10 Ways To Encourage Picky Eaters To Eat Veggies

We all know a picky eater, right?

The telltale signs are frequent “No!” sounds and whining sounds combined with avoidance behavior, right?

Heck, maybe we used to be one! I know I was!

Because age is not necessarily a risk factor!


Confessions of a picky eater

And many of you know my story, but if you don't, I confess, I used to be a picky eater.

But, you're an organic veggie farmer!?

I won't go into details... Ahem, ya know, pop tarts and sub sandwiches count as veggies, don't they?

But what cured me of it was joining a CSA way back when I was 21 years old.

My first experience with the look, feel, and taste of real veggies and a relationship with a special farm changed my life and that's a big part of why I'm here today to help your picky eater up their veggie consumption!

Now having the CSA I witness this same transformation every season, many times, when I hear the uplifting stories from new members about how their kids are asking for more salad turnips and finish the carrots in the car before they get home.  About how their husband will now eat cucumbers.  About how you have never eaten so many veggies in your life and feel so good.


Who is your picky eater?

So the question is who is picky? As far as I see it, there are three main beasts we're working with:

  1. Kids
  2. Husbands
  3. Yourself
  4. Or... a pet!?



And they all have their nuances, but in the end we have to get more veggies into them. 

Here are the best ways that I know of based on feedback I've gotten from the past decade of running my own CSA program and my personal experience as a former picky eater and now mother of young children.  Read this and promise me to try just one idea here and let me know how it goes!

Let's dive in!



10 ways to encourage picky eaters to eat veggies


#1 Get hands physically on the veggies and emotionally invested

In other words, get buy in.

There are some great ways to get buy in that have worked for me and for our CSA members to get their picky eaters to eat more veggies:

  1. Join a CSA
  2. Grow a garden at home (containers are fine, too)
  3. Find a school with a garden
  4. Get them to help prepare the veggies from any of the above

And I'm telling you this works.  My 5 year old daughter has a part of the garden that is hers.  She is obsessed with it and now introduces herself as "Little Gardener" to everyone she meets!  And lo and behold she won't let me harvest from it, she has to do it.  And just this morning after eschewing most herbs as "too strong" she wanted some parsley sprinkled on her eggs for breakfast because she had picked it from her garden!  :) 

And a few years ago she planted kale and then would go out and get her "kale juice box" from the garden.  That is, a raw kale leaf to snack on.  Melt my heart!

CSA membership was it for me! I had no context about where my food came from or who grew it or what it even looked like in it's freshly harvested raw state. Once I met the farmers and saw what farm-fresh veggies looked like I was intrigued and I wanted to taste it and experience it. I was hooked.

The other component of a CSA experience for me was that I was handed a pile of veggies and was motivated to eat them because they were there. It was that simple. Because they were there I figured out how to eat them!

And over the years that is how it has been for the hundreds of CSA members who have joined our farm!  One CSA member said her picky husband was initially against them joining a CSA.  But she joined anyway (haha).  And during the course of the season, HE was the one who started saying "when are the veggies coming next"?  And looking forward to getting them.  She got him to eat WAY more veggies than ever before.  He wanted to sign back up the next year!

Gardens in schools play a huge role in educating kids about healthy eating.  Hands on learning has long lasting effects on kids' food choices says this article.

Yes, I know there might be some grumbling at first about helping in the kitchen, but just make them do that.  And then watch what happens!  When my daughter helps with the cooking/preparation, she is MUCH more apt to want to eat it herself!  Try it :)

Younger kids can help stir or chop easy things.  Older kids can start to cook themselves by being in charge of a meal a week like a couple CSA members did with their daughters this past year.  


#2 Hide the veggies

This is a big one that many CSA members successfully use on their husbands and kids alike.  There are endless options for doing this, so I'll list some recent highlights shared with me:

  • Brenda suggests butternut squash in mac and cheese (my version with delicata squash is found here). It makes it creamy and you don't notice it as a veggie. Also most things you can pulverize and sneak in that way. A lot of veggie dislike is texture.
  • Karen finely chops and hides veggies in spaghetti sauce.
  • Marie hides veggies in her soups, smoothies, meatloaf (or lentil veggie loaf), vegetable bean enchiladas, and more.
  • Rebecca adds shredded zucchini to meatballs and muffins.
  • Casey suggests turning veggies themselves into dip to hide them and then letting picky eaters dip their favorite dipping food into the veggies!  Find out how to make hummus OUT of veggies in my tutorial here.
  • Kacey adds greens into an already favorite chicken meal and they're totally accepted, no questions asked!  Great tip!
  • I hide carrots in meatloaf (see recipe here), kale in mashed potatoes (see recipe here), or pumpkin in chocolate brownies (recipe coming this fall), or garlic in everything!


#3 Eat veggies raw with dip 

My 5 year old recently told me that she liked kale raw but not cooked. 

Okay!  Done!  That was easy!

And this is true for many people, especially kids.  Melissa suggests raw veggies as snacks outside of meals or while preparing dinner preferably with dips!

And I and many of our CSA members second that!  But what can you dip?

  • carrot sticks
  • salad turnip sticks
  • kohlrabi sticks
  • radishes
  • lettuce leaves (bibb or romaine works well here)
  • pac choi stems
  • Chinese cabbage stems
  • celery sticks
  • peas
  • beans
  • broccoli
  • pepper strips
  • cherry tomatoes

But what can you dip that IN?  Here are some ideas for you to start with:

  • Make your own healthy dips at home: Here's a link to my tutorial on how to make your own dips
  • Make your own veggie hummus, tutorial here
  • Dip your veggies into fresh homemade pesto... Mmmm.  Here's a tutorial on how to make pesto out of ANY green thing.
  • Try our friend Carmen's favorite; carrots dipped in peanut butter.  We took this on a hike recently and it was a hit!
  • And bonus our favorite dip recipe I've recently added, Honey Mustard Salad Dressing, found here.  Because my daughter recently claimed she would not eat the hakurei salad turnips. But then we put down this dip and she was munching away happily. She ate them all up!


