In my experience, as a Registered Dietitian, there are 3 main reasons why people don’t eat enough vegetables daily: they either don’t like them, they can’t afford them or they simply don’t plan for them as part of their meals and snacks. I say this without judgment because all three reasons are valid. Planning is hard, the recession is real and food preferences are definitely a thing. However, I truly believe that, with the right strategies and resources, everyone can overcome these challenges. I could make a whole blog post about meal planning for veggie-packed meals. The same goes for budget-friendly vegetable suggestions. For this article though, I decided to focus on how to eat more vegetables for picky eaters.
Why Do You Dislike Vegetables?
If you or someone you know claims they don’t like vegetables, I encourage you to challenge that thought respectfully. By that, I don’t mean to pressure or interrogate the person. That would only make things worst. Instead, explore the topic with curiosity.
In my practice, if a client claims they don’t like vegetables and I feel this holds them back from reaching their healthy eating goals, I would probably explore this a bit more. I would ask: “What is it about vegetables that you don’t enjoy”? Maybe it’s the texture or flavours or both. The good news is that you can play around with these variables in the kitchen. Of course, experimenting takes time and money which most of us don’t have the luxury to waste. Let me make it simple for you by sharing some of my favourite strategies to eat more vegetables for picky eaters.
How To Eat More Vegetables as a Picky Eater?
Here are the top tips I share with clients when we work towards incorporating more vegetables in their diet, particularly when their barriers have to do with food preferences or picky eating. Honestly, these strategies work for all ages, from toddler years to adulthood.
1. Disguise Them in Mixed Meals
The point of this strategy is not to hide or lie about the vegetable content of a meal, especially if you are cooking for a picky eater. We don’t want to promote distrust, particularly with little ones. By disguising the vegetable you don’t like or think you don’t like, you’re setting yourself up for greater success. Why? Chances are, if you don’t see the disliked vegetable as part of your meal, you will likely be more open-minded going into it.
By adopting this strategy, you are also mixing flavours, which helps to disguise the taste and texture of the vegetable you are attempting to serve or consume for yourself. If you’re not a fan of zucchini, would you prefer eating it on its own or having it as part of a meatball recipe? There’s no good or bad answer here, it’s a matter of preference. Chances are though, most picky eaters would choose the latter, more disguised, option. However, that’s another good question to ask yourself (or the picky eater you know). How would you (or they) prefer to consume a particular vegetable?
Here are my favourite mixed meals for disguising vegetables for picky eaters:
- Omelet or quiche
- Pasta dishes
- Fried rice
- Nachos, tacos or quesadillas
2. Add Other Flavours
This strategy is similar to the one above, where you mix various flavours so that the ones coming from vegetables are less intense. What I particularly mean with this tip though, is to mix the vegetables with flavours you already enjoy.
For example, if you love hummus and pita, why not try hummus and carrot sticks? If you like sriracha mayo, perhaps try breaded zucchini sticks with a sriracha mayo dip. Other tips involve adding shredded cheese, your favourite spice mix or sauce to your side of veggies. The concept is slowly increasing vegetable exposure by choosing flavours you already know and like.
3. Have Them with Snacks
A lot of my clients grew up eating meat, potatoes and some side of vegetable as their main meal. I related to that. The side of vegetables was likely steamed or boiled and that may not have been enjoyable to them. Although I believe we can all find creative ways to include and enjoy vegetables at meals, I can also appreciate how past experiences would impact a picky eater’s willingness to try or experiment with new things. That said, maybe having a side of vegetables at meals just isn’t for you. Or maybe it’s just not the best place for you to start.
Instead, consider having vegetables as a snack. You can get so creative with this. See some of my favourite snack examples below that involve vegetables for picky eaters:
- Zucchini, carrot or beet muffins
- Homemade tzatziki made with shredded cucumber (served with pita)
- Root vegetable or kale chip
- Veggie applesauce
- Vegetables and dip
4. Play Around with Shapes and Textures
Vegetables have such a wide range of possible textures, depending on their shape, size, cooking method and level of doneness. This can be problematic for a picky eater or someone with sensory food sensitivities. The good news, again, is that these variables can be manipulated in the kitchen.
