Give Kids More Veggies and They'll Eat More. Is it Really that Easy?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The message is clear: All kids need veggies, and most don't get enough. So we've started coming up with all kinds of clever ways to get kids to eat more. Puree the veggies and hide them in foods. Cover them with cheese, dressing or other toppings. Cut them into the shape of cartoon characters. But could it really be as simple as just giving them more to get them to eat more? A new study says "maybe".

The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, studied 51 children ages 3-5. For three weeks, the children were given increasing amounts of carrots as the first course of their meal before the main course (which consisted of pasta, broccoli, applesauce and milk.) They were given no first course during week 4.

As the portion size of the carrots increased, so did the amount of carrots the kids ate. In fact, doubling the portion size (from ╝ cup to Ż cup) increased carrot consumption by 47%. However, there was a limit to how much the kids would eat, since tripling the portion size did not lead to a further increase in consumption. The amount of carrots consumed in the first course also did not affect how much was eaten in the main course. That amount stayed fairly consistent.

If your house with small children is like mine, you've got kids clamoring at your feet to eat as soon as dinner time arrives. "Is it ready yet?" and "How much longer?" are questions I hear most evenings. So instead of making them wait to eat their veggies with dinner, try putting out some vegetables for your kids to snack on. They are more tempting to try if the kids are hungry, and it also establishes a routine of eating veggies as part of every meal.

What do you think? Do you use any strategies to get your kids to eat their vegetables?

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oops. I accidentally submited the same comment twice Report
Most of the comments on this page are about small children but I will try this with my 16 year old. The older he gets, the worse his eating habits are. He has severe ADHD and like many younger kids is always asking when supper is going to be done. I'm going to start giving him his vegtables before his meal instead of during. Hopefully this will get him eating more veggies and stop the whining about supper not being done fast enough. Report
I like this suggestion. I have seen it work at my house. My nieces who are fast food or meat & potatoes type gals ate: long sliced, deseeded cucumber, carrots, steamed then cooled cauliflower and sliced red peppers with low fat ranch dressing as a snack before Sunday dinner. They really ate them up. One of them was definitely responding in a way of " I never get to eat these kinds of things". It's a good lesson in "kids will do what the grown ups show them"- we need to show them more veggies (and probably fruits too). ! Report
I am going to try to put this idea into practice a few nights this week and see how it goes. My daughter is 3 and she's an extremely picky eater. I know that some of this is just what kids do and some of it is because I allow it. My mother is an extremely picky eater (though she will eat some things that I think are disgusting; liver, for example). She hates salad, water, and a lot of "healthy" things and I learned my bad habits from her (I think). I was very picky growing up and I have only started changing my mind about certain foods in the last few years. Unfortunately, there have been more "sweets" that I would have sworn were more disgusting that I've grown to love (cheesecake!), than there have been of healthy foods. My daughter already has a sweet tooth and while she doesn't overeat anything, she still asks for sweets first. I do make mental note of what she's been eating and there are usually several points in the day when she will ask for something unhealthy and I tell her no that she can have X, Y, or Z type of fruit or other healthier snack. Eating veggies at dinner is a struggle, so hopefully this will work and improve that. I don't want to make her eating vegetables (or ANYTHING that isn't a chicken nugget) a battle or a bad experience, but I do want her to eat a better variety of foods. I will give it a go! Report
I had no problems getting my kids to eat veges. If I didn't have any, my youngest would ask for lettuce. My oldest liked frozen green beans because they squeaked when she chewed them! Report
We eat between 5:00-5:30 most nights. When my 5-year-old daughter asks for foods after 4:00, we give her carrots, cut up bell pepper, or lettuce with fat-free ranch dressing as a dip. She is autistic and used to be really picky about food, but I have worked hard to get her to eat healthy. Report
Worth a try! I'll be doing that tonight to see what happens. Report
My foster, now adopted 4th child, out of 6, ate Greek salad the day after she came to us. I truly believe it was due to the food neglect in her birth home. She still likes most vegetables, 6 years after the salad. But, I do hide zucchini, cooked carrots and other minced and shredded veggies from our garden (thanks, husband) to everything from chocolate zucchini cake and bread to lasagna and spaghetti sauce. I shred and freeze in 1 to 2 cup portions and take out a serving to throw in the pot. But, all of them, even my pickiest, whom we received at 2 days old, will eat raw carrots and a few other veggies with dip (lowfat Ranch dressing) as meals are prepared, table set and drinks set out. What they don't know won't hurt them, in fact, husband doesn't know there's zucchini in the spaghetti. An occasional breaded and fried veggie with dip won't hurt, either. Report
This sounds like a pretty good strategy. I would like to try it on my husband, too. He makes a face about eating veggies with dinner, but likes when I put out stuff for appetizers. Maybe if I tried putting out raw veggies and some low-cal fat-free dip, he would eat more. Hmmmm.... Report
I would put vegetables on my child(ren) plate, told them just try them once and if you do not like them; you do not have eat them anymore. But they all like vegetables and there is some that I tried and never liked after that. Report
My kids are 7, 9, 11, 14, 16, 17, 18, & 22 ... for years we've instituted the salad rule. It started out everyone had to have some salad on their plate with their meal. Plates could get crowded like that, and salad servings were becoming minuscule so we eventually changed it to the "Salad First Rule" ... everyone must eat a salad prior to receiving the main meal.
At first we just got them used to eating it again AND alone ... then we started making them increase the size a bit (appropriately to age and size as well). Some kids will start decreasing their salad sizes again if we don't watch them but overall, most kids eat a huge dinner-plate sized salad! Report
my kids are 7 and 15 and they fall for this all the time! raw carrots and broccoli are eaten every night while dinner is cooking. they dont complain and actually ask for it when we are out. Report
I had to comment on this one! My kids are grown, but I am a preschool teacher. This week, one of a set of twin girls was drinking her chocolate milk that came in her lunch, she turned to me after drinking half of it, and stated, "this tastes yucky".

