Why won't the baby eat veg?
May 14, 2020 1:51 PM   Subscribe

When our baby first started eating solid foods, at 9 months, he would happily eat vegetables. Now, aged 15 months, he almost always refuses them. I'm not sure what to do about this.

If we put vegetables in front of him, he will ignore them, or throw them onto the floor. If we offer him pureed vegetables, he will refuse to eat them -- even if we add fruit to make the puree sweet.

There are a few exceptions:
  • He will eat commercial baby-food that contains vegetables -- but I suspect this is because these commercial baby-foods contain far more fruit than veg. When I taste them, they appear to be mostly applesauce.
  • He will eat filled pasta, when the filling contains vegetables. I guess he's willing to tolerate the horrid veg in order to get the delicious pasta!
  • He will occasionally eat peas, either whole or pureed.
  • He will eat avocado and tomato ... perhaps he knows that these are really fruits.
Otherwise, he eats a very diverse diet. He's happy to eat anything that he sees us eat ... unless its veg.

Is there anything we can do, beside persevere?
posted by HoraceH to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think that isn't unusual. Mine had a varied, healthy introduction to solid food then at 13 months stopped eating everything except toast, cheese and grapes. Now he is 3 it is a little bit better.

I think you just keep offering with no pressure. There is an approach called the Division of Responsibility that a lot of people find helpful. It is mostly around reducing anxiety and pressure around mealtimes.
posted by kadia_a at 2:11 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

We had similar issues with our three. We accepted the fact that one of the few things our children could control was what goes in their mouths. We dress them, bathe them, tell them what to do, drag them in the car, etc. We decided to perservere. Keep offering. One day they will return.

I am not here to tell you it worked well on all three. Two of them came around quickly especially our daughter. One son, well, he eats a lot of cheeseburgers with ketchup as his veggie. He is in his 20s. He ate only white food, pasta, bread, rice, etc for a while. The other two won't eat white food or carbs much.

I don't think you can force baby to eat veggies. I think you continue to model, continue to offer and generally not offer seconds of the good stuff until they at least take a no thank you bite of the veggies.
posted by AugustWest at 2:12 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Actually, persevering is exactly what most pediatric nutritionists recommend. Just serve small baby-safe servings of whatever you are having (so you're not a short order cook) and count them as exposure. You get a point if your kid touches it, sniffs it, puts it in his mouth and spits it out... exposure is important. It can take 20+ exposures to get a kid to eat something.

From my perspective as the parent of an 18-month-old: avocado and tomato are filled with nutrients and you should definitely feed him his fill of these! Also, think of nutrition as a weekly rolling average, not a daily one. If he eats no vegetables for three days and then eats an entire avocado and an entire tomato on the fourth day, that's gonna be a gross poop but he's fine.

Feel free to message me for a few favorite kid-nutritionist Instagram accounts if that's your jam.
posted by juniperesque at 2:14 PM on May 14 [17 favorites]

I'll pile on here with saying that I think this is not unusual. All 3 of the little Guys ate vegetables until somewhere around 12 to 14 months, and then 2 were having none of it, while the other became very selective and unpredictable with veggies. Don't force it, but keep giving the opportunity to try them. In our case 2 out of the 3 came around (one is even vegetarian now). The 19 year old is healthy, 5'11", average weight, active and still wouldn't touch a vegetable if his life depended on it.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:12 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

If you're always presenting meals the same way, with each food separated and one pile is clearly "veg", then you are inadvertently emphasizing that it's a discrete category of food, whereas the filled pasta doesn't do that. What about broccoli on flatbread, or pesto on pasta, or cauliflower and chickpeas in masala. Try him on vegetables in forms other than the plant by itself - pickles, shredded carrot pancakes, sweet potato wedges with ricotta and fig jam, falafel with dipping sauce, zucchini "boat" filled with meat and cheese. With a burgeoning picky kid, it's good to keep coming at it from various nonthreatening angles in order to keep as wide as possible a list of what they will eat, because they do all get cautious and shut it down a bit. Even a breaded and deep-fried green bean keeps them familiar with the green bean's taste and texture during their cautious phase.
posted by xo at 3:27 PM on May 14 [16 favorites]

