How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Their Vegetables

Today on the podcast, we’re going to give our best tips on how to get your kids to eat their vegetables and when it’s just not worth the fight. 

Season 3, Episode 39

We’re so excited to share the latest episode of our Moms on Call parenting podcast, all about babies and toddlers! Are you really a parent if you haven’t fought with your child overeating their veggies? Alice in Wyoming is going through that with her 3-year-old daughter. Today on the podcast, we’re going to give our best tips on how to get your kids to eat their vegetables and when it’s just not worth the fight. 

Intro: Oh, the excellent veggie fight. There will come a time in every parent’s life when trying to get their child to eat their vegetables can be a feat comparable to climbing Mount Everest. If people have climbed Mount Everest, I want to apologize. I understand that that is challenging, but so is the battle of the veggies. So when is it worth fighting, and when do you just let your kid eat what they want?

Plus, we’ll tell you where you can find some easy vegetable recipes on the Moms on Call website that are
kid-tested and mom-approved. I’m Laura. And I am Jennifer. Welcome to the Moms On Call podcast. We’re so glad you’re here.

Whoever said babies and toddlers don’t come with an instruction manual never met the Moms on Call. For nearly 20 years, Jennifer Walker and Laura Hunter have helped over half a million families navigate parenthood with their best-selling booksonline courses, apps, and network of certified consultants. And now they have this podcast to talk directly with you. Ask your questions at 888-234-7979.

How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Their Vegetables

Caller 1: Hi, Laura and Jennifer. I love your books and your podcast. This is Alice from Wyoming calling in about my three old daughter, Sarah. She has been a picky eater, really, except when it comes to vegetables. If she sees the color green, it goes off her plate. We tried telling her she did not need to eat the whole thing, just a few bites. And she refused. We even tried telling her she could have her favorite muffin if she had two green beans, which did not work. I can’t even get her to touch carrots. One night I put some peas in her mac and cheese, and she fished each one out. She would eat anything a year ago, and now it’s a concerted fight. Any ideas on how to get her to eat some vegetables? Are there other ways to hide them in her food that she won’t notice? Thanks for your help!

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: Alice. First off, we want to say we have so been there!

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: We’ve had peas that they’ve fished out as well and actually thrown on the floor. How can they even do that? The dog loves it! How did they find them? My toddlers would see the onions and pick them out of the spaghetti sauce. I’m like, how do they even see those?

Toddlers and Vegetables

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: But we have great news for you. So she’s just starting to make decisions for herself. That’s one of the things that they often decide as they perpetrate their free will on the few things they have control over. So you asked a great question, is there a way that I can get her to eat her vegetables?

And there is a way that we can help to influence her to decide to eat those vegetables. And I think that’s more of what we’re dealing with. She wants to choose. And so we will give her some opportunities to do just that.

The truth is, she’s going to eat exactly what she needs to eat.

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: And I think that’s important to talk about because I think so many times we sit and we want to make our kids eat this and eat that that, and we find that a year goes by where we’re exhausted. We dread mealtime because this has become a battle that, if truth be told, Alice, we really can’t win. That is not our job. And we often say our job as parents is to create an atmosphere that allows them to have those choices. The truth is, she’s going to eat exactly what she needs to eat. She’s going to grow and thrive and meet all of those milestones. And five years from now, she’ll eat things that you never thought she would eat. And one of the best things you can do, Alice, is be an example. Eat in front of her, and create a variety of foods. You get to sit down, eat, and do some of those things that we call, oh, what is it, Jennifer? Triangulation? Yes. Oh my gosh. That is one of the best things.

Talk about her abilities in front of somebody she cares about.

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: So if you’re eating with grandma and there are some peas on the plate, vegetables, or whatever, you say, “You know what? One day she will choose to eat these vegetables and be unstoppable.” Use her name and do not say it always right to her. It just helps to say I’m on your side and know what you’re capable of. And that is such a powerful message that feeding our toddlers vegetables allows us to send.

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: Let me tell you a story about a sweet little client of mine. And oh my gosh, I love, love this family. I’ve worked with them for three or four of their children. It has been so much fun.

She is desperate. Her child was a little bit younger, about 24 months old, and would not eat anything. She was just on and on in her email about how much she was tired of the fight. I’m tired of making her eat. One more bite. One more bite, one more. And I was stressed reading this email, right?

What I want you to do is to provide three different food groups with each meal.

I just was really simple with her. I said, “You know what? Let’s not fight her
anymore.” What I want you to do is to provide three different food groups with each meal. What you
cook is what is for dinner or lunch, or breakfast. Put a few pieces on the tray.

I do want to make that really clear. I think a lot of times that we are putting adult serving sizes on their plate. Put a few pieces of each food group on that plate, and then you sit down to eat. You can talk about how yummy these green beans are. “Oh my gosh, this is the best green beans I’ve ever had in my entire life. Honey, Sarah will do so great at eating these one day. I can’t wait to watch her.”

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: I don’t want anybody counting my bites. Do you count anybody else’s bites at the dinner table? What is this? No. So they’re just wanting to lean into what’s familiar, and you’re making such a beautiful familiar scenario as you eat. Try and be casual, eat your food, and take all that attention away from her not eating the vegetables because it becomes stressful. And then they get attached to the familiarity of that stress. And neither of us wants to do that.

We will leave you with this!

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: And so I will leave you with this. Alice, your job is to prepare the food. It’s their job to eat it. So one of the things we want you to do, and even though she’s three years of age still, go ahead and download that solid food introduction calendar. It will give you some great advice about introducing some of these varieties of foods that we want you to do. But it also has some really good recipes in there as well.

Laura Hunter/Jennifer Walker: My favorite recipes are those you did in the Moms on Call online classes. You can watch Laura make some delicious smoothies. So yes, every parent out there is guilty of sneaking food into our toddler’s snacks! Yes. I think this may have been why smoothies were created in the first place. Somebody’s trying to get something good into their toddler’s tummy. I’ve also been guilty of one of the other things you mentioned: bribing. So us too, all these things, it’s all just this natural progression. We’re going to let it all go.

Make some great smoothies. Yes, sneak it in here and there. But more than anything, we want to use this as a learning opportunity where the two of you can reach a common goal, and your child really gets an opportunity to make some decisions. They will come back around. I promise you that even if she doesn’t eat peas today, she could become an organic vegetable farmer. Don’t put forever on this. This is a stage. They go through it. She’s making decisions. She will come to the other side. We want
mealtime to be stress-free.

Thank you for listening to the Moms on Call podcast. If you have a question for Jennifer and Laura, call 888-234-7979. Visit momsoncall.com for resources to help you parent confidently and thrive, not just survive your amazing parenting journey.