How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

Do you find yourself fighting with your kid about food at every meal? Do you feel guilty that you haven’t instilled in your child a taste for more healthy foods? Me too! That is why I investigated what works and doesn’t work when it comes to getting our kids to eat healthier.

Below I have ten evidence based tips on how to get kids to eat vegetables without a fight! You might even get your kids to ask for healthy foods by themselves. Before we get to the tips there are a few things to know that will help you be more successful.

It’s Natural for Kids to be Picky Eaters

After about age two, it is normal for a child to be picky. (1) They have developing palates and are instinctively suspicious of new tastes. In a primitive environment it is better to be wary of things that are unfamiliar and potentially harmful. It’s protective to reject bitter foods and crave rich salty, sweet, and fatty foods.

Tough Doesn't Stick

Fighting over food causes problems. It creates a wedge between you and your child and makes kids dislike food. Studies show tough tactics actually cause kids to eat less fruits and vegetables. (2,3)

I really relate, one time my dad forced me to eat a big plate of slimy spinach, and I gagged uncontrollably. It took me 25 years to eat cooked spinach again! And the “clean your plate” rule may be why I am a human garbage disposal today! 

Setting The Stage

The problem of how to get kids to eat vegetables, is similar, I think, to getting yourself to fall asleep. You may find that even if you want to sleep, your mind races. Since there is no “on/off” switch for your brain, you need to prepare for sleep. You set the stage by making the room dark and comfortable, silencing your phone, and relaxing. By setting the conditions, you give yourself the best chance of falling asleep. 

Learning how to get kids to eat vegetables is all about setting the right eating environment. Follow these proven tips to set the stage for your kids to crave healthy veggies.

Infographic with cartoons of Kids eating veggies

10 Tips on How To Get Kids To Eat Vegetables

  1. Remove Nearby Junk Food
  2. Make Sure They are Hungry
  3. Eat Like the French, Eat In Courses, Serve Small Portions
  4. Don’t Pressure Your Child To Eat Vegetables: You Provide, Child Decides
  5. Let Them Eat As Much Or As Little As They Want
  6. Be a Role Model for Eating Vegetables
  7. Foster Familiarity With Taste Testing
  8. Eat Vegetables with Dips and Sauces
  9. Make the Veggies Easy and Fun To Eat (Snack Hacks)
  10. Get Kids Involved With Cooking Vegetables

1. Remove Nearby Junk Food

There is so much junk food around today that natural foods can’t compete. Junk foods are addictive drug-like foods that make it so “you can’t just have one.” Food companies design them to be appealing to kids with bright packaging and fun shapes. They call out to our kids: “eat me, eat me!” 

So try to limit junk food in your house. Out of sight, out of mind. This is the simplest and most effective recommendation. You can avoid many fights about food simply by making rich foods scarce and healthy foods abundant.

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 1 get rid of nearby junk food Showing a female child refusing vegetables because she sees a cake on the table

2. Make Sure They Hungry

There is an old Russian proverb “hunger makes great sauce.” Let the kids skip eating if they don’t want the food that you offer. Don’t starve them, instead offer healthy snacks between meals. Because kids’ stomachs are small, it may be more natural for your child to eat frequent small meals. 

Be Aware: Make sure you aren’t using junk food as bribes or emotional Band-aids. When using food for its mood elevating properties we are using it like a drug. The behavior that we model is that drugs help us feel better. But the most valuable thing we can give our children is our time and positive attention. You know, hugs not drugs.

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 2 Wait until they are hungry showing a male child hungry for junk food

3. Eat Like the French, Eat In Courses, Serve Small Portions

Eat like the French by serving your kids small courses. Start by having your kids cleanse their palate with a sip of water.  Then serve veggies or a salad. Next, include stand-alone starches like potatoes, corn or squash. Then present dishes with flavorful sauces (such as pastas with marinara). End your meal with a sweet and pleasurable fruit. 

Design your courses like a wine tasting. During a wine tasting, you sip in a flavor sequence. Saving the boldest wines for last in order to not ruin the flavor of more subtle wines. Start with the weak flavors first. This way, kids wait at the table as the food gets better and better.

Limit waste and complaining by giving kids small portions that won’t overwhelm. Also don’t worry if one child doesn’t finish their course. If they stall, have kids take a tiny taste and then clear their uneaten food for the next course.

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 3 eat like the French showing a plate with small portions and in the background a French scene with a French flag

4. Don’t Pressure Your Child To Eat Vegetables: You Provide, Child Decides

Studies show bribery, praise and use of rewards do not increase food intake in the long run. (4) Negative coercion including disapproval, threats, or punishments make food taste worse by setting up negative associations. (3)

Instead, give kids “choice-freedom.” Allow them to choose between a few healthy options that you offer at mealtime. And try to explain why a food is good for them. These methods increase food preference and avoid negative food associations. (3)

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 4 no force-feeding a scene where it shows a child being pressured to eat vegetables by an angry parent

5. Let Them Eat As Much Or As Little As They Want

Making kids overeat will override their own normal hunger cues. (2) Just because your parents trained you to “eat your plate clean” does not make it a rite of passage. The “clean your plate” dictum hails from the Great Depression era. Now we must base the way we eat on the idea of abundance not scarcity by allowing children to practice self-regulation. (2)
illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 5 you provide they decide a scene showing a female child at a table deciding between a small portion and a big portion of vegetables

6. Be a Role Model

Studies show that parents who eat veggies have children who eat veggies. And parents who eat more junk food have children that do the same. (5) If you often model how much you enjoy unhealthy snacks, it will influence your kids to prefer these same foods. In this way, you can let your child’s intake be your nutritional mirror.

