Veggie Love: Nurturing Plant-Based Eating in Picky Infants and Toddlers
Don’t give up! There are ways to nudge your little ones to eat their veggies.
Eating is one of life’s most enjoyable pleasures—yet, many parents struggle to convince their tots of this! Call it picky, fussy, selective, or just plain stubborn—infants and toddlers aren’t always eager eaters, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Parents try so hard to nourish those little bodies and minds with the most nutrient-rich foods, but are too often faced with a closed-mouth, tight-lipped refusal of a broccoli floret or spoonful of sweet potato puree. So, what’s a parent to do? Hang in there! There are tried and true ways to foster even the youngest child’s willingness to sample a variety of vegetables that will assuredly turn into a life-long liking—or even love!
Raising a healthy eater is every parent’s goal. Yet even the most well-intentioned, diligent attempts can fall flat. That may be in part due to expectations. Parents may worry that their infant or toddler doesn’t eat enough, eats too slowly, or refuses to try new foods. Or maybe they’re concerned that their child eats only nuggets and macaroni or just one or two fruits, but no vegetables. Regardless of how a parent defines a picky eater, the concern is that a child’s diet may not be nutritionally balanced enough to ensure proper growth and development. After all, the current dietary recommendations for children encourage eating a variety of healthy, nutrient-dense foods that include a wide range of vegetables.
Potential Pitfalls of Picky Eating
Although picky eating is often viewed as a normal stage as a child grows and develops (it may be a way of asserting independence), studies show it can result in children falling short of their nutrient and energy needs, which may have negative health impacts. A review of studies published in a 2018 issue of the journal Nutrients found that 10 of 13 studies showed significantly lower intakes of vegetables in picky compared to non-picky eaters.
Low vegetable intake among children is an indicator of poor diet quality. If dietary differences continue into adolescence and adulthood, it could result in what researchers describe as “unhealthy or sometimes inadequate diets with potential adverse health consequences.” According to a study in a 2019 issue of Nutrients, nutrient intake by children identified as picky at age 3 were still evident at age 10. Although many of those differences were declining by age 13, vegetable intake was still lower.
Start Veggies Early
The earlier young children are exposed to healthy foods, the better. Infants and toddlers who are introduced to a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables, are more likely to eat them, research shows. Birth to 24 months is when food preferences and behaviors emerge and are established. The period from weaning to eating at the family table and eating the same foods as other family members has significant impact on the likelihood of a lifelong healthy diet. Gradually familiarizing infants and toddlers by giving them opportunities to learn to like the foods that meet their nutritional needs, as well as seeing them enjoyed by the rest of the family, makes it more likely they’ll choose them again and again.
Veggie purees are ideal first foods for baby. Research shows that repeated vegetable exposure in the first year of eating is the most effective way to increase veg intake and liking in infants. Start with single vegetables, like carrots or green beans. Sprout Organic Single Veggie Purees are a great way to start your baby on healthy foods as you begin the journey of offering new tastes and developing preferences. As your little one grows, Sprout Organic has a line of veggie purees for 6 Months & Up, 8 Months & Up, and Toddler Purees. Made with whole, organic vegetables, Sprout Organic purees contain no concentrates or preservatives, and they come in 100% BPA-free packaging.
New Foods are Fun!
As your child grows, continue to expand vegetable offerings and introduce fruits. Try two-ingredient purees to add complexity to your tot’s palate and add pureed veggies to smoothies and baked goods, like these Superkid Carrot Cake Muffins or my Kids Peach of a Zucchini Carrot Smoothie, which contains a pouch of Sprout Organic Carrot, Chickpeas, Zucchini, Pear Puree. Every time you introduce a new veggie, do so with excitement on your face and in your voice as you entertain them with a song or made up story about the food. Don’t forget presentation! Cut veggies into fun shapes, arrange them by color on the plate or into a face or a flower. Or, grab a quick and convenient Sprout Organic Plant Power Puffs in Apple Kale and Carrot Peach Mango. Each has only five simple ingredients, no artificial flavors or colors, are easy to pick up, and are quick-dissolving, and offer new flavors and textures.
As appetizing and exciting as you make the introduction of those veggies, don’t be discouraged if your child refuses. It will likely happen. And happen again. And again. That’s the way they develop a familiarity, a liking, and eventually, a preference for healthy foods. As worrisome as it can be, research says to resist the urge to force your child to eat just one carrot or to use a bribe, like a sweet, to coax them—pressuring them is ineffective. They’ll grow just fine, mom and dad.
Why not get the whole family—picky tots, siblings, and parents—on board to include more vegetables in meals! Here are a few tips to get you and your tiny tot started on a plant-forward journey.
- Veggies First & Repeat. Offer tots a taste of single vegetables purees, like Sprout Organic Single Fruit & Veggie Purees . Even if it’s refused, offer it again at another meal. Continue exposing them to it, while slowly introducing additional veg purees. Lead with veggies, and gradually introduce blends that include fruits. Sprout Organic has so many appealing options like Fruit & Veggie Blends and Fruit, Veggie & Grain Blends.
- Make it a Family Affair. All family members can model eating different vegetables. The family table is time to enjoy food and each other, which encourages little ones to join.
- Have Fun. Little ones are more relaxed and open to new foods when we make it fun. Be playful and let them play with their food. But be sure to make eating a no-pressure time. If they refuse to eat that green bean, let it go. Next time…
- Hang in There. Stay the course by patiently and creatively approaching meals with new veggies. Try new ways of presenting them, like letting them dip a cucumber in a nut butter, or treating them to a Sprout Organic Baby Snacks Plant Power Puffs and Teetherz, and Toddler Snacks Crinklez and Curlz.
Enjoy the adventure of introducing your tot to new veggies. Plant-powered meals are just what growing minds and bodies need. Sprout Organic infant and toddler purees and snacks make it easy to raise kids with all of the health benefits of an organic plant-based diet, like reduced risk of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease later on in life. Because they offer purees and snacks for beginning eaters with Starting Solids, then 6 Months & Up, 8 Months & Up, and Toddler Purees, you’ll feel confident knowing you’re nourishing your little one with the appropriate food at the right time. All Sprout Organic foods are made with whole foods, no concentrates, no preservatives, and non-GMO ingredients.
This blog is sponsored by Sprout Organic Foods.