Well, I was telling mom about this and she confided in me that she had bought a juicer and was adding vegetables to their chocolate milk, which she confessed was ovaltine that was quite a bit diluted. So, add veggies that probably separated from the milk (I certainly didn't shake up that jug of milk!) and voila! yucky chocolate milk! We got a good laugh about it, and mom seems to think they don't have a clue they are drinking their veggies! Report
My mom used to do this. She would put fresh veggie finger food on the table and they would often be gone by the time dinner was ready. Report
what a great idea! although my kids are grown, I will pass on the idea, and try to implement it for when we are hungry before a meal. Report
Here's a strategy with babies just starting to eat: after a slightly bitter food, like a green vegetable, offer a sweet food, like fruit. This makes the association in their brain of green vegetables with sweet reward. Also, keep offering a food even if the baby grimaces or sticks out their tongue. They usually need several offerings before accepting a new vegetable. Report
My 5 year old is a picky eater. And it isn't that I haven't tried, he willl simply spit out anything he doesn't like and would rather go hungry. There are a few vegetables he will eat (corn, peas, carrots, and brocolli). The only fruit he will eat at the moment is apple-pears. At least he also hates most candy. In an effort to increase his veggies, I've been letting him pick a vegetable for supper. Lately it's been carrots, because he likes cutting them up before I cook them.

