My seven-year-old son ate a salad for dinner. Let’s stop and absorb that. The same kid who has turned his nose up at kale, asparagus and spinach decided that his sister’s Caesar salad looked good (and, well, croutons). So, he tried it. And then he polished off a plate of romaine lettuce.
It can take years of introducing vegetables with patience and consistency. But eventually, it pays off. The key is starting early, sticking with it and exposing kids to all different kinds of foods, including green and leafy vegetables. But when’s the last time you saw a jar of pureed kale baby food?
5 science-backed ways to get your picky eater to try new foods A new US-based study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that there’s a significant lack of green vegetables in commercially prepared baby food. Dark green vegetables were listed first in only one percent of samples—and that’s part of the problem. When kids aren’t exposed to lettuce or broccoli, they won’t acquire a taste for them.
This low number isn’t totally surprising, since baby food manufacturers know that babies are naturally drawn to sweet flavours and reject bitter foods. Why? Because babies have more taste buds than adults do, especially to sweet and bitter foods. That means sweet tastes even sweeter, and bitter tastes even more profoundly unpalatable.
Does that mean we’re doomed for our kids to only eat applesauce? Of course not! Babies are predisposed to accept sweetness, but they can learn to accept bitterness through repeated exposure to more pungent vegetables. Here’s how to get your child to eat more vegetables, including bitter greens.
Introduce them early
If you enjoyed lots of kale and spinach during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, your baby experienced those tastes too and will tend to favor the foods that he was exposed to in the womb and via breastmilk. The wider variety of vegetables you eat while pregnant or breastfeeding, the more flavours your baby will accept when you start solids.
Serve greens on repeat
If you weren’t a fan of leafy greens during pregnancy, it’s not too late to turn your baby into a veggie lover. Babies can acquire a taste for them. If you can’t find greens in baby food, make your own! Steam broccoli until soft, then puree, or offer small pieces as finger food. For older kids, try offering broccoli with a dip that they enjoy. Add chopped broccoli, kale, spinach, chard and other leafy greens to soup, stew, curry and smoothies.
Get kids involved
Grocery shop, prep recipes and cook with your kids. Let them pick new vegetables and recipes to try. In the springtime, grow a garden. They will be so excited to harvest and eat (well, at least try) the vegetables they have grown. Pro tip: Kale is really easy to grow.
Mask the bitterness
If a vegetable has bitter undertones, mask it with sour or sweet flavours. For example, blend kale into a smoothie with banana or pineapple. For older kids, dress leafy greens with a vinaigrette made with lemon juice, lime juice or balsamic vinegar—the acidity neutralizes the bitterness from the greens.
Make iceberg the gateway lettuce
It’s difficult to get kids to eat a bowl of well-dressed arugula, so take baby steps. Iceberg lettuce is sweeter. Sure, it’s not anywhere near as nutritious, but it gets children used to the habit of eating salad. Slowly mix iceberg with romaine, then add baby spinach or kale.
Make fun shapes with veggies
Sometimes, a simple change in shape or texture can entice kids to eat more vegetables. Kitchen gadgets like carrot peelers, cookie cutters and scissors can be allies. Use the peeler to create long, thin ribbons of cucumber, carrots or broccoli stems. Use scissors or cookie cutters to turn sweet peppers and spinach into fun, fancy shapes. And if your kids love crunchy things, turn kale into chips.
Ask: How can I make this better for you?
If kids push a veggie aside, ask them why. If vegetables are too crunchy, try steaming them. Too mushy? Serve them raw.
Remember, it can take up to 20 exposures to a vegetable before a child likes it. So, serve vegetables daily at meals and snacks. This presence will allow kids to get used to vegetables and—gasp—one day even enjoy them!
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.