Family Life

How to get kids to eat their veggies

how to get kids to eat their veggies

I had my first baby shortly after finishing uni. Having studied nutrition, I figured that feeding a child would be easy.

Armed with the very latest research and having prepared my fussy-eating husband to be a good role model (he pretended to enjoy everything I served) I expected my first child to be a dream eater. And then he was born…

It took sleepless weeks for him to establish breastfeeding, messy, sticky months before he would accept solids and the all too familiar highs and lows with fussy eating. While the theories I had studied helped a bit, I certainly wasn’t really prepared for the real-life challenge of feeding a small human.

Now we have four kids and each has taught me plenty about my own health beliefs and how to feed a family.

So what is my top tip for raising healthy eaters?

Fussy Eaters

First we need to understand; why are kids so fussy?

Children are not in control of much in their own lives and they love when they can take charge. Food is one of the first areas that a child starts to ‘taste’ control (haha). We all know, as hard as you try, you can’t make a child eat if they don’t want to! Learning about and taking responsibility is an important part of growing up – eventually kids will need to make all their own decision; and even decisions for others!

So, how can we give them the responsibility they desire while still getting them to eat their veggies? Should we even bother? Why not wait until they’re older and can understand better?

Fussy eating is a normal part of childhood. We want to get through the fussy eating stages smoothly, happily and with as many veggies as possible. But research shows that eating habits track through life, getting less fussy as we mature. So a “two veg” child will become an adult who may taste five. But a child who eats ten different veggies will mature as an adult who can enjoy and experience the entire spectrum of delicious, healthy food.

Persisting with your kids to eat a variety of foods now is extremely valuable for their long term eating habits and will ultimately give them a richer and more fulfilling life.

The illusion of choice
Always give your child a choice, or at least the illusion of choice.

This is not to say you are a gourmet restaurant taking custom orders; quite the opposite. Cook your meal and give them the choice of how much they would like to eat and which vegetables they would like to include on their plate.

The illusion of choice looks like this:
“What green would you like to eat tonight?”
a) Broccoli
b) Spinach
c) Peas?

It works at lunchtime too:
“What colours (fruit and veggies) would you like in your lunch-box today?”
a) Apple
b) Banana

“Which do you like more….”
a) Carrot
b) Red capsicum
c) Tomatoes

“Would you like your carrot grated on the sandwich or carrot sticks on the side?”

Allowing your child an element of control over their eating will encourage them to accept more foods. Give them healthy options and they cannot help but make healthy choices!

Our kids now know that in order to be the best they can be, they need to eat different colours everyday. A “traffic light” on their plate. Before a spelling test, karate class or dance lesson we talk about having lots of different colours to help them improve at the things they enjoy.

They can choose what green, yellow/orange and red goes on their plate or in their lunch box. If they pack a lunch box or serve some dinner I may sometimes offer a friendly reminder “oops, where is your red today?”

Finally, try to relax. It is easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day business of feeding your family and forget to look at the big picture. If my son doesn’t want to eat peas one day, it doesn’t matter. He has a healthy attitude towards food and enjoys a range of colours.

Involve your kids in choosing their colours, they may just surprise you and give it a try. If not today, try again tomorrow. Never stop trying and use the illusion of choice to teach them how to make healthy choices.

Are your kids fussy eaters? Are they vegetable lovers or haters? What are your tips to encourage your children to eat their veggies?


Kate is a dietitian and mum to four young kids. She specialises in the development of fun and healthy resources and education sessions for kids, schools and parents. You can check out her fabulous website, Making Food Fun, here

{photo found here}

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  • Leanne Winter

    Great post, Kate. I love the term ‘illusion of choice’ and haven’t previously called it that but this is pretty much what I’ve done with my two boys. Also important to recognise the differences between children, too. My first loves his vegetables and never really needed any special tactics to get him to try them and actually eat them. The second however is very resistant to vegies. Some house, same parents, watching an older brother whom he copies in every other way -still puts up a fight with vegies. The illusion of choice works to a certain extant but he will still say “why do I have to have any of them?”. Persistence with healthy options while keeping meal times fun and stress free are definitely key, I think.

    • Kate Wengier

      Yes, all kids are different. I find some days one of mine is fussy and the next day it’s the next one. You are spot on about persistence, fun and stress free. Also a little healthy food marketing helps. “Green veggies will help you jump higher”. I’m writing a blog about it now.

      Cheers, Kate

  • Ai Sakura

    Ever since Lil Pumpkin started preschool she’s been a much less fussy eater. I think it’s a good thing from learning to eat with friends and accepting the wide range of food. I guess a good way to get kids to eat more would definitely be to try and present it in a more fun and colourful way to get them excited :)

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

    • Kate Wengier

      I agree. I’ve just been running some lunchbox sessions at schools for upcoming prep parents to support this idea of healthy peers. I also teach my kids that all families are different, helps me to explain to my kids why their lunch boxes might be different to others. You are right, we try to make everything fun and colourful! It is very easy for mealtimes to become stressful so I’m trying to help parents to enjoy mealtimes with their kids using strategies like the illusion of choice.

  • Neets

    Love this post Kate. I really like the illusion idea. My kids aren’t fussy eaters when it comes to their veggies. I’m lucky in that regard but this can certainly help in other areas like CLEANING THEIR ROOM! lol “Which would you like to clean up first a) your trucks, b) your blocks c) your train set :)

    • Kate Wengier

      For sure! I use it for all sorts of things! Neets, any ideas you’d like to share about how you raised veggie loving kids?

  • Bek Mugridge

    Both my kids are big eaters and like all their fruits and vegetables very much but I think that comes from them enjoying the experience of them, they have both grown up growing veggies at home, watching seeds poke out of the ground, picking snow peas and beans and cherry tomatoes, they take a little basket and collect all the greens for smoothies and salads, it makes it fun.
    I am with Neets – now, getting my 8 year old to clean her room, (have even tried bribery of the money reward kind) is a whole other matter! So might try that approach there as well – worth a try! :)

    • Kate Wengier

      Let me know how it goes. I use it for other things too. “Would you like me or dad to brush your teeth today’ to my 3 year old, “would you like a bath or a shower?” (for some reason my 8 year old does not like bathing!)

  • rhian @melbs

    My son is a huge fruit eater and will eat any and every one possible, not so much with the veggies though. I am definitely going to try the colour and choice options to get him to engage a bit more.
    Great advice – thanks.

    • Kate Wengier

      Good luck. Explain to him that to run fast, jump high (link foods to any activity he likes to do) he needs to eat both fruits and veggies. You can try getting him to choose what colours he wants on his dinner (aim for a traffic light of colour) or take him to the fruit shop with you. Start slow and slowly increase the veg. And be persistent.

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  • Muj

    Good advice. Thanks. All my three kids love fruits & veggies. I always cut fruits & put them in small snack bags for kids in the fridge. We always grab few fruit bags whenever we jump in the car & finish them off.