Women's Health     Healthy Kids     Teen Health    

Kids aren't eating fruits and veggies

Happiest Baby's Dr. Harvey Karp has tips to change that

tips to get kids to eat fruits and veggies

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that approximately 32% of 1- to 5-year-olds did not eat a single piece of fruit a day and nearly one half (~49%) didn't eat any vegetables a day. Roughly 51% drank a sugar-sweetened beverage, like fruit drinks or soda, at least once a week.

"These findings are very, very concerning," says pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, MD and author of the best-selling parent guides Happiest Baby on the Block & Happiest Toddler on the Block and CEO of Happiest Baby, Inc. and creator of SNOO, the safe robotic baby bassinet. "We all know that 'you are what you eat.' During the early years of life, children are forming lifetime preferences that will influence their eating for the rest of their lives. Healthy eating can save our children terrible suffering, from obesity—with joint and back problems—to diabetes to heart disease…and maybe even cancer."

Parents and caregivers need to offer at least one fruit or vegetable at each meal and snack. To get there, follow Dr. Karp's expert advice:

Know what a serving truly is.

Remember, an adult serving size is much different than the serving size for your toddler or preschooler! Once you get your head around how small a serving really is, ensuring your tot gets enough is far more doable.

  • For 1- and 2-year-olds, a serving is about 2 tablespoons cooked or canned fruits or veggies, 2 to 3 pieces fresh, or one-fourth of a small whole fruit, like a plum

  • For 3- to 4-year-olds, a serving is roughly one-fourth cup cooked or canned fruits or veggies, 4 to 5 pieces of fresh produce, or half a small whole fruit

  • For 5- to 6-year-olds, a serving is about a half cup cooked or canned, 6 to 7 pieces fresh, or one small whole fruit

Catch others eating well.

Since toddlers and preschoolers love imitating others, especially slightly older kids, when you visit restaurants or you're at friends' homes, casually point out what kids have on their plates. "Oh! Lily is having sweet potatoes. So yummy!" "Hmmm...that boy is eating apples slices. Do you think he's going to use the dipping sauce he has on the table?" But it is best not to compare your child to other kids. That often boomerangs and makes little kids more defiant.

Embrace dips and spreads.

The best way to help the kids eat fruits and vegetables is to make sure they taste good. Skip the pressure and let them have a "not today" bowl to put in foods they choose not to eat today. You can also lean into roasting (brings our natural sweetness), dipping sauce (little dish of ranch dressing, ketchup, or hummus with crunchy or lightly steamed veggies), little sprinkles of cheese on your tyke's cauliflower, or with a dusting cinnamon…the goal is to get kids excited to eat fruits and veggies!

READ MORE: Planning a balanced, plant-based diet for kids

Use reverse psychology.

One silly tip that often works is to use your child's natural defiant ("I want to do it myself!") as your secret helper. When your toddler has broccoli on their plate, reach over and take a little piece…and eat it with clear joy! "Mmmmm…! Mommy loves little trees. I want them ALL! They're Mommy's trees." When your tot gobbles up their piece, make a silly pout and say, "Hey, you ate my broccoli!!" If your tyke refuses to eat, pretend to try to sneak bits of food off their plate as though you greedily want all their food for yourself. This appeals to your toddler's basic sense of "It's mine!" While this doesn't always work, it's worth a try!

Make fruits and veggies appetizers and toppers.

If you're struggling to get your tot to eat fruits and veggies during mealtime, take the meal out of the equation. Instead, put out a plate of cut veggies or snap peas—or a bowl of fruit salad topped with yummy, shredded coconut—while you make dinner. This allows hungry kids to enjoy a healthy starter as you finish up in the kitchen. Plus, it's a great way to take the pressure off at mealtime and sidestep hangriness! Another easy in: Treat fruit as a fun topper for things like whole plain yogurt, ice cream, whole grain waffles or pancakes, and oatmeal.

Let them help.

You'd be surprised at how well this works! Kids are much more interested in eating food that they helped prepare. Inviting your children to help wash the fruit or veggies, help cutting it and organizing it on a plate 

Offer a win-win compromise.

