“My preschooler eats few or no vegetables. She is a good fruit eater and eats whatever fruit is provided. I always offer a vegetable at mealtimes and I try to sneak in veggies and offer dipping options to make it more appealing. But how can I ensure that my preschooler is eating well enough when she doesn’t eat vegetables?”
“Eat more fruits and vegetables” is one of the most common healthy eating tips. While adults can choose to pack baby carrots and broccoli in their lunches to meet the 5-A-Day goal, preschoolers eat for taste and not for long-term health benefits. When it comes to what preschoolers will eat, vegetables, known for strong flavors and little sweetness, often lose out to more palatable foods like fruit, bread, pasta, and dairy products. But the good news is that your preschooler will be fine if she goes through stages of not eating vegetables.
Benefits of Eating Vegetables
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Keep in mind the benefits of eating vegetables:
Vegetables provide fiber and other important nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, and folate.
Vegetables contain bioactive components other than nutrients that may be beneficial to health.
Researchers find that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers than people who eat fewer fruits and vegetables.
Vegetables are a particularly good choice for adults because they are nutrient-dense and low calorie – good for those trying to maintain a healthy weight.
Be Sure She Eats These Foods
If your preschooler hasn’t yet acquired a taste for vegetables, she can get all the nutrition she needs from other plant foods like fruits, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Try to introduce these plant foods to make up for the nutrients she isn’t getting from vegetables:
for Vitamin A: try red fruits like mango, cantaloupe, and apricots
for Vitamin C: try citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, papaya, and cantaloupe
for Vitamin E: try nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils
for Folate: try beans, oranges, and orange juice
for Potassium: try potatoes (white or sweet), bananas, oranges, plantains, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, beans, and soybeans
More Ideas for Adding Vegetables to Her Diet
Remember that there is more to vegetables than broccoli, spinach, and peas. Your preschooler might enjoy these foods from the vegetable group that counts toward your preschooler’s goal of 1-2 cups per day:
Potatoes. Potatoes may have a bad reputation from the low-carb diet craze but they are rich in potassium and contain protein, B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, and fiber. Baked fries and mashed potatoes can be easy side dishes for your preschooler to enjoy.
Try beans. Beans are a great nutrient-dense choice. Beans have all the nutrition of plant foods but are also high protein, making them a great substitute for meat. Add refried beans to make a nutrient-dense cheese quesadilla, make boiled soybeans (edamame) for a fun snack or side dish, and tofu can be sauteed for a quick meal.
Raw vegetables can be hits when served crisp and chilled. Offer bite-sized pieces of cucumber, broccoli, carrots, grape tomatoes, and celery as part of a pre-dinner snack when your preschooler is hungriest.
Vegetable soup. Does your preschooler enjoy soup? Pureed vegetable soups such as carrot soup or butternut squash soup can be delicious and an easy way to get lots of vegetables in her diet.
Almost all fruits, beans, and whole grains are good sources of fiber. The more the better when it comes to your preschooler’s diet.
Wendy, it sounds like you are doing the right things. Continue to offer various vegetables at meal and snack times without requiring her to eat large servings. And remember to be a good role model by enjoying vegetables yourself. Good luck and healthy eating!
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005, 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005. www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines
U.S. Department of Agriculture. www.MyPyramid.gov, 2005.