, but it works. And there have been some nights when she left the table without eating what was on her plate, and with no Dr. Pepper, dessert, or anything else that night. (Not like she went to bed hungry. It was her choice, anyway.) My husband and I are in agreement over this, and we are both very firm about her eating. (Though, we're not like that ALL the time. On vacation or special occasions, we're much more lax about it.) I personally feel better if she eats at least a few bites of something healthy (a vegetable).

Last night, I cooked freshly dug potatoes and fresh corn on the cob. C ate the chicken, and part of the corn, but refused to touch the potatoes. I told her I wanted her to try one bite of potato before she could get down. She's got it in her head that she hates potatoes for some reason. I've offered them to her with different sauces, but she still refuses. And I've tried them cooked a variety of ways. The only way she'll readily eat a potato is when its a chip! Well, last night, I was cleaning up the dishes, P had gone to help a customer, and C was still sitting there pouting over her plate. She was being ugly about it, so I decided to be firm and told her she could NOT leave the table without taking one bite. One bite was all I asked. Well, after about 10 minutes of pouting and mumbling under her breath (God help us in her teenage years), she finally grudgingly put a tiny bite of potato into her mouth. She immediately said "mmm!" and proceeded to scoop up the rest of the potatoes on her plate into her mouth. She said they were delicious. I made sure to praise her and remind her that this is why we have to TRY things.

I keep hoping that if we are persistent, eventually we won't have to fight with her to eat good stuff. Hopefully. Please let that happen!

Other people think we're too hard on C about this eating thing. They say we should just give in and let her eat whatever she wants. But we disagree. We think its important to get her used to the idea NOW, while she's so young and impressionable, that eating a variety of foods is a good thing, and natural. My husband is super picky, and its so tough to please him in the kitchen. I don't want my kids to be like that. This may sound extreme, but seriously, life is so much easier if you're not such a picky eater!!

Now, I say I don't force C to eat things she doesn't like. Most of the time, that's true. There have been a few times, though, when I have made her eat things she clearly didn't like. Several weeks ago, one of us cooked a stir fry or something. It had chicken and a variety of veggies in it. C, of course, picked out all the chicken and said she was done, but I wanted her to eat some of the other stuff. She threw a fit about it, and I insisted she take 2 good bites before she could get down. Now, in the stir fry there were butter beans and garden peas, 2 vegetables that I hate. But I will eat them if they are cooked with other things. Its just too annoying to pick them out, and I know they're good for me. Well, C used to love both of those greens. I know taste buds change, but honestly, I'm not sure hers have had time to change yet, she's just being stubborn! Well, she ate her 2 bites of veggies, and she gagged the whole time. My husband was concerned but I just laughed it off. It was obvious she was being dramatic.

The next weekend, we were having lunch at my in-laws. My MIL had fixed corn and butter beans. C normally loves corn, but sometimes she refuses to eat it. That day she was just being disobedient in general, so I expected her to fight about the food. Now, normally, my in-laws don't force her to eat anything she doesn't want to. My MIL will even fix her something special if she doesn't like the meal. DH and I have told her time and again that we do NOT do that at home, and she shouldn't either. But you can't easily change other people. (My mother is the exact same way with C, so I'm not just harping on my in-laws here. My husband and I are the ONLY ones who expect her to eat well. Which, I'm sure, is why we have so many issues with it.) That day, I was determined she WAS going to eat a few bites of each veggie on her plate. She was the last one to finish eating, and I could tell that everyone was upset with me for forcing this issue, but I didn't back down. (And really, once you make a declaration with a toddler, you CANNOT back down.) She gagged and it was all she could do to swallow the beans, and everyone felt so sorry for her. It was a frustrating situation, but I don't regret making her eat the 2 bites I required. And afterwards, she was allowed to eat cake, so really, she came out the winner!

Sometimes I think I'm being too hard on my child when it comes to her eating habits. But then I think about all the times I've been insistent and she ended up discovering a food she loved. For example, last year I took her to Arby's for lunch. She always wants to get chicken nuggets in restaurants, but we try really hard to avoid that. I got her a roast beef sandwhich (she had tried mine before and liked it, but had never had her own). She immediately said she didn't like it and wanted chicken nuggets, but I insisted, and she took a bite and loved it. When we go out to eat, we'll order for her off the kids menu, but we almost never let her get chicken nuggets/strips. And sometimes we just let her eat off our plates. She really likes salads, and you never see salads on the kids menu!

I'm gonna keep on fighting the good fight here. Maybe one day I'll learn a method that will magically make my kid start eating more vegetables. Or maybe one day all my efforts will be rewarded and she'll just do it with no complaints!!

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