#4 Don't make a big deal out of it

Just chill out, right?  This of course could be easier said than done, right?  When you're really wanting your family to be healthy and you prepared a nice meal chock full of veggies, you really want to them to eat it, right?

And when they balk, it's disappointing!  

Two long time CSA members with kids recently weighed in on the subject with helpful suggestions:

  • Kristen says she has success offering veggies in tiny portions so it’s not overwhelming for picky eaters.  Inspired by "Kids Eat in Color", she says that treating all kinds of foods as equally important is also working for her.  Recently she had donuts on the counter and her son wanted to have one so she put it on his plate at the meal. He ate all his meat and vegetables and had one bite of his donut and was done. "But if I had said no, it would’ve been a fight.  Or I could have let him have it before the meal, but he would have likely eaten more of it," she says.
  • Connie says that she practiced the NO THANK YOU serving with her children and grands. A small taste was served without discussion (aka opportunity to say 'no thank you') and they didn’t object and often asked for more. "Don’t make food a battle," she says.

All in all, I think that is wonderful advice.  Making food a battle will most certainly backfire!


#5 Have fun with the veggies

Another good way that we like to get out of "battle mode" is to have fun with the meal or make it a "play" with the food.  Of course this would be highly specific for your kids' interests but here are some examples of doing this that makes it fun!

  • Melissa says her kids have eaten supper “like doggies” without using hands.  
  • Kristen says her son eats greens like they are worms (because they pretended he was a baby bird with cooked kale one time) and thinks it’s funny.
  • At our house, my daughter recently wanted to have a party for the imaginary woodland animal friends who live all around us.  She practically made the whole meal (pizza with veggie toppings and salad) and ate it all up!


#6 Make pickles with your veggies

Oh man does quick pickling just about anything make me want to eat it more!?  Totally!  And this is true of our CSA members as well!  

A long time CSA member says she gets her cucumber-hating husband to eat them as pickles.  I have heard this from so many members over the years.

And guess what?!  Pickling doesn't have to be hot and sweaty and all day in the kitchen canning!  

Did you know you can make just a jar or two without any equipment by making Quick Pickles or Refrigerator Pickles?  

Or try fermenting your veggies!  I've got several resources for doing this that helps people eat more veggies:


#7 Have the veggies available

My 5 year old daughter Harriet's first word was “chi” for kimchi.  She loved it so much when she was one and still does!  But if we hadn't had it around, how would she have even known about it?

We have many CSA members who joined when their kids were really young.  They tell me that it makes a big difference for their willingness to try veggies as they grow up.  They look forward to the farm veggies and farm visits as they connect with where the food comes from and taste the difference freshness makes.  It's just part of their lives so they eat the veggies willingly.

I'm totally the same way.  When I have farm fresh veggies in my fridge, I eat them.  When they're not there (because I'm lazy at the time), we don't eat them!  


#8 Roast your veggies

Roasting makes them sweeter because the moisture is roasted out as they cook and it concentrates the sweet flavor of the veggies.  This is true for so many things! 

Maybe you or your husband are like a long time CSA member of ours who doesn't like beets.  She wouldn't eat them for 10 years of being in our CSA.  Yep, she gave them away.  But after finally trying beets roasted, she's hooked.  A forever convert to beets!  Wow, what a testament to both the roasting method as well as #7 above of persistence.

I've got a tutorial on how to roast veggies that may be helpful to you if you're new to it.  Or if not, it's got lots of inspiration there, too!  Find "How To Roast It, Why You'll Love It, And Recipes To Do It" here.

There is another long time CSA member who when she and her husband joined she had never roasted a single vegetable.  But after trying my method of roasting veggies, they're hooked and she roasts them all the time helping her to use up the CSA share contents easily.

Try it!  It really works!


#9 Set a good example and eat your own veggies

This may not be what you want to hear.  Haha, but...

I've got a friend who was a picky eater in high school, remains a proud picky eater and only eats a short list of veggies (like lettuce, spinach and tomatoes) and then wonders why her kids are picky eaters!

Sorry to break it to you, but if you haven't solved your own picky eating then you will need to start there first!  So if that's you, then check out any of the tips here and find one to try!


#10 Garden fresh taste really matters

This is the kind of feedback we get from CSA members.  They tell us all the time that their husband doesn't like beets, but he'll eat our beets.  Or the same with winter squash.  Or kale or spinach or summer squash.  The list can go on forever.

Our customers confirm how important taste is in wanting to eat the food on your plate.  Duh?  That's pretty obvious.  

But when we're used to getting wilted lettuce or dilapidated summer squash from the produce aisle, the taste of truly fresh lettuce that actually has flavor or the incredible sweetness of overwintered kale will surprise, delight, and invigorate a reluctant veggie lover. 

A new employee this year remarked that he's struck by how good the freshly harvested veggies smell compared with those from the grocery store.  It makes him want to eat more of them.


Got a picky eater?  Used to be one yourself?  Please reply with what works for you in overcoming the picky eating syndrome!  I LOVE to hear from you and will add your tips here for others to use. 

I think of this as the start of a conversation.  Thank you!

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