How to Get Picky Kids to Eat Vegetables and Fruits

Kids eat vegetables. If you're lucky. Getting picky kids to eat vegetables and fruits can be a real challenge. As mom to a very (VERY!) picky eater, I know. Even adventurous young eaters may shy away from spinach, broccoli and other good-for-you choices. As parents, we want our children to grow up healthy and strong, with a good relationship with food. Read on to learn how to encourage your child to try veggies and fruits.

Kids Eat Vegetables

How to get picky kids to eat vegetables and fruits

This story is brought to you in partnership with Ruby Rocket's and Trekaroo.

These tips are based on my experience with my own vegetable- and fruit-phobic child (and his produce-loving big sister), as well as lessons learned from parenting classes and food counseling sessions.

Kids eat vegetables more readily with natural consequences and no pressure.

Eating is one of the few things children can control in their lives. Too much pressure from parents and other well-meaning adults often backfires, creating more resistance to healthy foods.

Whenever our cautious 8-year-old takes a bite of a new food, my husband and I are sure NOT to look at him or make a big deal about it. When he took his first-ever bite of broccoli last week, I calmly said, “I had a feeling you'd like broccoli. I'm proud of you for trying something new.” Then we moved on with our meal. We did not clap, insist he take another bite, or mention it for the rest of dinner.

Our household rule is that we must eat a protein plus a fruit or vegetable with dinner to earn dessert. Once our bodies have the healthy foods we need, we can indulge in a sweet. Linking eating vegetables to another treat (like playing with technology) does not make a logical tie-in and therefore feels more like punishment rather than a natural consequence. Kids eat vegetables. Kids get dessert!

Kids Eat Vegetables

Provide plenty of healthy options rather forcing children to eat vegetables and fruits (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Kids eat vegetables and fruits when it's fun.

Getting out of the usual routine can encourage kids to try new things. During our trip to Maui, my previously juice-phobic son fell in love with POG (Hawaii's official drink: pineapple, orange guava juice). Being in a new and enchanting place helped him to put his guard down to try this fruity elixir.

My son recently stepped outside his food comfort zone at a local teppanyaki restaurant. He normally would balk at eating fried rice filled with vegetables and bits of egg. But watching the chef toss vegetables in the air and set the stove aflame seemed to cast a spell on him. He ate almost every grain of rice in his bowl.

Kids Eat Vegetables

Fun experiences like teppanyaki make trying new foods fun and less intimidating for picky kids (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Embrace desserts as a gateway to healthy eating.

Ice cream and smoothies can be the gateway to the exciting world of fruits and vegetables. Even if children won't eat fresh fruits, they'll often gobble them up when added to ice creams, shakes or smoothies.

Frozen bars please even super picky eaters. Kids eat vegetables, and they don't even know it with Ruby Rocket's frozen pops made with real fruits and veggies and no added sugar. They're like smoothies on a stick! They come in eight tempting flavors. My fussy son's favorite flavor is Gravity Grape (made from concord grapes, blueberries, and açaí, plus purple and sweet potato). My fruit-loving daughter's first choice is Rock-It Red (made with strawberries, lemons, carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets). For chocolate enthusiasts, try Far Out Fudge (made from açai, sweet potatoes, beets and cocoa).

Kids Eat Vegetables

Ruby Rocket's Veggie and Fruit Pops are tasty AND healthy (Photo credit: Ruby Rocket's)

Ruby Rocket's also makes a non-dairy yogurt alternative, perfect for dessert, lunch boxes, and breakfast or as a travel snack. Check out my picky eater enjoying a Ruby Rocket's frozen pop in the video below. (Filmed and directed by his big sister!)

Kids eat vegetables when they get involved with food selection and preparation.

Purchase a children's cookbook and encourage your kid to choose dishes for the whole family. Bring your child along to the grocery store to select vegetables and fruits to place in the cart. Then get help in the kitchen during meal preparation. Even young children can stir a soup, use a butter knife to slice fruits, or press the buttons on the blender to make a smoothie.

Sometimes it's easier for kids to explore new options away from their parents. If this may be the case with your child, consider a kids-only cooking class.

Kids Eat Vegetables

Encourage children to help you select fruits and vegetables at the grocery store (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Kids eat vegetables and fruits when they understand how they grow.

Help children make a connection to what they eat by showing them how food grows. After visiting a corn maze during a preschool field trip, my son enthusiastically volunteered to eat his first cob of corn. Visit an orchard to pick apples or go strawberry picking to build healthy food excitement. Some botanical gardens feature sections that showcase herbs, vegetable patches and fruit trees. Better yet, plant a vegetable garden or a few pots filled with edible plants at home.