By being a role model, you help your child feel that the food is safe. Why would they trust any food that you do not relish or seldom eat? Be sure older family members enjoy their veggies often.1 Serve the whole family the same food and avoid giving one picky child a “special meal.” (1)

When I asked on social media how parents get kids to eat veggies, one mother said. “The sure, foolproof way to get your kids to eat veggies is that YOU eat them. All the time. YOU like them. YOU feature them. Children watch what you do and it impacts them FAR more than what you say.”

Another mother said, “I use reverse psychology. I say that tonight mommy is making some food “just” for me. Then I “ooh and ahh” over the food. The kids will inevitably try the food to see what they are missing.”

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 6 be a role model a scene where an adult female role model parent figure is demonstrating how to eat vegetables to a child

7. Foster Familiarity With Taste Testing

I recommend “taste-bud school”, a fun tasting session separate from meals. Make it an adventure. Tasting small bits helps reduce fear. Make it more exciting by seeing who is brave enough to try a new food first. Or add some familiarity by pairing new foods with an old favorite, as a food chaser, to limit the disgust factor and reduce aftertaste.

Start using tasting games to expand your child’s palate at age three or four. Keep it fun and don’t force. It takes about 15 positive experiences for a child to like a new food. (1,6)

So don’t expect to introduce a new food and have your child learn to love it after the first try. Wait to increase portion size until your child learns to like it and ask for it.

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 7 taste testing works a scene showing a child with a blindfold with three different vegetables on plates in front of her performing a blind taste test

8. Eat Vegetables with Dips and Sauces

As you know there are few plain vegetables served in restaurants. They are smothered and covered. So include a flavorful condiment, dip, or sauce with any bitter food you serve your kids. 

Dip veggie sticks in hummus, celery into peanut butter, and fruit into non-dairy yogurt. Make a fruit topping by blending up berries. Eventually your kids will tolerate more and more vegetables.

(Note: Be careful when sneaking pureed vegetables into well liked foods. It may be counterproductive. Kids are smart. They will lose trust in you. Plus, you want your child to learn to like the appearance of veggies so that they will continue to eat them for the rest of their life.)

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 8 dips and sauces a scene where a child is shown dipping a carrot into a sauce before eating

9a. Make Fruits and Veggies Easy

We know that the convenience of fast food encourages eating and is making us all “supersized.” But this concept works for healthy foods too. Make healthy foods easy to reach and always available. 

Keep easy-to-eat fruit out on the counter. Leave “ready to eat” foods at your kids eye-level in the fridge. Use a low kitchen cabinet or drawer as the place for kids cups, kid-sized plates, bowls, utensils, and napkins. 

Use the power of mindless eating with natural food platters set close to the kids during TV or play. Let them take what they want. They will surprise you. Often when you come back, the platter will be empty!

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 9 make it fun a plate with mounds of vegetables and a funny superhero figure on top made out of vegetables

9b. Make Fruits and Veggies Fun

To make food fun, start thinking and acting like a kid. If your “inner child” is in a coma, steal some fun-food ideas from Pinterest. Have you heard about teddy bear toast, frozen banana penguins, lightsaber veggie sticks, the tacosaurus, rainbow fruit skewers or magic wands?

Ask yourself can this food look like an animal or my child’s favorite superhero? Get creative. Can you freeze it, make it into finger food, or float it in Jello? Can you put it on a stick or wrapped it in a burrito? Can you color it with food dye, or dust it with sprinkles, cocoa or powdered sugar? Can you serve the food in a toy dump truck or in a play tea set? (7) These great snack hacks are fun ways to familiarize your kids to a variety of fruits and veggies.

When I asked other parents what they did to make food fun one mother said, “my son loves to rhyme, so when we serve food we tell him “it’s delicious AND nutritious!” So now he says that too. And we all say, “It’s yum yum yummy in my tum tum tummy!”

10. Get Kids Involved With Cooking Vegetables

Get kids involved with food planning, buying, cooking and cleaning. Have your child help with a shopping list and choose vegetables that they like. At the store, have them “treasure hunt” for the food. Ask them to find one or two new veggies that they would be willing to try. It’s fun, especially, if they pick out something that you haven’t tried before. 

At home, have them wash, peel or cut the produce. Kids love stirring, turning and watching food while it cooks. It also lets them see what’s in dishes so they feel less scared. Make them the official taste tester and ask if it needs something else.

If your child learns to make a dish, then the dish becomes “theirs.” You can say things like “Johnny do you want to make grandpa YOUR famous baked apples?”

To “kick it up a notch” have your child grow veggies from seeds or seedlings in a small garden or a few pots in a window sill. Planting seeds and nurturing a garden provides a deep understanding and appreciation for food.

illustration of how to get kids to eat vegetables by vegan primary care tip 10 have kids help scene showing a child with a chef's hat and a cooking pan in his hand helping to cook vegetables

How it works!

  1. Make an appointment (click here)
  2. Complete an online doctor’s visit: Meet online with Dr. Harrington. He will listen to your concerns, learn about your way of eating, exercise and stress level. The doctor will address any questions you have, and discuss healthy goals.
  3. Comprehensive testing: If needed, Dr. Harrington can schedule you laboratory tests. Dr. Harrington will review the results and call you on the phone and send your records to an online portal.
  4. Healthy Goals, Optimization and Follow-up: Dr. Harrington will set goals and help you along the way. With each step forward, you will see more and more health benefits. Meet periodically to adjust and refine your treatment plan. Dr. Harrington will help you make the best of your situation, condition and resources.

By Dr. Scott Harrington

Dr. Scott Harrington is a vegan doctor who can be your Primary Care doctor in most US States. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine. He can be your online vegan doctor at For questions call 727-222-3036.
A round image of Dr. Scott Harrington, a vegan doctor, with a white background and blue frame

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