I'm definitely going to have to use the "appetizer" trick more often. I've used it a couple times just because the veggies were ready first & he was hungry, but didn't deliberately plan it that way. Report
I think every child is different and that has to be taken into consideration. I am lucky enough to have a child who enjoys veggies but she also is the one in the store that other parents look at and think "Ritalin!!" in their head so to me it's all a wash. :P Report
As a kid, I grew up with meat, bread & spuds at almost every meal. We did have a lot of veggies but the usual carrots, peas, corn & salads. We weren't forced to eat everything on our plates but had to taste everything. Babies & small kids ate the same as the adults only mashed & often from the side of our plates(mom & I) when infants.
I fed any children I looked after - worked as a Home Support Worker - lots of fruits & veggies. I made dips with platters of raw veggies & supper salads or grilled dinners - I grill fruits & veggies too. Kids will eat what adults eat if you don't make a big deal out of it & make it interesting. Texture is often problematic but kids watch & do what their parents do. If the parent won't eat veggies, how do you expect a kid to?? And sitting a kid at the table until he cleans his plate is just plain stupid! Why make a war out of eating??? Report
This is something I have always done when my grandson visits. He will eat endamame or carrots while waiting for dinner to be ready. One night I did not serve him any green beans because I did not know he liked them and he asked for some!!!! Report
When our kids started solid food, we started them on veggies - in fact, our oldest signaled a readiness for solids by grabbing string beans off our plates! We served them the same stir-fried veggies we eat, but ground up in a baby-food grinder, not the overcooked / sugared / processed stuff sold in jars. The result: they have always loved veggies (and fruits) and still want sizable servings with their meals to this day (they are now practically adults.) Report
My friends 2-year-old is a big fan of veggies and will turn down french fries if she's offered fruit. Her mother makes sure there's always some available and always offers veggies or fruit first if the little girl says she's hungry. It's amazing how well it has worked for her. Report
I have always hated cooked carrot. I hate the taste and texture, I taste test it from time to time, just to see if my taste has changed. I love raw carrot. I sneak it into my cooked food because I think its good for me and that works but as a vegetable by itself never. Report
my kids have eaten veggies since they were little and prefer them now as tweeners and my oldest being in her 20's. I know that doing so early in their life will give them life long good habits and the ability to pass this love of veggies on to their own children which is already happening with my first grandchild (born 10/2008) Report
I'm a big believer in the importance of everyone eating their veggies. Kids are a whole different animal. Our taste buds change as we age and so things we might like as adults we might hate as kids. When I was a kids I hated most veggies ! I liked the standard ones like corn, peas and carrots. I even liked a couple out of the ordinary ones like broccoli and cauliflower. I hated everything else... onions... spinach... peppers... etc... wouldn't eat them.

However, as I aged, my tastes changed and I did start enjoying the more bitter tasting veggies like spinach or kale.

Will increasing the number of veggies on the place get the child to eat more ? it will get them to eat more of veggies they like. which is a good thing. but, if they don't want to eat their spinach, they aren't eating it regardless of the serving size.

One thing I've learned just from watching all my neices and nephews growing up is that kids are picky eaters.

Also, there is a catch 22, if we teach the child to eat more veggies, does this mean they are going to expect to eat more of everything else ? Portion control is important to maintaining a healthy weight. Yes, eat more veggies, but you still have to watch those portions.