Kids Eat Vegetables

Seeing how food grows helps children make a positive connection to what they eat (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Kids eat vegetables when you tell them the truth.

Be careful not to lie about food to your child. My husband and I used to be sneaky in our efforts to get our son to eat healthfully. We told him strawberries were candies and we sneaked pureed squash into homemade macaroni and cheese. This taught our son to distrust us and it increased his fear of new foods. Now, when asked what's in a dish, we tell the truth, even if it means he will likely not try it.

Kids Eat Vegetables

Encourage healthy eating through playtime (Photos from Amazon.com)

Play time helps kids eat vegetables.

Even if your child won't eat vegetables, he or she can develop a good attitude about them through playtime. Buy plastic or wooden vegetables and fruits to set up a make believe grocery store or restaurant.

My sister made vegetables and fruits seem more appealing when she gifted my then preschooler a bunch of plush toys shaped like broccoli, a strawberry, a peach and more. Sound fun? Check out these produce-shaped finger puppets.

Encourage a love of produce with books. Eating the Alphabet and Peppa Pig and the Vegetable Garden are favorites amongst the preschooler set.

Kids Eat Vegetables

Ruby Rocket's makes veggie and fruit frozen pops plus yogurt alternative snacks (Photo credit: Ruby Rocket's)

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Ruby’s Naturals, Inc., parent company to Ruby Rockets, makes delicious, healthy, non-dairy fruit and veggie snacks for the whole family. They've been creating organic, non-GMO, real food with no added sugar since 2013. Whether it’s a refreshing non-dairy fruit and veggie ice pop enjoyed best on a hot summer day, or a kid-friendly, non-dairy yogurt alternativeTM convenient for on-the-go occasions, Ruby’s Naturals, Inc. is committed to serving nutritious, yummy snacks that the whole family can enjoy.

Kids Eat Vegetables

Ruby Rocket's non-dairy yogurt tubes are made from fruits and veggies (Photo credit: Ruby Rocket's)

Do you struggle to get your picky kid to eat vegetables and fruits? Do you have any additional tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from Travel Mamas: This story and giveaway are sponsored by Ruby Rockets in partnership with Trekaroo. We will receive compensation related to this post. This post also includes some affiliate links. I am not a healthcare provider. Check with your child's physician with any concerns regarding healthy eating. Top photo by travnikovstudio; purchased from iStockphoto.com.

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. You’ve really covered all the bases I can think of. I know that putting cheese sauce on veggies can make a big difference!! Also having them involved in the process, from helping to make a “menu,” buying, preparing, and last but not least eating!! My sister’s kids are very athletic, and want to eat healthy to be competitive, so that is a strategy for some kids.

  2. Love this. I know that getting my girls to help make the food produces great results at our house.

  3. Heidi Whalen says:

    Both of my littles are pretty good about eating fruits and veggies. We never make a big deal when it comes to trying something new. The only real rule we have is they have to take one whole bite, chew & swallow, before claiming they do not like it.

  4. This has some great tips. I have found also, that I can put a lot of vegetables (e.g. beet greens, zucchini) into the sweets that I make for my son and he won’t notice the difference.

  5. We have visited our local farms and did a tour to see how food is grown and made ready to ship. That was a lot of fun. We get farm fresh produce weekly too. Those Rocket Veggie and Fruit pops look so good!

  6. I sneak vegetables my kids won’t eat into casseroles. lol

    • Lori – We have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy at our house. If the kids don’t ask if there’s veggies in it, we don’t tell. But if they do, we’ve gotta come clean!

  7. These are such great tips – especially not making a huge deal when kids eat healthy food. I have to check out these pops – the more veggies and fruits the better!

  8. Ruby Rocket’s sound like great popsicles. I love the idea of being able to sneak in some good stuff for my kids.

  9. Pam Wattenbarger says:

    My kids were so picky when they were little. I had a “try one new thing a week” rule. They got to choose what they wanted to try. It helped introduce them to new fruits and veggies.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      How wonderful that your kids embraced your rule! I’m not so sure it would work with my son, but my daughter would do it!

  10. Catherine Sargent says:

    These are great ideas to help with picky eaters. In our house if you want dessert you have to eat your veggies. That seemed to work most of the time.

  11. This is really great! I only have one picky kiddo (of course the 13 year old) but I think this would be great if we did, I would love to give them a try anyway!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Jeanine – Thankfully you just have the one picky eater. I’ll bet the Ruby Rocket’s frozen pops would be a hit with the whole family!

  12. This is great advice. My kids could be picky about certain things so I had to get clever with how I fed them sometimes.

  13. This is very helpful! Getting kids to eat veggies is really a challenge to every mom! Love all the tips you got here!

