By Megan Ng
Broccoli can be equivalent to a monster under the bed for some children. For some families, getting their little one to eat a fruit or vegetable hardly ever goes down without a fight. These revolts against fruits and vegetables are quite common in children ages two to four (McCarthy, 2020). Stubbornness varies between children, but this refusal of fruits and vegetables during mealtime is a common exercise of independence. On the other hand, your toddler may have a “food jag” and want to eat cheese and crackers every day for 2 weeks (McCarthy, 2020). Despite these inevitable (and normal!) picky phases, there are tips and tricks to help your child become more comfortable with fruits and vegetables while meeting their nutrition needs.
An important concept to keep in mind is Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR), constructed by dietitian and childhood feeding expert, Ellyn Satter. sDOR distinguishes between a parent or caregiver’s responsibilities in feeding and the child’s responsibility (Satter, n.d.):
Parents/caregivers are in charge of:
- What is served
- When it’s served
- Where it’s served
Kids are in charge of:
- Whether they eat
- How much they eat
With sDOR in mind, parents and caregivers should develop trust and support in their child’s behaviors. To do so, it involves avoiding: (Taylor & Emmett, 2019)
- Making them clean their plate
- Making them eat their veggies so they can get dessert
- Hiding veggies in different foods and lying about them being there
- Bribing or begging your child to eat veggies
Picky Eater Pointers
Many picky eaters need to see a vegetable at a meal many times before feeling ready to try it. Leading by example is a great way to ease them towards fruits and vegetables as well. Whether they choose to go for it or not, let them go at their own pace. Often, expressing frustration and pressure will result in the opposite of what you want.
A Polite Bite
Start with a small portion of a new fruit or veggie at a meal. Encouraging a “polite bite” without pressure to finish the portion may help lead children to have more if they like it.
Kids in the Kitchen
Involving little ones in the kitchen in age-appropriate ways can appeal to their sense of independence and increase the likelihood of eating a fruit or vegetable they prepared.
Dips, Textures, and Flavors
Take advantage of condiments like ketchup, ranch, or some peanut butter. Children tend to prefer and enjoy dipping their food as well as certain textures of foods. Offering a tray with variety can also guide children to choose things they are comfortable with. Including kid-friendly veggies that are mild, slightly sweet, and crunchy can help such as bell peppers, carrots, and cucumbers! (Barnes, 2020).
Patience is key when introducing fruits and vegetables to picky eaters. Regain some peace of mind in knowing that picky phases are normal and will likely be outgrown. In the meantime, be creative and explore ways in which fruits and vegetables can be fun!
- Barnes, K. (2020). Kid-friendly vegetables for picky eaters. Mama Knows Nutrition. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://mamaknowsnutrition.com/vegetables-for-picky-eaters/
- McCarthy, C. (2020). Study gives insight – and advice – on picky eating in children. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/study-gives-insight-and-advice-on-picky-eating-in-children-2020060920004
- Satter, E. (n.d.). Raise a healthy child who is a joy to feed. Ellyn Satter Institute. Retrieved February 23, 2023, from https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/
- Taylor, C. M., & Emmett, P. M. (2019). Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78(2), 161–169. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665118002586
This blog post was written by Megan Ng who is a graduate student of Community and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.