Vegetables for toddlers – how to encourage children to eat them (and a master list of 72 different veggies for them to try)

Vegetables for toddlers…We all know how nutritious they are.

They contain so many vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that optimise our little ones’ health and protect them from becoming unwell and yet they are probably the most rejected food by toddlers!

Children experience taste differently to adults which is why something is ‘yuk’ to them yet is perfectly fine for us, and there are so many different tasting veggies that they can try. 

In this blog we have produced a master list of 72 you can try as well as talking through whether hiding veggies in our children’s food is OK or whether we are just being dishonest…

This blog contains affiliate links.

Vegetables can be divided into 2 types 

I like to think of vegetables in two categories:

  • Sweet vegetables such as butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, peas, swede, sweetcorn, and sweet potato.
  • Bitter veggies such as asparagus, aubergine, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, courgette, cucumber, green beans, potato, and spinach

And it probably comes as no surprise that the sweet ones they might eat, and it’s the bitter ones you end up hiding in sauces, muffins, smoothies….

vegetable selection

Why are certain vegetables for toddlers accepted and others refused?

Children have mature sweet taste buds and quite immature bitter ones. Therefore they are far more likely to like sweeter veggies like peas and sweetcorn, over bitter ones like Brussels sprouts or kale.

Because bitter flavours aren’t an instant hit, repeatedly offering them helps children learn to like them, and this can take a lot of time.

Children actually experience flavour differently from adults and so what might be perfectly acceptable to us may result in disgust to a child. They are not being naughty by refusing to eat veggies,  it might literally make them want to wretch!

toddler crying in high chair

Why vegetables for toddlers are important

I’m not going to go into all of the health benefits of vegetables as you already know that they contain lots of vitamins and minerals! And if you want details you can find them in my toddler nutrition course.

But one of the biggest benefits has to be that when you have a child who eats their veggies, you’ll be cooking just one meal for the whole family to share. 

After all, vegetables form an integral part of most meals whether you’re eating at home or out in a restaurant.

How do you get toddlers to eat vegetables? 

This is the million dollar question! (And you don’t need a magic wand).

The key thing you need to know is that children are learning, and learning to like vegetables takes time. 

What tastes acceptable to you or I can be perceived totally differently to a child as their sensory systems develop. 

So be patient, don’t expect miracles and give it time… it might take years rather than weeks!

I have a phrase “it doesn’t count as nutrition unless it’s actually eaten” and I want you to remember this as I go through the steps as some of them might surprise you.

Before I get started on my advice, let’s address whether you should hide vegetables in your children’s food, or not.

toddler girl eating from a yellow bowl

Is it ok to hide vegetables for toddlers?

We’ve all done this. We know how important it is for our little ones to get all the wonderful goodness from vegetables and because they won’t eat them outright we sneak them into other foods.

But here’s the thing….

This is not the right thing to do when done in secret. Tricking them doesn’t really get us anywhere as it just masks the problem rather than overcoming it.

Without exposure to those vegetables, your little one doesn’t stand a chance of being able to learn to like it as they are not actively involved in the process. 

Eating is not a two-step process, children don’t just sit down and eat. Eating is something they have to learn throughout their childhood years and learning happens with their senses.

Children need to be exposed to the food they don’t like on a regular basis. They need to be able to see it, smell it, sometimes hear it, touch it, and eventually taste it before they can like it.

So what’s best? I suggest combining hidden vegetables for toddlers so you know they are getting some goodness  alongside ‘visible’ vegetables they can explore.

Don’t trick them though, be honest about the foods you are hiding. Children don’t like nasty surprises and if they find a lump of mushroom in their pasta sauce that hasn’t blended down properly you could face losing pasta sauce as an accepted food. 

But worse than that, finding out that mummy and daddy have been secretly hiding foods they don’t like, can damage the trusting relationship between you, making them suspicious of any new foods you introduce to them and creating a whole new level of stress.

toddler eating veg

The best vegetables for toddlers to hide in meals

Spinach can be incorporated into ‘green smoothies’ which in turn can be frozen into ice lollies.

Avocado instead of banana works well in smoothies too.

Courgette is also one of the easiest veg to hide and incorporate in meals. You can grate it and include it in mac n cheese, chicken curry, spaghetti meatballs, and even your cakes and bakes.

Cauliflower and broccoli can easily be included in pasta dishes, soups and currys.

Butternut squash is lovely mashed and stirred through risotto.

Sweet potatoes and carrots are a brilliant base for muffins and tray bakes.

You can throw just about anything into a tomato based pasta sauce, celery, onion, peppers, courgette, carrot all work well. Use this sauce in lasagne, spaghetti bolognese and even as your tomato sauce for homemade pizza.

Stir pureed cooked cauliflower through mashed potato

Peas pureed go well in pancake batter.