  14. My kids have always been wonderful eaters but my nephew is a total nightmare when it comes to trying new foods. I need to share info on Ruby Rockets with my sister!

  15. I have two nieces: one who ADORES her veggies and the other who just won’t have it. It’s hard to handle both but these are some really great tips you have here.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Lisa – I hope your picky niece learns to love veggies as much as her sister does!

  16. You have great ideas! My kids always ate more veggies when they picked them from the garden

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Oh, how lovely it would be to have a garden! I live in Scottsdale, AZ where a garden isn’t possible but we were able to grow a few veggies in pots when we lived in San Diego and my son loved that!

  17. Great tips! It is a challenge sometimes to get my kids to eat fruit and veggies!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      MJ.L I think it’s something all parents struggle with from time to time, for sure!

  18. I’m always looking for new ways to get my kids to eat their fruits and veggies! Thank you for all the tips!

  19. These are all great tips. Keeping calm and cool is key. These pops look like a great idea as well!

  20. 3 out of 4 of my kids love fruits and veggies. I bet they’d all love Ruby Rockets! I’ll have to look for them at the store!

  21. There are plenty of ways to keep kids interested in trying out healthier food options. I think these are great ideas! It’s really important to get creative.

  22. My daughter is pretty good about eating her veggies. We always invite her into the kitchen to cook with us and that really seems to get her excited about trying new things!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      That’s always a good way to get kids interested in healthy eating. Good job, mama!

  23. Ann Bacciaglia says:

    These are great tips for picky eaters. I was lucky and both of my kids loved fruits and veggies.

  24. I’m going to try making popsicles. My son is sososososo picky.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      That’s a good approach too, especially if your son can help make them. In a pinch, grab the pre-made Ruby Rockets frozen pops!

  25. These are fantastic ideas! Those popsicles are genius.

  26. Michelle Richardson says:

    Great tips! My daughter is super picky and I hope to try some of your strategies out!

  27. It’s still hard to get my kids to eat veggies and fruits. Even my teens resist. Great tips

  28. Nicole Escat says:

    Wow, very great tips. I don’t have a problem with my son but with my siblings.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Are your siblings now adults? I had a friend in college who would not eat a single fruit or vegetable. I thought that was so unhealthy! But, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks!

  29. Nikki Wayne says:

    This is a very helpful article. Sometimes my son is being a picky eater especially if he feels ill.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Does your son have a sensitive tummy? So do I, and my daughter. She does not eat much when she’s not feeling well, either, but if someone doesn’t feel like eating, USUALLY it’s their stomach saying they shouldn’t eat. I learned this one the hard way when I encouraged her to eat dinner as a toddler, when she kept pushing away her food. Wouldn’t you know it? That night she threw up several times. Now, I don’t push!

  30. I can imagine a lot of parents getting a whole lot of useful advice from this post. As a kid I was guilty of being too picky as well, heaven knows what my mom did to get me into eating vegetables.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Karla – It sounds like your mom did a good job since you eat vegetables now. Way to go, mom!

  31. Claudia M says:

    Great article and tips ! thank you . I found the easiest way is with smoothies 🙂

  32. natasha lamoreux says:

    My kids really love going to the farmers market and picking out fresh produce. This makes it fun for them and more apt to eat them.

  33. Stacey Roberson says:

    Fruit we have no problem with. But getting our 4 year old to eat his vegetables is quite the challenge. He will occassionally eat some broccoli, but that’s where it ends. I love that book “Eating the Alphabet”. We could make mealtime fun and it even prove useful.

  34. My kids and hubby are not a big fan of veggies so I have to be creative all the time. Thankfully I have been able to inculcate vegetable eating in them through new dishes, coaxing and disciplne.

  35. I would also adds it helps to try different forms of food. My now 5 year old used to never eat fruit, so we tried pouches and freeze dried fruit. It has all the same vitamins, but is just a different texture. Now our 5 year old is much more adventurous than he used to be. It also just takes a lot of persistence. Supposedly it takes 20 times of trying something before you like it. That’s a lot. I keep that in mind when they try it and don’t like it the first time.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Great tip, Katy! I tried the freeze dried fruit with my son, but unfortunately he didn’t like it. We seem to be making much more progress with veggies than fruits. Each kid is so different!

  36. I love this tips. My child is also a picky eater, it is very hard for me to make him eat any food mainly fruits and vegetables. In the beginning it was very difficult for me to make him eat, then I started finding many tricks and tips,I also provided milk supplements for him so that he would get the needed nutrients and vitamins.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Rebecca – So glad you found a work-around to help your son get the nutrition he needs!

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