I don't have kids but I like the idea of giving little ones the vegetables while the main entree is being finished up. They learn another good habit this way: stretch out meal time and don't rush through. Report
I was fortunate that my mother does not like a lot of foods so she never forced up to eat anything we really didn't like. which was a good thing because I still don't like many vegetables even though I have tried. I like most fruits so eat more of them.
As a child, I was always the last one still sitting at the table trying to choke down my vegetables! I think if more veggies were "hidden" in foods, like we do now, I may have enjoyed more play-time before bed!! LOL Report
I hated to eat vegetables when I was a child. My mother over cooked all vegetables and they tasted awful. I was stuck at the dinner table many many nights as a child, told I had to eat or I would stay there all night. Normally after about 3 hrs my mother made me take a bath and go to bed. I never did this to my kids. Only later as an adult did I learn to cook veggies the correct way. Still my children were given certain vegetables to eat and no yucky ones. As long as they had carrots, celery, tomatos, cucumber, yicama, beans of all kinds, corn, peas, potatos and salads, I didn't care about them eating brusels sprouts, asparagus and cauliflower. Report
Very fortunate when my children were young we had one rule try it and if you really do not like it okay, you do not have to eat it. The only two food items all 3 of our children to this day still will not eat is lima beans and beef liver. They would much rather have a salad as an after school snack than cookies or other junk food. They are all healthy & fit. I am trying to grow up to be like them. :) Report
As a child, my son would always rather snack on carrots, bell peppers, or fruits. Now, as an adult, and new parent, he still eats fruits and veggies a lot, but he is a picky eater and will only eat the fruits and veggies he likes whereas his girlfriend will eat anything. Hoping they will not force the baby to eat things he doesn't like, I never did but he did have to at least try things before he was allowed to say he didn't like it and not eat it. Report
We gardened together as toddlers they would pick broccoli, beans, corn, cukes, tomatoes and eat them while I weeded. They were given their own space to grow whatever they wanted once they were old enough. For fruits we had apple trees. strawberries and grapes. We grew organic so they grew up plucking what they wanted and popping it in their mouths. If we ate out they wanted the salad bar. I was always a closet eater. Snuck the junk in and hid it in my room. Report
I have found that at home if I replace a starch with 2 veggies, they don't even notice and just eat the veggies. Also, as a kindergarten teacher, we had a "fruit kabob" party. The parents donated cut and/or washed fruit. I put it out at recess on the tables and when they walked in the scent of the fresh fruits were heavy in the air. The kids oohed and ahhed about how good the classroom smelled. They loved building their own kabobs - they felt so grown-up to use the sharp sticks. They ate it and loved it. NOT one child asked for cookies or cupcakes. One little girl even asked if she could bring one home for her cousin because her cousin was "only having cookies at her party". LOL. Long story short - fruit and veggies can be fun too! Report
I had it easy, my kids liked a number of fruits and vegetables. My one son liked things cold or room temperature and would eat any leftover cooked veggies. I think though, working with kids, that some kids just have a stronger reaction to flavors and textures. I don't think you should stop offering new foods, but I don't think anyone should be forced to eat something they don't like. I also don't think they should be allowed to replace healthy foods with dessert. Find the healthy foods kids like and serve it to them often. Just like kids like the same story over and over, they are the same way with foods. Report
I hated sweet potatoes and raisins as a child and heard LOTS of criticism from my mother about it, even telling guests to dinner about how I had to have turkey dressing with NO raisins and she had to make a special corner of the pan just for me. From that humiliation I never forced my children to eat anything. Report
What a great idea Report
I love so many of the ideas people have posted here! I'll be using a LOT of them! LOL. I heart SP members. :-) Report
Make it fun! Nothing like sneaking up behind someone and giving a great big CRRRUUNCH in their ear. How about chewing a carrot like Bugs Bunny - always good for a laugh. Lead the band with a celery stick! Watch those veggies disappear! Report
I have three kids. When they were younger (and to this day) my daughter will try just about anything. My boys have always been pickier. I just found out recently they don't like pineapple (I know it's not a vegatable, lol)! I love just about every fruit and vegetable imaginable and so does my daughter. They all had the same options. I did alway make them try something before they said they didn't like it. Report
Putting veggies out as first course before the main meal is an old Italian trick - it uses fresh garden produce & cuts overall food costs as well as adding nutrients to your kids. Line a pretty plate with lettuce leaves, array bright colored veggies such as carrots, radishes, celery, peppers, cucumbers cut into sticks or rounds, intersperse a few pickled veggies or olives & let the munching begin. Leave off the cheeses & salamis for lower fat & calories. Kids usually prefer raw veggies to cooked anyway - they like the texture. Get them to help you grow your own to increase their interest. Mine loved to pick & eat from the vines in my garden. Report
All we can do as parents is make the healthy foods available, it's still up to the kid to actually eat them. I have one child that had oral trauma early on and therefore missed a critical stage of development and required 2 years of therapy to be a "normal" eater, though I still think it affects her food preferences (or as some would label it, "pickiness"). I provide a variety of foods (even veggies I don't particularly care for and fruits I'm allergic to, but they aren't) and some days they eat them and some days they don't. I just keeping making a wide variety of produce available and know that as they grow, the kids will change as well as their preferences, and they'll at least have the right mindset and information/availability of healthy choices. Report
We give them cute names... Broccoli - Baby Trees; Peas - Green Drops; Cauliflower - Baby Trees with snow; Zuchinni - Baby Trees' cousin
I also told her that if she doesn't eat them, it will hurt their feelings. It works almost every time. Report
I have a better idea.

