All us moms know our toddlers need balanced meals including fruits and veggies. I have never heard a mom disagree with that statement; have you? Somehow, though, it gets so much more challenging in practice than in theory.
Nutrition was my major in college, and yet I found myself a few months back with a 13-month-old whose preferred fruits and veggies list had dwindled to bananas. Yep, that’s it – bananas. Suddenly, I discovered a whole new empathy for the moms of picky eaters. I had ground up fruits and veggies for him since he started solid foods at six months, and he had enjoyed almost all of them. I felt like I had followed the instructions only to discover I didn’t know as much as I thought about getting toddlers to eat and enjoy fruits and veggies. So how do I get my toddler to eat fruits and veggies? We’ve been working on it for several months at our house, and here are the best tips we’ve discovered.
The Practical Part
1. Keep Fruits and Veggies On-Hand.
This seems obvious, but how often is this honestly a big piece of our problem? If there are no fruits and veggies handy, chances are I’m not serving them today. Plus, young toddlers still need soft fruits and veggies cut into bite-size pieces which also requires planning. So, here are some of our current, easy, go-to favorites.
- Frozen veggies – I can grab a few pieces of broccoli or carrots and run them under warm water in seconds
- Fresh bananas, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, blackberries, and mangos that are soft enough to cut into bite-size pieces and be used as finger food
- Avocado, steamed broccoli, steamed green beans, steamed carrots, and steamed peas
- Frozen fruits – Drop them in cereal or yogurt
2. It Can Take Lots (Like 10) of Introductions to a Food Before a Toddler Accepts It
Did you know research shows that most toddlers are hard-wired to accept new foods, but it often takes repeated exposure to the same foods? It sounds reasonable, but I had no idea till I read some of the research that this means offering a toddler a new fruit or vegetable on the order of ten times before they start accepting it. The article said most moms (I was one of them) tend to stop offering an item at more like 5 rejections. I certainly, had no idea that just repeating the process over and over can be a major key to success!
3. Offer Fruits and Veggies First at Most Meals.
When your child is hungriest he or she is usually more open to trying a few bites of something new or less favored. Practically, this looks like me putting a scoop of mixed veggies on my son’s tray for him to work on while I serve my own plate and the rest of his food. For the first three minutes, vegetables are the only item on the tray.
4. Make it Fun!
This part is the most individual by family. For my 16-month-old this means letting him use a fork to put the pieces of fruit or veggie in his mouth. He doesn’t get a fork yet during the rest of his meal because he’s still too dangerous with it. Strawberries joined his list of favorites after I let him bite off pieces from a whole strawberry several times in a row. Here are some other ideas.
- For Young Toddlers (Under Two) Try Varying the Presentation – Let them use a fork, bite off pieces from the banana, try a bite of fruit or veggie off Mommy’s plate, dip the fruit or veggie in yogurt etc.
- Let Older Toddlers Help Prepare the Fruits or Vegetables – Stir, peel, push the buttons on the microwave etc. For additional ideas see this previous post from Mommy Medicine.
- Charts and Incentives -Some toddlers love sticker charts where they get to record every time they try a new fruit or veggie.
- Two-Bite Rule – Many moms find having a two-bite rule for fruits and veggies works wonders. If you still don’t like it after two bites, you don’t have to eat anymore.
If all this sounds like work, remember the goal is to help your toddler establish the habit of eating fruits and vegetables. Once that habit is established, you can phase out the extra incentives.
Sometimes it’s a mind game on my side that is really causing the problem. When my attitude is negative everything gets harder. Here are a few facts to remember to keep us positive!
- Eventually this Little One of Mine will Enjoy their Fruits and Veggies.
Fruits and veggies really do taste good, so eventually this is going to work!
- Toddlers Change Fast!
Remember toddlers go through phases and seasons. Just because all vegetables were refused last week doesn’t mean the same will happen this week. Yes, they can and do change that fast!
- Celebrate Little Steps!
If you’re getting tired of trying, intentionally celebrate your perseverance. Really, go ahead and tell yourself, “Good job, Mom for introducing steamed carrots for the fifth time.” Then, smile the morning no bites of peaches turns into two bites.
This morning was busy. My son was whimpering about breakfast being late, and I was grabbing the bread to make whole wheat toast when I remembered we are practicing eating fruits with breakfast. I grabbed ten blackberries out of the refrigerator, rinsed them, cut them into pieces, reminded myself that one day he will enjoy fruits and veggies, and determined to celebrate the process no matter how much progress we made today. I helped him use the fork to put the pieces in his mouth, cheered him on, and the first bite worked! I celebrated and congratulated myself. We actually made a total of eight berries!! Obviously, we still have progress to make on this front at our house, you may have progress to make too. Be encouraged; try something new and keep going!
Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/26/2018) Eduardo Llanquileo (Flickr)