Strategies to Help Children Eat New Fruits and Vegetables

By: Valerie Heneghan, M.A. CCC-SLP/L, C/NDT

As a mother of two young children, having your child eat more fruits and vegetables is always the goal. If you are like me, when my children were starting to eat solids, I could easily offer them various fruits and vegetables.  They would typically take the food offered on their highchairs, explore it and even take bites of it.  But as they got older, they became more selective.

There are many reasons why a child may be unwilling to try new food on any particular day. Maybe the presence of a new food made them panic, and they were never introduced again. Some children may recall a negative experience with a particular food that made them gag or throw up. Now they don’t trust any similar association with that food, such as color, shape, or specific packaging.

The good news is that it’s never too late to try new foods!

Helpful strategies to start exploring new foods

1. Building Trust Around Food

This idea may not be top of mind when you think about getting your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, but it is critical. We need our children to be calm and ready to learn when introduced to new foods. This process starts with a trusting and nurturing relationship between the child and the caregiver.

A great place to start is being true to your word regarding food. As a parent, there is a strong temptation to sneak in vegetables in a meal. Or tell your kids it’s a fruit snack instead of these are your vitamins.

However, Trying to “sneak in” healthy foods doesn’t always lead to long-term good habits, especially with selective or “picky” eaters. Children know their foods, and if you alter it without them knowing, they will likely believe that you will do it again in the future and may reject that particular food or develop more habits that make them more selective such as watching you open the package, only eating foods when they are a specific temperature, etc. Instead, have them change foods or cook with you if they choose to and call foods by their actual name.

2. Supportive Seating and Environment

When possible, offer your child a secure place to eat where their pelvis is upright, and their feet are grounded into a surface. Think about an environment that is inviting to focus on a new task. 

For example, limit distracting sounds, have a clear table, a predictable setting, etc.

3. Offers Not Demands

When trying something for the first time, or food they once ate and no longer have been eating, encourage exploration and positive experiences with that new food rather than the amount of consumption. The first interaction with a new food may be smelling it, touching it with a utensil, passing it to someone else, etc. You can talk about how it looks, make funny faces with it, do actions with the food like dancing or telling jokes, etc. 

As a mother, I do understand at the end of the day, all you want is for your child to eat the dinner you prepared for them, and when they refuse it, that can be frustrating. As a child, however, I remember being served foods I had never eaten before and told I couldn’t leave the table until I ate everything on my plate. So I sat at the table trying to hide foods under other foods, sneaking little bits to the dogs under the table, any trick I could try to make it look like I complied with the rules. Trying new foods cannot be an all-or-nothing process for children. This is simply ineffective for both the child and the parent.

As an adult with that experience, I try to problem-solve how to make new food more approachable. Is it by playing a familiar game, such as playing basketball with blackberries, do we turn the celery stalk into a paintbrush? Do we offer that the food can stay on the table but doesn’t have to go on their plate until they are ready to learn more about it? Be creative and have fun with it!

4. Exposure to Variety

Keep offering those new foods!  It will likely take repeated exposure before kids are willing to try something new. Food is not wasted if not eaten because initial exposure to new foods is just as important, so children can learn more about it and increase their willingness to try it later.

5. Family Mealtime Routines

Whenever possible, try to have family meals together where kids and adults eat the same food and can take how much they would like on their plates. This simple practice can keep exposure to new foods more consistent. Keep the conversation light and positive during mealtime (Ex: If you could be any animal at the zoo, what would you be? etc.) With a routine, kids will know what to expect. And seeing someone else eat the same food, will give them a chance to observe that it is safe to try it too. And don’t “yuck someone’s yum.” Normalize if a child decides they like a certain dip with the food or want to mix foods together.

Feeding Support at Easterseals

Nearly 90% of children with special health care needs are at risk for some type of nutrition-related problem.

If you need additional support for your child’s feeding needs, our multi-disciplinary therapy team offers comprehensive support through our nutrition services, feeding clinic, speech-language feeding specialists and our fun with foods group.

To learn more about services at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, call us at 630.282.2022 or email

Author: eastersealsdfvr

At Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, our mission is to ensure that children with disabilities and their families are empowered. We offer pediatric therapy services throughout West Suburban Chicagoland to help children and their families build skills and access resources they need to live, learn, work and play in their communities. We serve more than 1,000 infants, children and adults with developmental delays and disabilities each week. Our core services include physical, occupational, and speech therapies. We also offer assistive technology therapy, medical nutrition services, behavior therapy, developmental evaluations, audiology, social services, a child care center, specialty clinics, and a continuing education program.

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