Chickpeas are amazing mashed up and added to cookies

You must try my chocolate beetroot cakes and my avocado black bean brownies or my spinach & banana monster muffins.

toddler smiling with veggies

How to get toddlers to eat veg

Ok, here’s my long term strategies to help your children eat more veg.

1. Serve vegetables at every meal and make sure they see you eating them too.

This is a really important first step, especially for parents of picky eaters. Lots of families – mine included have the same meals week-in, week-out on rotation.

We buy the veggies to accompany those meals but we buy the same ones, those that we know won’t end up in the bin.

However, children can’t learn to like vegetables without being regularly exposed to them on the kitchen table which is why buying different varieties is essential.

But what’s even more important is that they need to see you eating them too.

The younger you can do this the better, as research has shown that early experiences increase the chances of eating healthy later in life (1).

toddler playing in veg garden

2. Growing vegetables for toddlers to eat, together

We know that exposing children to foods they don’t like away from the dinner table can be really helpful for them and a brilliant way to do this is by growing vegetables at home (2)

To start your own veggie garden doesn’t require a big space. A small planter box or herb pots in a sunny window of your home can increase interest in these foods.

Some local gardens all across the UK have a veggie garden section. Visiting the park and looking and smelling veggies and herbs can be an easy way to expose your children to new veggies.

toddler holding a cucumber

3. Shopping for vegetables

Similarly food shopping is a low pressure way for frequent exposure to vegetables for toddlers. Your child will be learning all about the veggies in a low pressure way as there is no expectation to eat them in the supermarket. 

Spend some time in the fruit and vegetable section, encourage them to touch and pick veggies to bring home and cook and explain what they are and what they taste like.

young girl shopping for vegetables

4. Read books about veg

Have you read stories about vegetables for toddlers? Yes! They do exist. Research has shown that reading books and stories about veggies can increase vegetable intake in children (3)

Afterwards, look for the same veg in the supermarket and let them choose one to take home.Need book recommendations? Check out my blog here all about books about food.

mum reading a book with children

5. Helping prepare veggies for dinner

Encourage your toddler to help you in the kitchen. Most toddlers will be really enthusiastic with the opportunity.Even young children can get involved with washing vegetables, tearing lettuce leaves, stirring things around and even chopping with a children’s safety knife or butter knife.

toddler helping dad prepare vegetables

6. Make vegetables look appealing

Children make decisions about whether to eat or not based on what food looks like so first impressions can go a long way.

Pre-school aged children are influenced by how food is presented so get creative by using cookie cutters to cut veggies into funny shapes or arrange them in smiley faces on their plate. 

Older children will visually appreciate foods that are presented in the centre of the table on sharing platters.But even using coloured or patterned plates or even simply serving veggies in cupcake cases or 6 hole muffin tins can instantly lift their visual appeal.

fish balls and veg meal for kids

7. Make them taste and smell nice

At the same time as looking good, veggies have to taste and smell good. Remember children learn through their senses.

Steamed veggies may be better in the healthiness stakes but they don’t hold much flavour for developing taste buds.

Remember what I said earlier “food isn’t nutrition until it’s eaten” well sometimes using other foods to make veggies taste and smell nice is what it takes to make them tempting.

I’d encourage you to sauté your green beans in garlic butter, toss asparagus in soy sauce, roast your parsnips in honey (over 1’s), you can make a fab marinade for most veggies with ketchup, maple syrup and soy sauce, even adding a little salt to broccoli or Brussels sprouts can make a world of difference and yes, it’s ok.

Ok, yes, it does make these veggies higher in salt and fat, but it will encourage your child to try a bite and even like them!

Consider using dips as a ‘vehicle’ food so if your little one would entertain cauliflower as long as there is a dollop of ketchup to dip it in first, then so be it. 

One of my children would try anything when he was younger, so long as there was cheese on the side.

Once that veggie has become an accepted part of their daily diet then you can work on reducing the salt, sugar, butter etc to improve the healthiness.

8. Buy seasonal veg

When you are preparing your family’s meals, choose veggies that are in season.

Veg in season tend to be more flavoursome than those grown out of season and children are much more likely to respond positively to flavoursome foods.

They’re often cheaper too, saving you a few pennies!

young girl feeding veg to her doll

9. Serve family-style

Family style serving is when you place all the individual parts of a meal separately in serving dishes or on platters in the centre of the table. 

Children as young as 18 months can help themselves or point at what they want, indicating how much and when to stop.

This puts them in charge of the food on their plate and ultimately what goes into their body, a developmentally important stage toddlers need to master.

If your little one doesn’t want to have a certain veggie on their plate, that’s OK. A thumbnail-sized amount of that vegetable can go on a ‘learning plate’ that sits at the side of their dinner plate. 

This can simply be a small side plate or saucer.