Toddlers and preschoolers love choices! It helps them feel more control of their very adult-centered world. So, next mealtime ask something like, "Should I give you three peas or two?" and suggest a win-win compromise, like, "Eat a green bean and you can have another french fry, or eat two more green beans and you can have all five of these french fries!" If your tyke drives a hard bargain and eats only one tiny nibble of the bean, you should still give them a piece of the french fry. Why? Because they're making a baby step in the right direction!

Rethink juice.

When I was starting out as a pediatrician, we thought apple juice was a great first drink for babies, but today we know better! Fruit drinks and fruit juice are pretty much just sugar and water. The "fruit" part, meaning the pulp and the most nutritious bits of fruit, is thrown away during the juice-making process. Does that mean kids can't have any juice ever? No! But it's time to reposition 100% juice as a sometimes food, not a diet staple. And when/if you do serve it, make sure it's 100% juice and consider watering it down.

An easy – and very tasty – substitute is sunshine herbal tea, just put some dried peppermint or spearmint (tea bags or loose leaves) in plain room temperature water and let it sit for a few hours in the sun (no need for boiling). Mint is naturally sweet, but you can make it a bit sweeter by adding 1 ounce of apple juice or a little sugar or honey. (For extra fun, you and your child, can even grow some mint in your garden, it is very easy). 

Stock up on on-the-go fruit and veggies snacks.

Next time you get your snacks together for a trip to the park, the zoo, a road trip, or whatever, leave crackers and bars at home and take dried, whole, sauced, and/or baked fruits and veggies instead…but not gummy fruit snacks, which are glorified candy—and a choking hazard for children under 4. Some kid-favorites include clementines, fresh or puffed sugar snap peas, chopped dried cherries, seaweed snacks, freeze-dried berries with no added sugar, unsweetened applesauce, roasted chickpeas, and cucumber circles.

Other articles by HVP News Reporters

  • Understanding 'Warning Strokes'

    What to expect if you experience stroke symptoms, even if they disappear

    Diagnosing a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a “warning stroke,” can be challenging because symptoms often disappear within an hour. However, it’s important to seek emergency assessment to help prevent a full-blown stroke. read more »
  • Managing your family's year-round health

    Protect everyone from infectious diseases

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccines help create protective antibodies that fight off infections. read more »
  • What to know about Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension

    treatment can help control symptoms and improve quality of life

    Each year, an estimated 500-1,000 people nationwide are diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). While there’s currently no cure, treatment can help control symptoms and improve quality of life. read more »
  • Bring back family bonding this fall

    3 ways to free up busy schedules to spend time with loved ones

    Busy fall schedules often leave little time for the things that matter most – sharing special moments with those you love. This year, as time seems to speed up during another school year, making family bonding a priority in your household can start with a few simple tricks. read more »
  • Top tips for a more organized kitchen

    Save time and money

    Better organization in the kitchen means spending less time searching for the right ingredient or tool so you can have more time for savoring meals with family and friends, and more time for personal pursuits. read more »
  • 6 small, kind gestures to make a big impact each day

    Performing acts of kindness improves individual well-being

    Everywhere you look, you can see moments of kindness. From a friend sending a thoughtful text message to a stranger holding the bus for someone running late or a person paying for someone else’s coffee, acts of kindness happen every day. read more »
  • Keeping babies safe

    Tips to help prevent some of the biggest dangers

    Tips to help prevent some of the biggest dangers for babies include safe sleeping habits, product recalls, baby proofing & car safety read more »
  • Tips to get tour student prepped for college entrance exams

    Help get your teen ready

    Is the SAT or ACT on the horizon for your high schooler? A lot of emphasis is placed on college entrance exams, and your child may be anxious about their scores. read more »
  • More than two-thirds of Americans plan to get a flu shot this season

    CVS Pharmacy® and MinuteClinic® encourage consumers to get an annual flu shot and stay up to date on routine vaccinations

    CVS Health® (NYSE: CVS) is prepared to meet patients' vaccination and other preventive health care needs as flu season approaches. CVS Pharmacy® and MinuteClinic® are offering the annual flu vaccine at locations nationwide. CVS Pharmacy is also offering the new respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, which has been approved for adults ages 60 and up. read more »
  • 10 phrases to say to children every day

    Instill valuable life skills and boost their self-esteem

    As parents, you play a pivotal role in shaping your child’s character, confidence, and overall development. Every interaction is an opportunity to instill valuable life skills and boost their self-esteem. read more »