Getting Kids to Eat More Vegetables

Boy Refusing to Eat His Vegetables
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

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, and they add a variety of textures and flavors to meals. Unfortunately, the pressure parents may feel around vegetable intake, in combination with a child's developing and changing preferences, can lead to stress and guilt. But there are ways to reduce those feelings and empower parents and caregivers who are feeding little ones.

Daily Vegetable Servings for Kids

You may be familiar with the general rule of aiming for three to five servings of vegetables each day, but the Choose My Plate guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offer much more specific recommendations based on children's ages. However, it's important to keep in mind that a child isn't likely to go from eating a few spoonfuls of veggies (or less) to eating a cup or more overnight. Start where your child is and use recommendations as a goal.

USDA MyPlate Recommendations
Age Recommended Daily Servings
2 to 3 years 1 to 1 1/2 cups
4 to 8 years 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups
9 to 13 years (girls) 2 to 4 cups
9 to 13 years (boys) 2 1/2 to 4 cups
14 to 18 years (girls) 2 1/2 to 4 cups
14 to 18 years (boys) 3 to 4 cups

Why such a big range? Like most other foods, how many vegetables kids should eat has a lot to do with how much they're eating overall. An older, active child likely needs more food, including more vegetables.

The MyPlate Plan can help you come up with a daily food plan, including how many vegetables your kids should eat based on their calorie level. But remember that a plan is meant to be flexible. It's normal for kids' preferences and intake to vary from day to day (just like adults').

What Is a Serving of Vegetables?

What counts as a serving of vegetables? According to the USDA, "One cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or two cups of raw leafy greens, can be considered as one serving from the vegetable group."

Remember that a serving of veggies isn't going to look the same for every child; smaller children need smaller serving sizes. A toddler might eat a few tablespoons of veggies at meals and snacks but may not eat a full cup of vegetables in one sitting. Think of veggie intake over the course of a day (or more realistically, a week) to see how it averages out.

One serving is equal to:

  • 1/2 cup of raw or cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup raw, leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup cooked or canned peas or beans

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.

How to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables

The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study once found that "by 15 months, French fries and other fried potatoes are the most commonly consumed vegetables." While these can be a delicious and nutritious part of a varied and healthful diet, variety is really important when it comes to vegetable intake (and food intake in general!). Offering lots of options exposes kids to a variety of nutrients, flavors, and textures.

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 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.
  • Involve kids in choosing meals for the week (give them a few options to pick from).
  • Let kids help with grocery shopping, such as as choosing a veggie to have with dinner.
  • Experiment with different textures for veggies, such as grating or spiralizing.
  • Provide raw vegetables, such as baby carrots, as a snack (beware of choking hazards in kids under 4).
  • Experiment with roasted vegetables and other veggie preparations and seasonings.
  • Don't overwhelm with too many new choices at once. Focus on introducing one new food at a time and provide small servings at first.
  • Keep in mind that some picky eaters won't try a new vegetable until they see it 20 or more times. Having a food on the table or on a child's plate counts as an exposure to that food and helps kids get comfortable with, and interested in, that food.
3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. MyPlate: Vegetables.

  2. Fox MK, Condon E, Briefel RR, Reidy KC, Deming DM. Food consumption patterns of young preschoolers: are they starting off on the right path?. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110(12):S52-S59. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.09.002

  3. Mura Paroche M, Caton SJ, Vereijken CMJL, Weenen H, Houston-Price C. How infants and young children learn about food: a systematic review. Front Psychol. 2017;8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01046

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.