While you may have planned to begin introducing more fresh, healthy vegetables into Baby’s diet now that they're more mature than they once were, your good intentions may face a challenge. At two and a half, many toddlers have embraced the picky-eating phase, making it doubly hard to incorporate new foods. What’s the best way to get fussy eaters to try everything from spinach to cauliflower to kale?
How many vegetables do toddlers need each day?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers between the ages of two and three generally need to eat about 1,000 calories a day, from a balanced spread of different food groups. Children between the ages of one and three should have two to three servings of vegetables every day, with each serving coming in at about a quarter cup of cooked vegetables.
A little kitchen creativity goes a long way
If the idea of getting your newfound picky eater to gobble up nearly a cup of cooked asparagus day in and day out sounds daunting, you’re not alone. While it can feel discouraging when Baby turns up their nose at the food you serve, it’s typical toddler behavior.
To get around this phase, try changing up your thinking – and cooking habits – for this food group.
- Turn veggies into pasta: While butternut squash or zucchini may not be on Baby’s list of favorite foods, they could zoom to the top if they look like pasta. Spiral-cutting devices can turn a host of vegetables into tasty pasta-like strands that can be sautéed and topped with cheese or sauce. Don’t forget spaghetti squash as a similar alternative – just scoop out the “noodles” inside – no extra kitchen gear needed.
- Cook with color and texture: New shapes, colors, and textures in food can be fun for toddlers. This might include healthy “chips” made by taking colorful greens, like kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard, and baking them in the oven. Or bread eggplant and pop it in the oven for crispy, tasty finger food. Make sure the veggies are cooked until they’re soft and easily chewable, or cut them up in small toddler-sized pieces so they’re not a choking hazard.
- Bake a treat: Baked treats are delicious – which makes them the perfect vehicles to add in a healthy dollop of vegetables. From carrot bread to zucchini muffins, Baby will enjoy these moist, tasty morsels as breakfast or snack items. Making sure you talk openly to Baby about the ingredients used – for example, “I warmed up a zucchini muffin for your breakfast” – will help them start to associate these great tastes with colorful vegetables.
It can be tempting, but there’s no need to wait till later to introduce a rainbow of fun new vegetables to your toddler, and a little creativity can help keep you both from falling into a pattern where you offer vegetables and they refuse them.
- “Picky Eaters.” A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Obesity: A Road Map to Health. HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/Pages/Picky-Eaters.aspx
- “Energy In: Recommended Food & Drink Amounts for Children.” Energy In Energy Out: Finding the Right Balance for Your Children. HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Energy-In-Recommended-Food-Drink-Amounts-for-Children.aspx
- “The 5 Food Groups: Sample Choices.” Healthy Children, Fit Children: Answers to Common Questions From Parents About Nutrition and Fitness. HealthyChidren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/The-5-Food-Groups-Sample-Choices.aspx
- “Portions and Serving Sizes.” Energy In Energy Out: Finding the Right Balance for Your Children. HealthyChildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. 11/21/15. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Portions-and-Serving-Sizes.aspx
- “Recipes.” HealthyKids.org. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/chop-chop-magazine/Pages/default.aspx
- “Recipes.” EatRight.org. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017. http://www.eatright.org/resources/food/planning-and-prep/recipes