How do I get my baby to like vegetables?
Starting solids can be a new – and sometimes scary – milestone for parents. For the first 6 months of life your baby has been on a liquid diet of milk, and now you’re faced with the task of safely providing nutritious, balanced foods, as well as exposing your baby to a variety of tastes and textures to encourage a future of healthy eating. No pressure! One of parents’ most pressing questions when it comes to starting solids is: How do I get my baby to like vegetables? And with good reason. Many veggies are naturally bitter, and as humans, we’re genetically hardwired to prefer sweet foods. (1) So, when faced with sweet strawberries or bitter broccoli, many babies will clearly show their preference. Fortunately, kids can learn to love vegetables and you don’t have to trick little ones or hide veggies!
Happy Family Organics has teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to promote PHA’s Veggies Early and Often Campaign. Happy Family’s mission has always been to change the trajectory of children’s health through nutrition, therefore working with PHA to promote vegetable consumption in young children is a natural fit.
Happy Family has the Happy Baby Experts - a team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists available via free, confidential 1:1 live chat to answer all of parents’ nutrition and feeding questions. Here are answers from Happy Baby Expert Janel (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and mom of three) to three of the most common questions she hears from parents about how to get little ones to like veggies:
1. When can vegetables be introduced to baby?
Vegetables can be introduced right away when starting solids. The key is to introduce vegetables often and in a variety of ways to increase chances of acceptance. It has been shown that the earlier vegetables were introduced in the infant’s diet, the better their acceptance, both in infancy and at a later age in childhood. (2) (3)
2. How should I prepare the veggies?
If you’re introducing vegetables with the traditional pureed food method, you’ll start with spoon feeding purees and progressively advance to lumpy mixtures, soft solids, and soft table foods as your baby shows readiness. A carrot, for example, can be steamed and then pureed with some breast milk or prepared formula to get a smooth texture for a baby first trying vegetables. Once baby has tried and tolerated them individually, try a blend of veggies like parsnips and peas or zucchini and sweet potato to increase the variety of vegetables that your baby enjoys.
To progress to a lumpy texture, steam and then fork mash carrots with a few tablespoons of breast milk or prepared formula. Next your baby might enjoy soft, steamed, pencil-thin strips of carrot that they can hold in their hand and eat, or diced, steamed carrot pieces (pea-sized) that they can enjoy while practicing the pincer grip and self-feeding.
You can use oils (e.g., olive or avocado), and seasonings, such as fresh or dried herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of boiled broccoli or steamed spinach. Not only will this expose your little one to an even greater flavor profile but expand their palate and get them used to flavors of table food your family enjoys to cook at home. Roasting vegetables can also bring out their natural caramelization, or sweetness, so it’s a great cooking technique to not only get the veggies to a soft texture but also to enhance the flavor. It turns out, babies love flavor! One study showed that nursing mothers who increased garlic in their diet had babies nursing at the breast longer and more vigorously when they detected garlic in the breastmilk. (3)
Too much salt can be harmful for babies’ kidneys, which is why it’s not recommended to salt your baby’s food in an attempt to enhance the flavor. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association all advise against salting baby’s food as well as reviewing nutrition fact panels (NFPs) to limit daily sodium intake. Helpful hint: when looking at a NFPs, strive for foods with sodium <10% of Daily Value. As your baby is tasting new flavors for the first time, the natural taste of the veggies enhanced with oils, herbs and spices is all she needs for it to taste delicious!
3. What if my baby rejects veggies?
Don’t be surprised if your baby doesn’t seem to like a new veggie on the first try. It can take 10 or more tries for a baby to like a new food, especially when it comes to bitter vegetables. While you don’t want to ever force your baby to eat a food, focus on their willingness to continue feeding rather than their facial expression. Babies often react with strong facial cues in response to bitter, sour, spicy or other new flavors and textures. Funny facial reactions to a new food don’t necessarily mean your little one dislikes the food. Watch for signs that baby is willing to give it another try such as: leaning forward, watching the bowl or spoon, and willing to open mouth. Repeated exposure (which includes letting baby touch, smell, lick, or even play with the food on their tray) makes it more likely that baby will one day try the new food, and maybe even learn to love it. (4)
If you’re afraid you started too late with introducing vegetables, don’t worry! Humans can learn to love new flavors at any age, so keep providing delicious opportunities for your little one to love veggies. Want tips to raise healthy, adventurous eaters? Chat the team here or read more about Janel and our Happy Baby Experts here. And to learn more PHA’s review of evidence on the importance of Veggies Early and Often - click here!
“The sweetness and bitterness of childhood: Insights from basic research on taste preferences.” Date accessed 4 February 2021
Grimm KA, Kim SA, Yaroch AL, Scanlon KS. Fruit and vegetable intake during infancy and early childhood. Pediatrics. 2014 Sep;134 Suppl 1:S63-9.
Coulthard, H., Harris, G., & Emmett, P. (2010). Long-term consequences of early fruit and vegetable feeding practices in the United Kingdom. Public Health Nutrition, 10(12), 2044-2051.
Dazeley, P., Houston-Price, C. Exposure to foods’ non-taste sensory properties. A nursery intervention to increase children’s willingness to try fruit and vegetables. Appetite. Jan 2015. (84)1-6.