I wanted to write a nice and short post that might be helpful to lots of parents of babies and toddlers who are picky eaters: How I got my picky eater toddler to eat his first vegetable.
If you're new here, this blog is about raising a toddler who happens to be a severely picky eater. Not your average "doesn't eat broccoli" picky eater, but a boy who's had food aversion, gagging and throwing up while eating, and weight gain problems because of his eating issues.
Needless to say, my child refused to eat vegetables for the longest time.
So while I've always fed him pureed vegetables as part of the high calorie baby food that I make for him, he has only started willingly eating vegetables very recently.
If you're wondering how to get a picky toddler to eat vegetables, then perhaps this might be helpful to you.
My Toddler's First Vegetable
My son's first vegetable that he actually ate and wasn't part of meals made with hidden vegetables was cucumber. Prior to this, we tried all the usual recommendations: steamed carrots, broccoli, corn, green beans, soft avocado, etc. He HATED all those textures.
If you need help figuring out what kind of vegetable might be a good one for your picky eater, try using this Picky Eater Foods Worksheet. I use the worksheet to help plan out my son's meals and to see if there are any patterns to textures or flavors that he prefers. Writing out all his favorite foods on this list helped me realize that he would probably prefer a "crunchy" vegetable instead of a soft one. So when we finally tried cucumber, it was a success!
But wait, it's not that simple.. I didn't just offer him cucumber on his plate one day. That would have NEVER worked with my son because new foods are sometimes scary for toddlers to try, especially if they have any eating or gagging issues. Keep reading to see how I got my son to eat his first vegetable.
Please note, a cucumber might not be the best first vegetable choice for a baby or for all toddlers because it does require some chewing skills.
Should You Force Your Child To Eat Vegetables?
I don't believe you should ever force your child to eat vegetables. There is no way that can ever lead to a positive relationship with vegetables. I would rather take baby steps and slowly work on my son's food, flavor, and texture preferences than try to force him to eat a vegetable he doesn't want. I just wanted to mention that before I continue.
How To Get Your Picky Toddler To Eat a Vegetable
I knew I had to try something other than offering cucumber as part of my son's meal. Believe it or not, new foods can feel scary and threatening to babies and toddlers. So I gave him the cucumber in a fun, safe environment:
We were sitting on the floor playing, and I asked my son if he wants to read a book. I got an enthusiastic "OKAY!" I had the cucumber within arm's reach of where we were sitting.
He sat in my lap, with my hugging him from behind. While we were reading the book, I casually said "do you want to take a bite of the cucumber?" AND HE DID!
He chewed it a bit, thought about it, and then continued eating it. I was SO HAPPY I wanted to get up and do a little dance. But I played it cool and pretended like it was no big deal. I kept reading, and kept offering my son bites of cucumber. He ate about 5-6 bites that first time!
I continued offering him cucumber while we were playing for the next few weeks, just so he would get used to eating it. And after that, I was able to put cut up cucumber on his plate and he LOVES it! He now asks for cucumber "peeka, peeka, gween peeka!" and it is his daily vegetable snack. Not sure how he got "peeka" from cucumber, but at least I know what he is asking for!
I used this same technique to introduce him to grape and cherry tomatoes. I figured tomatoes have a chance because they are sweet and juicy. He now loves them too, and asks for them often: "red? red? red? okay!" I am not sure why he won't try to say "tomato."
We are still working on other vegetables. It's a slow journey, but I see some light at the end of the tunnel.
By the way, if you think your child can benefit from sensory play to help with their picky eating, check out 52 weeks of Sensory. It’s a year's worth of sensory activities I created with a focus on picky eaters. Join me for lots of fun sensory play! Learn more.
Why this worked:
I believe this technique worked for my picky toddlers for 3 reasons:
- I offered my son a new food in a safe environment where he did not feel pressured to eat, like he would feel if he was sitting in his high chair.
- Hugging my son and reading to him while he tried a new food provided enough sensory input that he wasn't only focused on the new, scary, unfamiliar texture and flavor in his mouth. In other words, he was a bit distracted and just chewed because that's the natural thing to do with food. I have a blog post about 3 other sensory 'tricks' you can use during mealtimes that might help with getting your kid to eat and try new foods.
- I picked a vegetable that I thought my son might enjoy. I knew this would not work with avocado or steamed veggies - my son HATES mushy soft textures. It also wouldn't have worked with raw baby carrots - they are just too hard for my son to chew for now. Here is a Picky Eater Foods Worksheet that I use to plan my son's meals and foods. Seriously, check it out. You can print it for free or create your own.
If you're curious about how I prepared the cucumber for my son:
I peeled a part of it and offered him the whole dang thing. I figured he would think it's more fun biting into a large cucumber. Plus he gets a bit of sensory input from feeling it between his teeth when he takes a bite, so he sort of knows what to expect. But think about what's best for your kid. If your child might be intimidated by a large vegetable, try bite-sized pieces. If your child enjoys biting into things, cut it into strips so they can take a bite on their own.
Now I peel most of the cucumber (my son still spits it out if there is too much peel he can't chew through), and chop it into bite size pieces for school, or into thin strips when I serve it at home and can supervise how much he bites (he has a habit of stuffing EVERYTHING in his mouth and then spitting it all out). I am working on slowly increasing the amount of peel he is able to tolerate. Not because I necessarily want him to eat cucumber peel (although if you are getting organic cucumber, then the peel provides great nutrition!), but because I want him to be able to tolerate different textures and work through them in his mouth instead of spitting them out.
So think about what might be a good first vegetable for your picky eater. And think about a fun way to offer that first vegetable. It can be while playing with food in the kitchen, while taking a walk, while having a picnic in the park, on a playdate with other kids who are eating, or just on the floor of your living room.
I know, I promised a short post, and it feels so silly to write a whole freakin' dissertation about eating cucumber. But if you're struggling with things that seem so basic to other parents, like getting your kid to take a bite of food, then maybe some of this information might be helpful to you. Maybe it will spark some ideas of what to try with your kid, or new ways to present food. If I help at least one struggling parent with this article, then I think it's worth writing!
Other posts you might find helpful for your picky eater:
- Picky Eater Foods Worksheet - I use this to plan my son's meals, to track his eating progress, to provide him lots of variety in foods, and not feel so helpless when it feels like he doesn't eat ANYTHING.
- 3 Sensory Tricks I Use To Get My Son To Eat - these are how I get my child to eat when he refuses, and these easy tricks have been working for us for over a year.
- 7 Reasons to Give Your Picky Eater French Fries - no, I am not giving up on healthy food. I use French Fries as part of my son's feeding therapy to help introduce him to new foods, flavors, and textures. Read all about it.
- Hidden Vegetable Breakfast Recipes for Picky Eaters - if you're looking for sneaky ways to get your kids to eat vegetables... I still sneak vegetables into toddler food for my son, because eating just cucumber and tomatoes is not enough.
- Hidden Vegetable Lunch and Dinner Recipes for Picky Eaters - I realize these won't all work for picky eaters, but my son actually eats a few things from this list! It's worth trying, right?
- How to Make High Calorie "Baby" Food - Baby food is not just for babies, I use homemade purees to supplement my son's calorie and nutrition needs. Read about what ingredients I use for the homemade baby food.
- 12 Highly Nutritious Low Sugar Fruits - fruits provide a lot of nutrition, just like vegetables, and most kids are more likely to eat fruits than vegetables. Here is a list of super healthy fruits that are lower on the sugar spectrum.
I want to hear from you! What was your kid's first vegetable? Do you think this little trick is worth trying with your kiddo?
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