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Why your toddler won't eat vegetables?

Some common reasons why your little one refuses their veggies

So Emily, my 18 month old daughter,  eats quite well and enjoys a variety of foods. Her favourites are bread, pasta, egg, cheese, avocado, fruit and of course chips but when it comes to the amazing array of vegetables that exist in the world the ones she currently will accept are broccoli, cauliflower, peas and creamed spinach. Some moms will say I am lucky she eats any vegetables at all and I do agree I am lucky because she actually will try most vegetables I offer. She puts them  into her mouth but is very quick to remove them once the penny drops and even the  tiniest chopped up onion is removed immediately.  She  will touch them and  squish them with  her fingers especially chopped courgettes but yet she doest eat them. So why eventhough I have a child who generally eats well and has a happy appetite  do I still struggle to increase the variety of vegetables she eats? 

As a dietitian I have a special interest in toddler  and child nutrition especially fussy eating.  I am passionate about educating parents on ways to deal with fussy or picky eaters and the role of  food  and nutrition  the early years .

Here are some of the possible reasons why as parents we often struggle to get our children to eat vegetables. 

1. Does your child  see you eating them?

You know the saying monkey see, monkey do well this applies to eating as well. Children mimic parents behaviour and so they are more likely to eat a food if they see a parent eat it for example at mealtimes together.  We eat breakfast together as a family and I try eat lunch with Emily but most  suppers she eats alone. Our largest serving of vegetables is at our evening meal  which we eat after Emily goes to bed as my husband gets home later so does she actually see us vegetables a lot?  I really try push at snacks and lunch for her to see me eat vegetables. I  try eat off her plate as well if I am not eating at the same time  and am introducing a new food. The reason for this is toddlers are scared of anything new (neophobia) and they believe it can harm them and so if they see you eating it  then they know it wont poison them. Have you ever noticed how they wont' eat from their plate but happily pick from yours even it it is the same food this is because of neophobia?

2. Do we really offer them a variety of vegetables  that often?

I know it may seem like we do offer vegetables frequently but sometimes we have given up before we have even tried because we have convinced ourselves that our children won't eat them based on previous experiences. Do you know it takes 17-20 times for a child to accept a new food so if offer the same new vegetable every second day it could take a month or even two  until the child could possibly even accept it . It is also important  to try offer it in different forms as some children have difficulty chewing so need smaller bites or some prefer mashed consistency to hard chewy consistency so we have to keep persevering. Remember try pair a new vegetable with a food they do accept so you are not overwhelming them. Its easy to give them something at a meal that you know they will eat but how are we ever going to ensure variety if we do this all the time. 

3.Do we encourage vegetables at snacks?

If you anything like me  I find fruit, yoghurt and cheese  much easier to have on hand as a snack for Emily when we out and about or during the day.  Its harder to carry veg around as snacks  or to quickly prepare them. So basically how often am I exposing her to vegetables,  am I instilling in her that these are only foods that we eat at  lunch and dinner meals? Whilst fruit makes nice easy snacks it is important to try encourage vegetables too even if it is just cucumber sticks or using things like hummus and guacamole with chopped up raw veg they can dip  them when we home for snack time. 

4.What type of palate are our children born with?

Studies have shown that even from birth children accept sweet tastes over bitter tastes making it more likely that they will accept fruit over vegetables . This of course does not make our job any easier and why perseverance is so important when it comes to offering vegetables .  It is often recommended for mothers to introduce vegetables before fruit during the weaning process to babies  as we want to try get them used to bitter tasting foods even though they have a preference for sweet. 

5. How does your child respond to texture?

If you think of the different  textures of certain foods, vegetables are definitely up there in the weird department. They can range from cooked and soft to raw and hard, from tree like broccoli to mashed butternut, squishy patty pans and courgettes to hard chewy mealies . Your child may respond differently to various textures  so it may take a while for you to find textures they enjoy.  From there then offer the same texture in a different vegetables and start slowly increasing the variety.  Remember children were offered soft pureed food which they didn’t have to work very hard to chew for the first few months of eating solids and so the world of introducing new textures can be very daunting for them. 

6.  Are we force feeding them vegetables?

Although it may seem like the obvious choice to force feed them so at least  you get some piece of mind your child is getting some vegetables this can lead the the development of  bad  mealtimes associations. Force feeding creates a tensed atmosphere between parent and child and can result in negative associations towards food where children  become anxious leading up to mealtimes  and eventually this can end up n them refusing foods they used to accept. The parent and child have different responsibilities when it comes to feeding. Check out Ellyn Satters responsibilities of feeding for more information on this. 

7.   Did you eat vegetables during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding ?

Science has shown us that there is evidence that flavours can pass through into the amniotic fluid  or even breast milk  and so the way we eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding can affect the development of a babies taste preferences. This is why it is important to eat a variety of foods during pregnancy and breastfeeding. 


How can we encourage out children to eat more vegetables ?

Rome wasn’t built in a  day and  so this is the way we should approach children and vegetables...... Its a journey. Enjoy the ride

1. Keep offering. Yes I know after the 10th time your child has refused it you feel like you are just wasting food but remember it can take over a month or two before a child will accept a new food

2. Remember a child’s appetite slows down a lot after one years of age so their portion sizes are not that big  so we might be filling them up on other foods  and  so they arent hungry enough to try a new food.

3. Offer vegetables in different shapes, sizes and textures so you can try appeal to your child’s sensory palate

4. Don't offer more than one new vegetables at a meal at a time as this can overwhelm a child

5. Try offer a new vegetable with a food they already and enjoy eating. 

Remember most toddlers go through some form of picky eating stage in their life as they learn to understand the meaning of the world no and try to exert their new found independence.

Most children do however outgrow this picky eating stage. The most important thing to remember is just to keep offering a variety of foods for exposure even if you think they wont try it so then what they outgrow this stage you don't have to start from scratch again. Try to focus on the positive and the foods that your child will eat and slowly grown this list one food at a time.

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