If you know that texture is the main barrier for you (or the picky eater you know), you may benefit from following some kind of progression. What I mean by this is starting with a soft and even texture, such as a puree (or whatever texture you tolerate), and progressing towards the more challenging texture of the raw or cooked whole vegetable.
I’m sure when I mentioned starting with puree you’re probably thinking of baby food. Rest assured, that’s not at all what I mean! Here are examples of creative ways you can blend vegetables for picky eaters:
- Blended soups
- Blended pasta sauces
- Veggies mixed with hummus
- Veggies mixed in with mashed potatoes
- Vegetable applesauce
Once you’ve mastered the blended or puree stage, you can progress to small pieces as part of a mixed meal. For example, you could add diced peppers to a pizza. Feel free to use small kitchen appliances to help with this, such as a vegetable chopper, to help you achieve the right size consistently and conveniently.
For kids, manipulating the shape and size of vegetables might also help with the appeal. Trying angled slices, veggie “fries” or even using gadgets such as a spiralizer or crinkle cutter can make a positive difference. Let’s be honest, plate presentation can also make a difference for us adults.
As mentioned above, the texture of vegetables can also be highly influenced by the cooking method and time. Try them steamed, roasted, grilled, or even air-fried to figure out your preferred cooking method. Perhaps you enjoy eating raw vegetables over having them cooked, or vice versa. Or maybe you like it somewhere in the middle. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works for you!
5. Grow your Own or Participate in a CSA Box Program
If you have the luxury, space and enough of a green thumb to grow your vegetables, I guarantee that this can help with increasing consumption. How? Growing veggies is so incredibly rewarding and it makes the experience a lot more engaging. It’s no longer about some random-looking blob that’s on your plate. It’s about the product of your hard work and patience that you get to savour. This might be a bit of a stretch, but this approach will, at the very least, increase exposure at a fairly low cost. Ideally, it will help with the willingness to try new vegetables and experiment with them in your kitchen.
Whether you grow vegetables yourself or head to the local market, you cannot argue that any locally grown vegetable is fresher (and arguably better) than the ones that have been picked from miles away. Not to mention all the other benefits that come with growing vegetables locally. If gardening isn’t for you, but you’re willing to support local farmers, consider signing up for a CSA box in your area. If you’re like me, the level of enjoyment you will get from receiving your weekly box is just as high as when you pick your very first vegetable from the garden. And let’s just say there is absolutely no work involved on your part with the CSA box – ha!
How Many Vegetables Should You Be Eating Every Day?
Based on Canada’s Food Guide’s recommendations, filling half your plate of fruits and vegetables at every meal and ensuring enough variety from day to day should allow you to get all the micronutrients your body needs from that food group. However, I always share with clients that this recommendation highlights what would be “ideal” for most people. The reality is, this can be quite challenging to implement in our daily lives.
How much should YOU specifically be eating every day? There’s no way to know for sure without assessing your diet thoroughly in a one-on-one session. However, I always recommend starting with where you are at. Setting high, unrealistic goals usually aren’t effective or sustainable long-term. Reflect on where you are at when it comes to eating veggies compared to the recommended guidelines. What would feel like a feasible next step? Start there, start small and work your way up. Although you may be motivated initially, that can be hard to maintain over time. I know you are capable of great change. I’m suggesting you go for it, but pace yourself.
What Are Some Vegetables That Picky Eaters Will Like?
There is no magic vegetable that everyone likes. Preferences vary so much depending on the individual. However, exploring what a person dislikes about vegetables can help identify what they might enjoy. For example, some veggies are very crunchy and watery, especially raw ones like cucumber and peppers. That may or may not be enjoyable to someone. If it isn’t, perhaps a softer cooked vegetable like carrots might be better tolerated.
To successfully introduce more vegetables in your diet, it’s important to understand where you are at currently, what’s holding you back, what’s your end goal and what feels like a feasible next step. Most importantly, give yourself grace. If you only like select vegetables, a great place to start is to include some of those with your meals. You can continue to explore with the more daunting vegetables, on occasion, when time permits. I guarantee you will expand your preferences over time if you remain perseverant, creative and open-minded.