Although my little one had been eating vegetables with ease the first year of solid foods, something changed when the second year came around. Maybe it was the gradual switch from purees to more steamed vegetable pieces, but he started spitting vegetables out, pushing them aside on his plate , or refusing them altogether. I had no intention of force feeding my child, and his vocabulary was still too limited to convince him why he’d like them or how they’d make him grow up big and strong. I was a little embarrassed to admit I was a vegan mom having trouble getting her toddler to eat his vegetables! Vegetables are my way of life! How could this be?! Since there must be more of you out there who aren’t blessed with a veggie-loving kid or who have a toddler going through a “phase”, I wanted to share a few of my tips for getting through it!
Morning bird or night owl? My son is definitely a morning person. He wakes up energetic, bright, ready to learn, well-behaved, and as the day fades into afternoon and evening, he’s much quicker to become grumpy, difficult, and easily frustrated. Maybe it’s because I’m not a morning person it took me so long to figure this out, but as strange as the SAD would have us believe it is, vegetables for breakfast and morning snacks were the way to go! Even by lunch, his openness to try new vegetables or eat the ones he “usually” liked had dwindled, and by dinner, forget about it! I learned that if I wanted my mini morning person to take his time, taste new vegetables, and actually chew them, I needed to serve them on his schedule, not when is deemed socially acceptable to serve green stuff!
What is that?
Whole Foods became a classroom for my little man! Big leafy green vegetables and misshapen dirty roots were less scary when he knew exactly what they were called and a few fun facts about them. It became a weekly game to hold up each vegetable and fruit, name it correctly, and exclaim it’s color or what other colors of the same vegetable are available. Even seeing other grown-ups picking out their fresh produce turned on his curiosity. Plus, people are always very impressed to see a toddler who knows his produce! Eventually we would walk up to the greens and without prompting he would enthusiastically blurt, “Kale!” You get weird looks when your 2-year-old is talking about kale!
Let me do it!
If I’ve learned anything from becoming a home chef, it’s that foods taste better when I’ve made them. Things I may have been picky about eating in my days before attending the great culinary institute of the interwebs just taste better when I’ve done the work. Is it psychological? Absolutely. But it’s okay to use a little psychology on my family. I didn’t get that bachelor’s degree in psychology for nothing! Letting my little man help with preparing the meal really made him more interested in eating it. I mean, I never gave him a mandolin slicer and said, “Go at it,” but a wooden spoon and a big bowl went a long way. Even letting him transfer something like baby carrots from the container to a serving tray or his snack dish made him feel like he’d had a hand in it. If he’d picked out the vegetables from the store too, even better!
Let me see you do it!
I would often put the food on the table and then I’d stand behind and finish dishes or put away leftovers while the husband and little man started eating. Or I’d run off to take photos of the dish while they ate. By the time I would sit down to my plate, my son had already picked through the few bites he wanted and was ready to get down from the highchair. Other times, I’d give him a snack of baby carrots and cucumbers (his present day favorite) or the like and eat nothing myself. He wasn’t seeing me eating my vegetables, so why would he eat his?! Once I realized I needed to be setting a visible example, it wasn’t long before we were chomping carrot sticks together and giggling over our mid-morning snack. I also used to have a tendency to lighten the veggie load on daddy’s plate because at the time he was a new vegetarian struggling with the veg part. Now all our plates get the same veggie goodness!
Mix it in, juice it, smoothie-fy it!
It’s just not my thing to hide vegetable purees and such in my son’s food because it’s important to me to help him develop good eating habits for life, not just for the sake of one meal. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t get chopped up in sauces, blended into smoothies, or liquefied into a drinking glass. I included him in the process, talking about the yummy, healthy foods we were chopping up, and watching his little feet dance to the rhythm of the Vita-Mix. Some vegetables that were too difficult for my tot to chew properly, such as organic kale or celery, made it into juices and smoothies. He couldn’t have loved green juice more and he still does. There are even a couple of organic green juices on the market that he really loves, and while they have more sweetness from fruits than I’d prefer, they’re nice on the run or as an introduction to drinking the color green.
Mind the sweet stuff!
This is the one that most often sabotaged my little man’s vegetable-eating, and still does quite often. When he ate super sweet fruits, especially early in the day, it seemed to put off his taste for vegetables and his other favorite wholesome foods for the rest of the day. All he craved was that sweetness. To be honest, I didn’t even know bananas were one of the sugariest fruits until a quick internet search, they seemed so mild to me, and his banana-a-morning habit was affecting the way he ate the rest of the day. He still enjoys bananas, but I notice more of a change in his taste on the days he has a banana over days when I give him blueberries or apple.
I know all toddlers are different, of course, so what worked for me without a doubt won’t work for everyone, but I just wanted to share what personally worked for my little man. I hope my experiences are helpful to someone!