Hire your toddler as your Sous Chef.
“Studies tell us that involving children in meal preparation leads to increased acceptance of new foods,” Carullo shares. While involving your little one in cooking may seem scary, there are always ways that they can help. Whether you let them wash the fruits and veggies, throw away the peels, or even teach them to slice their own snacks (with a dull, plastic knife, of course), Carullo says that a hands-on experience is the key to getting them interested in consuming the nutritious foods in the first place.
Involve them in meal planning.
Kids (and, hey, even some adults) are more likely to want to eat something when they have a say in what they're consuming. While you may think that your toddler doesn’t know what they want to eat, Carullo says that their natural desire for independence and control begins developing at a very young age. As such, she says that bringing them along to the store to help pick out fruit and veggies for the week could be a great way to expose them to new produce and get them excited about trying different fruits and veggies. Additionally, she says that letting them choose how they want their fruits and veggies served can also make them seem more appealing, as they can choose what tastes best to them (Think: mashed, steamed, baked, and so on).
Nurture your child's green thumb.
Another way to get your toddler interested in fruits and veggies is to get them interested in the process that creates them. “Research shows that when kids help grow fruits and vegetables, they are more likely to consume a variety of them,” Carullo says. So, the next time you’re at the garden store, let them choose a fruit and/or veggie to grow and involve them in the process. “If you don’t have space for a full-on backyard garden, something as small as a tomato plant on a window sill or porch can provide the same opportunities for your child to grow, harvest (and taste!) produce,” she says.
Get creative and make it fun.
While shapes don’t technically make foods taste better, they can certainly make the experience more enjoyable. With that in mind, Carullo recommends using cookie cutters to present fruits and veggies in fun shapes. If the produce isn’t large enough to be cut with a cookie cutter, something as simple as a crinkle or spiral slicer can make it more exciting in a child’s eyes.
Another way to make fruits and veggies fun is to change up how they’re used. Rather than serving them on their own, Carullo recommends pairing them with dips, supplying them as toppings for pizza or yogurt, or even incorporating them into smoothies.
Which Fruits and Veggies to Focus On
Equally as, if not even more, important as getting your toddler to enjoy fruits and veggies is ensuring that you’re providing them the most nutritious and necessary options to begin with. “Toddlers tend to miss the mark for potassium and fiber intake—fruits and veggies happen to be a great source,” Carullo says. “All fruits and veggies contain potassium and fiber, however bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, spinach, and Brussels sprouts really pack a potassium and fiber punch."
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A Word to the Wise
Getting toddlers to open up to fruits and veggies can sometimes be challenging and may inspire you to reach for the most convenient option possible. The problem is, convenience is often the result of processing.
“Beware of processed foods and pouches that advertise hidden fruits/veggies,” Carullo warns. “They often contain added salt, sugar, and artificial ingredients. For example, if your child is refusing broccoli, they are better off getting fiber and potassium from fresh fruit they really love versus a processed cracker [or pouch] that contains small amounts of disguised broccoli.”
With that in mind—along with the tips above—do your best to reach for whole, nutritious fruits and veggies and serve them up to your little one in fun, creative ways that will make them excited to sit down for snacks and meals.