Serve vegetables 1st, when he's hungriest. A tiny amount of dressing makes raw veg more appealing. Try cucumber, red peppers, cut up cabbage, all sweet and appealing. Roast veg get quite sweet, just cut way back on salt. i'd get pretty cranky about the food throwing and tell him You may not want that tasty carrot, but we don't waste food; I'll have it. My ex- and I both like vegetables, eat lots of them with evident enjoyment; I think that's the biggest reason my son loves veg. I thought he didn't like sweet potatoes and was having a baked sweet potato with butter, salt, pepper, for my dinner; he arrived home from his Dad's, asked for a taste, ate the whole thing. Just keep serving delicious veg. if he has specific vegetables he dislikes, that's fair. Not everybody loves tomatoes; I can't think why.
posted by theora55 at 3:31 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

I agree completely with juniperesque, and I also want to say, don't worry. My second child was extremely picky from about 12 months and onward, she lived on the cheapest apple juice + butter on crackers for ages (more than a year), and then expanded her range to include cheap ham on mayo on crackers. She didn't like anything nourishing, not even quality juice or meat. And then one day it suddenly stopped, and she literally ate everything. I remember having to bring her to a business lunch shortly after she changed her mind about food, and she occupied herself very well by quietly eating a whole adult serving of moules mariniere. I know that's not a veg, I just want to point out how extreme the turn was. Her favorite veg after that was broccoli, of all things.
There was no damage to her health at all, not even her teeth. Today she is 6 feet tall and doing fine.

While she was picky, we just sat her at the table for our normal meals, offered her what we were eating, and didn't comment or pressure her. We could probably have gotten faster results if she hadn't had the option of crackers and cheap juice in the first place, and I don't remember how they even appeared, we normally don't have stuff like that. I suppose it must have been a travel situation or something. What you really don't want to do is to accommodate the pickiness by becoming "a short order cook", or adapting your normal food choices to toddler taste.

Also, what xo is saying. I heard Samin Nosrat on a podcast saying that when she grew up, rice was the main, meat was an accent. I've heard something similar from a Jain friend. Think about how you think of vegetables. Maybe have days where vegetables are the main, make eggplant parmigiana, or oven-roasted vegetables with a salad side, or vegetables stuffed with rice.

One thing you can consider is how you present the vegetables. I personally love whole spinach, lightly cooked. My kids hated that when they were small, and when I thought about it, I remembered that there is a consistency thing that is hard to deal with for a small child. So they got chopped, creamed spinach which they loved and from there they gradually were able to move on to more challenging forms. Also kids should eat relatively much more fat than adults, so you can pile on the butter and cream. I mashed broccoli into the potatoes with a good lump of butter, and that sometimes worked even during the picky days.

A food I think was a bridge was alfabet soup. Actually it was a thick minestrone, but with alfabet pasta, it could have been animal pasta. Serving soup to a toddler requires easy to clean surfaces and patience, but it was fun, too. The trick is to only offer a thimble of soup at a time with lots of cheese on top. During the picky times, she only ate that little thimble-full, but later it became a staple. Apart from struggling with a spoon, it's fun to dip bread in the soup. It's important that the vegetables are cut into very small dice. Stews with mashed potatoes can have some of the same magic, a good stew can have 80 -100 % vegetables.

Back then, while I was cooking, I'd put frozen peas, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, cherry tomatoes and a dip (hummus or yogurt with herbs) on the table with no comment. The kids would sit at the table in their chairs with crayons and maybe some story on the CD player (this was long ago) All the vegs would usually be eaten by the time we were ready for dinner.

Finally, try things that are completely out of the box. My first child was an omnivore from the outset and never stopped. And because we were young and I never read all the books, we'd offer her anything. Her first favorite food was green olive tapenade. She liked pesto, too, and marinated raw mushrooms, and chocolate with truffle bits (we shopped at an Italian deli, and they gave her a truffle chocolate every time we went there, because they thought it was hilarious). I heard recently that babies love umami taste as much as sugar, so specially with a little meat eater, that may be what you are looking for.
posted by mumimor at 4:17 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]

At that developmental stage, kids' sense of taste begins to become both more nuanced and more alarmist (theory: because of improved mobility, they're much better at poisoning themselves, so it's a survival mechanism). It appears that bitterness sensitivity really escalates, which is why vegetables mixed with other things are more likely to pass muster.

