How To Get Your Kids To Eat More Greens
  /   Dr. John Snow

How To Get Your Kids To Eat More Greens

Nearly half of children aged one to five don’t eat a vegetable daily during the week, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Getting kids to eat more greens isn’t a new challenge, but it requires persistence. Between taste, texture, lack of exposure, or food packaging, there are a number of reasons why some kids find it hard to eat enough vegetables. 


While it can be frustrating, don’t give up. With a little creativity and patience, you can help your child develop healthy eating habits from a young age. Let’s discuss why greens are important and a few tried-and-tested strategies for sneaking more greens into your kid’s diet.

Getting kids to eat more greens isn’t a new challenge, but it requires persistence. Between taste, texture, lack of exposure, or food packaging, there are a number of reasons why some kids find it hard to eat enough vegetables. 

While it can be frustrating, don’t give up. With a little creativity and patience, you can help your child develop healthy eating habits from a young age. Let’s discuss why greens are important and a few tried-and-tested strategies for sneaking more greens into your kid’s diet. 

Why Greens Are Important For Children

Green vegetables are full of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and water. There are plenty of green vegetables for kids to try: 

  • Broccoli
  • Swiss chard
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini
  • Kale
  • Avocado
  • Cucumbers
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Green peppers
  • Edamame
  • Cabbage
  • Romaine lettuce

A healthy eating pattern for children aged two and older consists of eating plenty of vegetables alongside a variety of fruits, whole grains, protein foods, oils, and fat-free and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives. 

The USDA recommends that half the plate contain vegetables and fruits. Studies suggest that people who eat fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet are likely to have a lower risk of certain diseases

Green vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are a good source of nutrients like dietary fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamins A and C. Dietary fiber helps bulk up and soften stools, making them easier to pass. 

If you’re the parent of a picky eater, mealtimes can feel like a battle. Remember that it’s not your fault. Some parents find they have one child who will eat everything and another who is a fussy eater. Be kind to yourself. Try the following tips to introduce more vegetables kids will eat into their diet. 

Be A Good Example

If you’re wondering how to get kids to eat healthy, it’s a good idea to start with you. 

One study published in the journal Nutrients found that parents' dietary behaviors significantly influence children’s eating patterns. Researchers found that family meals had the most significant impact on children’s dietary habits. Evidence suggests that role modeling, parental encouragement, and a decrease in excessive pressure could positively affect children’s eating habits. 

In other words, setting a good example and eating your greens are great ways to encourage healthy food choices. Establish regular mealtimes and try to maintain a positive association when eating without distractions. 

Keep Greens On The Menu

So, you have a child who refuses to eat fruits and vegetables?

Don’t panic.

Children’s tastes change, so they can go from hating something to loving it the following week. If your child hates a particular green vegetable, move on to the next one.

It’s not surprising that sometimes the fun and bold packaging of the sugar-filled food looks more attractive than a serving of veggies. But keep at it. Ideally, every meal would have greens or vegetable options, but that’s not always realistic for busy parents and schedules.

The goal is to hit the recommended daily intake of vegetables for your child’s age group: 

  • 12 to 23 months - ⅔ to 1 cup 
  • 2-3 years - 1 to 1 ½ cups 
  • 4-8 years - 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups 
  • 9-13 years - 1 ½ to 3 ½ cups 
  • 14-18 years - 2 ½ to 4 cups 

One cup can be two medium carrots, one large bell pepper, or one cup of broccoli (fresh or frozen). 

It can take more than ten times before a toddler might like food, so keep trying. Some experts say it takes up to 15 times before kids know if they like something. Come back in a few days, try new foods, and keep greens on the dinner plate. 

According to the World Health Organization, optimal nutrition in the first two years of life fosters healthy growth and cognitive development. 

Avoid pressuring kids to eat. Instead, encourage them to try new foods, involve them, and role model positive eating habits

Stay Positive

While frustrating, try to remain positive and encourage your child. Take the pressure off dinner. As long as your child’s doctors say they are healthy, every green vegetable doesn’t need to be a battle. 

Focus on getting your child engaged with food and try to get them excited to try new things. Gently encourage a variety of foods and model healthy eating for kids to copy. If your child can’t face eating spinach during dinner, stay calm and try again next time. 

Offer up small portions of greens and praise your child for eating or trying, even if it’s just a tiny bite. Avoid giving food as rewards like candy; instead, reward with a trip to the park, coloring pages, or stickers. 

Include Your Kids in The Decision Making

Other helpful, healthy eating tips for kids are to keep mealtimes fun, like making funny faces with fruits and vegetables, making them colorful, and involving your children in the food process. This could be going to the grocery store with a list so they are more curious about food, picking out the meals or part of a meal, and preparing food for mealtime. 

