Getting Kids to Eat More Vegetables

A child who doesn't want to eat a plate full of vegetables.
How do you get your kids to eat their vegetables?. Photo © Monika Adamczyk

Most parents understand that vegetables should be an important part of their child's diet because vegetables are a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Unfortunately, many parents have a very hard time getting their kids to eat few if any vegetables on a regular basis.

How Many Vegetables Should Kids Eat?

We all know that kids should eat their vegetables.

But just how many vegetables should kids eat every day?

There has always been a general rule of 3-5 'servings' of vegetables each day, but the Choose My Plate guidelines offer much more specific recommendations based on how old your child is:

  • 2-3 year olds (toddlers) - 1 to 1 1/2 cups of vegetables each day
  • 4-8 year olds - 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day
  • 9-13 year old girls - 2 to 4 cups of vegetables each day
  • 9-13 year old boys - 2 1/2 to 4 cups of vegetables each day
  • 14-18 year old girls - 2 1/2 to 4 cups of vegetables each day
  • 14-18 year old boys - 3 to 4 cups of vegetables each day

Why such a big range at each age?

That's because how many vegetables your kids should eat, like most other foods has a lot to do with your child's activity level. An active child who is burning more calories needs more vegetables and other foods than an inactive child.

The Choose MyPlate Daily Checklist can help you come up with a daily food plan, including how many vegetables your kids should eat, based on their calorie level.

Eating Vegetables

But what counts as a cup of vegetables?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 'in general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.'

If you still want to think in terms of 'servings', remember that one serving is equal to about 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup raw, leafy vegetables, or 1/2 cup cooked or canned peas or beans. And servings for younger children are even smaller, with a toddler serving being equal to about 1/2 of a regular adult serving size.

In addition to eating vegetables each day, your kids should try to eat a variety of dark green vegetables (broccoli, greens, spinach, romaine lettuce), orange vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, winter squash), dry beans and peas, starchy vegetables (corn, green peas, white potatoes), and other vegetables (cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini) each week.

Getting Kids to Eat More Vegetables

So how do you get your kids to eat more vegetables? Most experts recommend starting early by offering your older infant and toddler a large variety of fruits and vegetables. It can also help to:

  • Set a good example by eating vegetables yourself.
  • Offer low-fat salad dressing and other dips as a side for vegetables.
  • Mix in vegetables with foods that your child already likes, such as a topping on pizza, extra in spaghetti sauce, or mix in a casserole or soup.
  • Let your kids grow their own vegetables or visit a farmer's market to buy fresh vegetables.
  • Provide raw vegetables, such as baby carrots, as a snack.
  • Offer a lot of choices, provide small servings at first, and keep in mind that some picky eaters won't try a new vegetable until they see it on their plate 10 or more times.

Vegetables Poll

The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study once found that 'by 15 months, French fries and other fried potatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetables.' This goes against the general advice that kids eat a variety of vegetables.

Are French fries your child's favorite vegetable or the only one he eats?

Which vegetable does your child eat most often?

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Article Sources
  • Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Fabulous fruits... Versatile vegetables.
  • Pediatric Basics. Food for Thought. What are Infants and Toddlers Really Eating? Fall 2004. Number 108.
  • USDA. Choose My Plate. All about the Vegetable Group.