Mealtime with toddlers can sometimes feel like a game of chess, especially when vegetables are on the table. At times you may find yourself dodging carrots catapulted by knights, while other times an all-out stalemate leaves both players exhausted and unsure of the next move. And while walking away from the game might seem like the easiest way out, we assure you there are plenty of creative ways to feed your toddler greens that don’t involve a complicated strategy.

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers should be consuming 3-5 servings of vegetables per day (roughly ¼ cup portions). But since the growth-rate slows and a need for independence starts around age 1, the AAP suggests approaching mealtime with flexibility and variety to give your child choices while they learn about different foods and avoid putting pressure on your child that could result in a negative relationship with food.

While flexibility is key, there are a few basic rules that parents should aim to enforce and model.

Stay Seated During Meals

When it comes to young children, safety during mealtime is imperative to prevent choking hazards, so the staying seated during meals rule should be followed whenever possible. It’s also a great way to help children focus on their meal, learn table manners and participate in quality family time.

Adhere to a Regular Meal and Snack Routine

Children thrive on routines that give them a sense of security while helping them learn what is expected from them each day. So just like a bedtime routine helps a child understand when it’s time to wind down for the day and prepare for a restful night’s sleep, meal and snack routines establish healthy eating habits that help children recognize hunger cues and the nutritional needs of their bodies.

Eat from All Food Groups

Meals should be balanced and offer foods from all five food groups. And more importantly, toddlers should be encouraged to eat from all food groups at every meal. It might seem like you’re being flexible to let your child skip an entire food group at a meal, and sure, that may be okay here and there, but too often may risk your child not getting enough of an important set of nutrients.

Even equipped with these rules, it can be tough to put them into play when your child is refusing to eat their greens.

Having recently parented two toddlers, I know first-hand how confusing and frustrating the ups and downs of their dietary preferences can be. Some days toddlers may devour an entire head of broccoli, while others may look upon it with disdain. That leaves parents with two choices: fight against it or join the game and get creative—and perhaps a little sneaky, too. I chose the latter and am sharing a few tried and tested recipes to help you incorporate greens into your toddler’s diet.

  • This 4 ingredient Spinach Mango Banana Green Smoothie may have leafy greens in it, but masked by bananas and sweet mangoes, your toddler won’t be the wiser.
  • These Fruit and Veggie Bug Snacks may not be hiding the veggies from your toddler, but your toddler will have a hard time resisting veggies that look this cute, especially when they get to help prepare them.
  • When you’re in a rush, getting as many food groups as possible into one bite can be a lifesaver, so it doesn’t get much easier than these Mini Broccoli Cheddar Bites that your toddler will love.
  • Sorry, potatoes don’t count as a “green” but cauliflower most definitely does, and switching out the spuds in these Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes with Bacon and Cheese will trick any toddler into eating cruciferous veggies.
  • We don’t know one toddler who would turn down a popsicle, so feel good about offering these bright Fruit and Veggie Popsicles to your little one this summer
  • Kids will love dipping these familiar-shaped Carrot and Zucchini Fries into a side of ranch or hummus.
  • Pasta is almost always a hit with toddlers, so the next time you’re serving up spaghetti and meatballs, top it with this delicious Hidden Vegetable Spaghetti Sauce (use this sauce for pizza, too!).

I hope that these tips and recipes will get you on your way to successful eating habits with your toddler!

—Candace Nagy


Mother. Writer. Lover of history and nature. Read more by Candace here.