The learning plate is not an ignoring plate, it’s for food to be placed upon that children are still learning about, and importantly children should be encouraged to ‘play with their food’.

This food can be looked at, sniffed, prodded, poked, licked, chewed or spat out back onto the learning plate. There is no expectation to eat from this plate, it’s just for exploration of the sensory characteristics of the new food. 

This is important as there are 32 different sensory steps a child must go through before a food becomes accepted to them.

Having a learning plate encourages learning through play and helps move children up the 32 step ladder in several different sensory areas.

The new food is closer to them than it would be when sat in a serving dish in the middle of the table, yet it’s not as anxiety provoking as it might be if it was on their dinner plate.

family eating a meal family style

10. Practice Positive Food Parenting

Parenting picky eaters is incredibly frustrating for us parents but I encourage you to keep calm and avoid resorting to bribes, rewards, incentives or distractions to try to get your child to eat. 

Yes, they’ll work today and maybe even next week but in a year’s time chances are their picky eating will be worse and there will be even fewer foods they’ll eat.

If your child tends to ignore the veggies at a meal just keep offering them. You are doing the right thing.

Cutting out snacks in the hope that they’ll be hungrier or forbidding ‘fun foods’ often just make veggies go from being a disliked food to a hated food and takes a lot of undoing this learned behaviour.

How you ‘parent’ around food can make all the difference. 

Teaching positive food parenting for fussy eaters is my specialist area and I have a few ways I can help you. If you would like 1:1 support click here or if you would prefer a less expensive DIY approach click here.

It’s important to remember though that none of my 10 top tips are quick wins. They’re long term strategies and often parents need expert support and troubleshooting advice.

sweet potato boats for kids

So, how much veg should children eat?

We all know that we should aim for 5 servings a day of fruit and vegetables, and this includes fresh, tinned and frozen varieties.

We know that most children prefer fruit and some would easily eat 5 portions of fruit a day but, nutritionally it’s better for them to have 2 portions of fruit and 3 portions of vegetables.

For children under 5, the portion size can be surprisingly small, just 40g or roughly the size of what would fit in the palm of their hand, but if they decide they would like more, and you have it available, let them eat more!

Pop your details below to receive my free printable of 72 vegetables for kids to try.

    Master list of 72 vegetables for kids to try

    This list might seem overwhelming and I don’t suggest you try everything at once! 

    I’d recommend starting with the vegetables that you often eat as a family and then every week or so look for something new to add to your meal plan.  

    Depending on how old your child is, you could look the new veggie up on the internet together, look for sensory information such as whether it’s going to be crunchy or soft, sweet or bitter and what it looks like. 

    Look for details such as how it’s grown and what country it comes from to try to spark your little one’s interest.

    Want a handy printable so you don’t have to keep coming back to this page? Pop your details below to receive my free printable Master List of 72 vegetables for kids to try.

    1. Artichoke
    2. Asparagus
    3. Aubergine
    4. Avocado
    5. Baby corn
    6. Bamboo shoot
    7. Beetroot
    8. Blue potato
    9. Broccoli
    10. Brown onion
    11. Brussels sprout
    12. Butternut squash
    13. Carrot
    14. Cassava
    15. Cauliflower
    16. Cavolo nero
    17. Celeriac
    18. Celery
    19. Chard
    20. Cherry tomatoes
    21. Chinese leaf
    22. Courgette
    23. Cress
    24. Cucumber
    25. Daikon
    26. Fennel
    27. Green beans
    28. Green cabbage
    29. Green bell peppers
    30. Kale
    31. Kohlrabi
    32. Leek
    33. Little gem lettuce
    34. Lotus root
    35. Mangetout
    36. Marrow
    37. Mushroom
    38. New potato
    39. Okra
    40. Padron peppers
    41. Pak choi
    42. Parsnip
    43. Peas
    44. Potato
    45. Pumpkin
    46. Radish
    47. Red cabbage
    48. Red onion
    49. Red bell peppers
    50. Rocket
    51. Romaine lettuce
    52. Romanesco cauliflower
    53. Runner beans
    54. Samphire
    55. Savoy cabbage
    56. Shallot
    57. Shitake mushroom
    58. Spinach
    59. Spring greens
    60. Spring onions
    61. Sugar snap peas
    62. Swede
    63. Sweet potatoes
    64. Sweet corn
    65. Sweetheart cabbage
    66. Tenderstem broccoli
    67. Tomato
    68. Turnip
    69. Water chestnut
    70. Watercress
    71. Yam
    72. Yellow bell peppers

    If they don’t try the new veg the first time you offer – that’s okay!  Add it to your rotation of foods and try again on another day.

    Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist
    Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

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    meet Sarah

    I’m Sarah, a Registered Dietitian, Children’s Nutritionist and mummy from East Sussex. My blog is to guide & inspire you with information about weaning, nutrition, food and toddler feeding. Learn more about me here.

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