Eat a serving of fresh, whole fruit, before each meal, on empty stomach. This can be an appetizer / first course.

1.This is a simple way to get your 3 fruit for the day in.
2.Fruit eaten on empty stomach is the best way - it doesn't raise blood sugar levels as it does if eaten with meals, and, it doesn't cause a fermented gastric rot as it does if eaten at the end of the meal.
3. I have a friend who is a Type 1 diabetic, and he has eaten fruit on empty stomach between meals, for years.

Carrots first is better than nothing. But a piece of whole fruit is even better. Report
Even a few decades ago, my Mom would give us our salads before we sat down for dinner if we were complaining about being hungry. I did the same with my son, and he'll eat pretty much any vegetable out there now. Report
We have a 3 bites rule. But my 4 year old son won't always take the first bite if he doesn't like how it looks. So we also started letting him lick new foods first. This works amazingly well. He is often stunned that it does not taste bad. We also try to serve two veggies, and usually everybody will eat a serving of at least one. Finally, we let the kids pick veggies to try at the farmer's market. They think it is great fun. My little boy almost always picks broccoli or baby carrots. My 7 year old daughter likes artichokes and tomatillos! :) Who knew? Report
I used to be frustrated preparing family dinners because it was a challenge to make sure that my 2 picky-eater DGDs would eat something healthy and nourishing before begging for dessert. I finally hit on the solution: I set out 2 appetizers. One is a tray of raw broccoli and baby carrots with a fat-free ranch dip that I make up myself and the other is a tray of cheese slices (extra sharp cheddar, colby, pepper-jack and smoky gouda are favorties) with water crackers. The girls can munch to their hearts' content until dinner is ready and if they don't even eat one bite from their plates, I know they have some veggies and some protein in their tummies. They will generally eat some salad at the table (yay! more veggies) and whatever fruit dish I offer with the meal. When it's time for dessert, I don't feel like a bad grammy for letting them have sweet treats on special occasions. Report
With 3 children ranging from 7 to 12, I agree with those who say "it's not that easy." Every child has their own taste buds, their own temperament, their own mind. Provide them with healthy options and hope they prefer veggies - but don't be surprised if they don't. I don't know how many adults I've spoken to who say "I hate brussel sprouts" (or some other 'evil' veggie) - but yet we expect kids to eat every single thing an adult chooses for them? Feh. Get real. My three boys all have very distinct preferences - one will eat pretty much any fruit he is offered plus a selection of veg, another will try any veggie and maybe half as many fruits as the youngest, the oldest will only eat grapes, raw apples, raw carrots, and cooked tomato products. Report
Funny! I just used this strategy this past weekend and my 8 year old will eat up the baby carrots served before dinner, my 6 year old, won't touch them. We'll keep trying! Report
My daughter gives my fourteen month old grand daughter vegetables at every meal - and she loves them! I don't think think there is any that she has tried that she won't eat! Report
I have to admit that, I don't have many "buttons", but this article and many of the comments pushed mine. The food in my household is VERY healthy. I have 2 children... one eats plenty of fruits and veggies, the other won't touch them. I have the same multi-pronged approach with both... put out lots of fruits and veggies for snacking... include in the lunch boxes... include with meals. One eats them, the other won't. My picky eater is too thin because he won't eat healthy food and I am not willing to substitute with junk food calories (but he still manages to get junk food at school). So... everyone... PLEASE give parents the benefit of the doubt before judging them based on their children's eating habits. Just because your children eat the veggies in front of them doesn't mean all children will. Report
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