Claire Baseley, Nutritionist at Ella’s Kitchen
Convincing your toddler to eat vegetables can be a real challenge! We all know the benefits of veggies: they’re high in fibre and offer a wide range of vitamins and minerals that can help support a healthy growing child, but it’s often the first food to be rejected when little one’s hit the fussy phase – around the age of 18 months.
Picky eating is very common among toddlers and it’s not a reflection of the parent’s cooking skills! It’s thought to be a natural phenomenon that coincides with the time at which a little one becomes more mobile and curious about the world, usually testing out their environment by putting everything into their mouths.
The fear of new foods or ‘neophobia’ and the rejection of previously eaten foods links back to when humans were evolving; thought to protect children from eating poisonous foods that may’ve been in the environment.
Commonly rejected foods are those with a bitter taste, as these would be most likely to be dangerous during times of evolution, but these days, it’s the green vegetables that tend to be turned down the most.
There are plenty of ways to help your little one navigate and work through the picky eating phase, so give a few of these options a try…
Eating together isn’t just about showing toddlers how it’s done. It teaches them that food is more than just fuel: it’s a time for fun, socialising, and talking about the day.
We all know that stress-free mealtimes aren’t always realistic, but try to make them as calm as you can. If little ones reject a meal, just calmly take it away and try not to worry.
If your little one sees you eating and enjoying a food, they’re more likely to want to copy and give it a go themselves.
Try to eat at the same time as your little one, at least some of the time, and show them how much you enjoy all your food, not just the vegetables; as if you single out the veg as being super delicious, it could make your child suspicious.
Good in every sense
Little ones who explore foods using all their senses are more likely to show an interest in trying new foods.
Studies have shown that experiencing the textures, colours, shapes and smells of foods can help encourage little ones to eat them at mealtimes.
Let your little adventurer explore raw and cooked veg with their hands to help familiarise them with new foods.
Not everyone likes a food at the first try, and the same is true of toddlers. During the picky phase, it might take 15 exposures to a food before they accept it, even if it’s something they’ve previously eaten.
So, keep popping the food on the plate. Even if it’s not eaten, it still counts and the more times a child is exposed to a food, the more likely they will be to give it a try.
Little ones love to help you cook! Even toddlers can help with simple food prep, by popping dry pasta into a pan or helping to roll out pastry.
They may be more likely to eat a meal which they’ve been directly involved in cooking, so let them get stuck in (safety first though – keep them away from the hob, boiling water or sharp knives)!
All foods are equal
Try not to reward little ones with sweet treats if they’ve eaten their veggies. This teaches them that there must be something wrong with vegetables if they need a treat as a bribe and they’ll learn that sweet foods have a higher value than vegetables.
We all know that vegetables will get rejected more than desserts but try not to react when this happens.
Have a fussy toddler that won’t eat veg? Try offering your little one a choice of three veggies, from which they can pick two to go on their plate. That way, they feel invested in the decision and are more likely to at least give the veg a try.
Eat a rainbow
The more variety of foods you offer, the more nutrients your little one will eat.
A rainbow of vegetables and fruits provides lots of different vitamins and minerals and can help to make the plate look visually appealing which may help your toddler feel more like trying new foods.
The best way to get toddlers to accept vegetables is to offer them overtly, just cooked, alongside other foods.
It’s not advisable to hide veg in other foods if it means the flavour, colour, shape, and texture isn’t discernible. However, if your little one is really fussy, it might help to add veg to your family favourites as well as offering a variety of simply prepared vegetables alongside meals.
This is something that can add a nutrient boost to meals, so the whole family can benefit too!
How to add a veggie boost to traditional family recipes:
- Add a diced or grated courgette, carrot, mushroom or aubergine to tomato-based sauces that go into a Bolognese, chilli or other one-pot dishes
- Make your meat go further by adding beans and pulses to casseroles and stews
- Add a range of diced veggies to a lentil dhal
- Boost your mashed potato by mixing one half mash and the second half with another starchy veg like sweet potato, swede, parsnip or butternut squash
- Decorate your pasta sauce by blitzing a rainbow of veg in, with the tomato and onion base
- Roasted vegetables have a slightly sweeter taste and a lovely soft texture that toddlers might find more appealing. Roast some chopped peppers, courgettes and red onion and let your little one decorate their own healthy pizza
Finally, the fussy phase can be a tricky one to navigate but, above all, try not to get too stressed or anxious.
It will pass in time and the tips above can help to establish a healthy relationship with food – even vegetables – and help your toddler become a good little eater.
Try the new deeelicious Cheesy Tomato-y Pizza from Ella’s Kitchen!
The UK’s leading baby food brand, Ella’s Kitchen, has expanded its range of much-loved frozen Big Kids foods, to include a brand-new, gluten-free, Cheesy Tomato-y Pizza – the perfect healthy and tasty twist on a family favourite!
The deeelicious, vegetarian pizza is the latest yummy addition in the Big Kids line up, packed full of tasty goodness and made with the same care as you would at home. The pizza has a gluten-free cauliflower base, topped with tomato sauce, crammed full of four veggies and sprinkled with British cheddar.
The naturally gluten-free, veggie pizza has a delightfully fluffy base for big kids to explore and to enjoy a variety of tastes and textures at home. The pizza is formulated with 100 per cent natural ingredients, with no added sugar, artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives.
Each box contains two pizzas for big kids to enjoy, which cooks in 20 minutes from frozen.
You can find the new Cheesy Tomato-y Pizza, available to purchase now for £3 (for two pizzas) in the frozen aisle of Tesco and online at Tesco and Ocado.
The exciting new addition to the Big Kids frozen range joins other scrummy favourites including: Cod Fishies, Starry Chicken Nuggets with Veggies, Cheesy Croquettes, and Pea-sy Mac ‘n Cheesy.