Depending on how old your child is, they can help with food preparation like: 

  • Pouring and stirring ingredients into a bowl 
  • Cutting food with a child-safe knife (if age-appropriate) 
  • Washing fruits and vegetables 
  • Measuring ingredients 
  • Setting the table for dinner 
  • Tearing lettuce or greens 

Help your child develop a healthy relationship with food. It’s an excellent time for kids to start feeling independent and making choices that affect them. While they may not always choose a plate of greens, all these strategies can begin to prepare them to make healthy decisions on their own about the types of food they want to eat. 

Sneaky Ways To Add More Greens To Your Kids Diet

While you know how essential greens are for your child, sometimes you have to get sneaky. When greens are hiding in other foods, your kids might not even know they are getting all that good stuff with each bite. Here are some smart approaches to include more greens in your child’s diet. 

Mix Into Meat 

If you’re at a loss for how to get kids to eat vegetables, try disguising their flavor and appearance. Grate or shred green vegetables, then add them to homemade meat dishes like burgers, mincemeat, or meatloaf. Make sure to finely chop the vegetables to make them less noticeable. 

Greens to try this with include: 

  • Kale 
  • Spinach 
  • Broccoli 

Add To Sauces

Another great place to hide vegetables is sauces. Puree green veggies and then add them to sauces or gravies. This works for many different vegetables and sauces, and in most cases, the greens are hard to spot. 

Here are some ideas to sneak greens into sauces: 

  • Veggie blends: Puree spinach or kale and blend into smooth sauces to add to tomato-based pasta sauces or as a base for lasagna. 
  • Homemade gravy: Finely chop or puree greens like spinach and add to the gravy. 
  • Hidden vegetable tomato sauce: A tomato sauce is a great base for hiding pureed vegetables like zucchini, spinach, or broccoli.
  • Chili: Blend greens into the sauce, especially if it’s tomato-based, as the rich flavor of tomatoes can help mask the taste of the greens. 

Think about the dishes your child already likes. If they love whole wheat tomato pasta, for example, you can sneak some extra greens in there, and hopefully, your kids won’t even notice the difference. 

Blend Into Smoothies

Adding greens to smoothies is an excellent way to boost the nutritional content of children's diets while hiding vegetables that may cause a fuss. Smoothies allow children to consume a wider variety of nutrients in a convenient and tasty option, especially for busy families. 

When introducing greens to your kid’s smoothies, start with small amounts and experiment with different combinations of vegetables and fruits. With a little trial and error, you can find a mix your child enjoys and add an extra serving of greens to their diet. 

Here are some smoothie ideas to try:

  • Spinach, spirulina, and baby kale: These greens blend well with fruits and have a subtle taste you can easily mask with other ingredients. 
  • Apples: Blend greens with apples to add a sweeter flavor. 
  • Tropical: Mix greens with tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, and banana to add a natural sweetener. 

If your child already has a favorite smoothie mix, add a cup of greens, blend, and serve. If smoothies are a hit, homemade ice pops are another way you can sneak some vegetables in. Try freezing your smoothie mixture for a refreshing snack. 

Set Kids Up For Healthy Eating

It's perfectly natural for children to go through phases of picky eating as they grow and start to express their independence. Some kids might show a bit more reluctance at the dinner table than others, and that's okay.

Discovering the best approach for your family might require a bit of patience and creativity. Try out various techniques and recipes that make mealtime more appealing and introduce those essential veggies in a fun way.

Should you ever feel concerned about your child’s nutrition, consulting with a healthcare provider is always a wise move. Remember, noticing improvements in their eating habits may take a while. In the meantime, children's multivitamins could be a helpful option to bridge any nutritional gaps they might have.

As a parent or caregiver, you try your best to help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food. Stay positive, remain calm, and keep going. Although it can sometimes feel overwhelming, being a good example, eating together at family meals, and taking the pressure off food can all be helpful. 


Fruit, Vegetable, and Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Intake Among Young Children, by State — United States, 2021 | CDC

Cut Disease Risk by Adding Color to Your Diet | Mayo Clinic 

Childhood Nutrition Facts | CDC

What is a healthy diet? | USDA

Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality—a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies | International Journal of Epidemiology 

Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet | Mayo Clinic 


The Influence of Parental Dietary Behaviors and Practices on Children’s Eating Habits | Nutrients

Fussy eaters | NHS

Vegetables | My Plate  

Picky Eaters and What to Do | CDC

Evidence-Based Recommendations and Best Practices for Promoting Healthy Eating Behaviors in Children 2 to 8 Years | Healthy Eating Research 

Healthy diet | WHO

Study gives insight — and advice — on picky eating in children |  Harvard Health Publishing