It's easy to take it personally, but framing like willing to tolerate the horrid veg in order to get the delicious pasta assumes a lot more malice than is likely actually at work. He's not really doing botany yet, like he's not pre-identifying brassicas and doing cost-benefit analyses of eating something gross in order to get carbs. The bitterness of the vegetables is cut by pasta, sauce, and cheese so it doesn't taste deadly to eat; even adults know that's the truth. (I grew up being accused of and mocked for being greedy and only liking "the good stuff" and not being born with some kind of Suffering First principle like good people. Can confirm, not a great strategy for a healthy relationship with food.) Just keep putting a little more vegetables in the pasta and don't tell him. The vitamins still go the same place whether he formally acknowledges them. Even when he won't eat something, you model eating it without unnecessary commentary; he's watching, it will help.

There's a lot of evidence that food aversion is strongly biomechanical, plus the additional dimensions of control and autonomy and personality, but it's really mostly that they legitimately find something strongly offputting on a level that cannot be articulated because they do not have the vocabulary or life experience to explain, "dearest parents, this thing is trying to kill me, and here's my dissertation on why".

Offer a variety of options, repeatedly, knowing that some of them will take years or decades to ever begin to stick. Don't turn it into a battle. Don't turn it into a personal failure or insult.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:18 PM on May 14 [9 favorites]

That means your baby is the right age for you to read Ellyn Satter!
posted by warriorqueen at 5:02 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

you are inadvertently emphasizing that it's a discrete category of food

Came to suggest this; what happens with stews and soups? Tabbouleh? Curries? Kid is partially picking up on how you categorize foods, so (literally) mix it up a little.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:15 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]

If you can grow a little vegetable garden with him, it's a great way to get toddlers into eating veggies.
posted by pinochiette at 7:39 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Def exposure, exposure, exposure! My husband thought I was nuts since I kept stubbornly offering foods kid (now 19 mos) was not seemingly remotely interested in. Like he wouldn't touch boiled or mashed potatoes, but for reason is totally down eating them baked. He fluctuates quite a bit between what he's willing to try or eat on a day to day basis, so we try to stay sort of detached and just content with whatever is accepted.

We also offer everything at the same time (there's no hierarchy, like if you eat x, you get dessert!), like we have a silicone plate with little sections, so usually kid gets a carb (like rice), a protein (chili) and fruit/veg (blueberries) most meals. If he just eats the blueberries, cool. then he gets a bit more of those and we try offering him beans and rice again the next meal or day.

I was a super picky eater, a lot of stuff legit made me gag and eating was really stressful at times, so I'm trying to find ways to not replicate this with my spawn. I'm not sure if we're on the right track, but I guess time will tell. But yeah, afaik toddlers are lot more finicky about what they eat, and it's a totally normal developmental phase. Do recommend those IG kid dietitians, they're a dope resource!
posted by speakeasy at 9:56 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Granddaughter is almost 18 months. She's on the same anti-veggie kick, despite liking them previously. (What IS it with peas, though? They're apparently candy, especially if offered first. She will still eat some corn. She'll eat all the mac and cheese in the world, but refuses any other noodles. If it's white, she won't eat it - she acts like I'm trying to feed her a non-food item if it's white, though she previously loved ice cream and cottage cheese.
A food can be her favorite in the morning, and she'll act like I'm poisoning her by mid-afternoon with the same thing. Pancakes and sausage are pretty foolproof. She's even occasionally refusing applesauce and yogurt. Though I have to say, the reusable food pouches are MAGIC... I'm blending and sneaking veggies into applesauce on my own, it's much cheaper than the premade pouches, and as long as it's well-blended, I rarely get glared at and the food refused. Win-win.

Don't forget to try stirring them into noodles, or giving dipping sauce. We spent a few years with an entire rainbow of sauces in the fridge, thanks to the green and purple ketchups. (Orange was ketchup/mustard, blue was mayo + food coloring)

This will pass, I know. My four kids all did it, and then they went on to be very NOT-picky eaters. I'm actually more concerned about her feeding my dog, as people food makes him sick...
posted by stormyteal at 10:17 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

I think this sounds completely normal. Repeating the crowd, but I have been there, where you stress about the kid's eating habits, and I think hearing that it's normal can't be heard enough.

Not only does it sound normal, it sounds like he's doing GREAT! Eating diverse set of food? Actually eating some veg like peas? Has a decent appetite otherwise? You are both doing GREAT.

I guess he's willing to tolerate the horrid veg in order to get the delicious pasta!
One thing I would caution is to make sure this kind of inner dialogue is not presenting to your child. They are incredibly perceptive. I am a strong believer in presenting all food as equal. Sweets, savoury, mains, desserts, snacks, fruits, veg, meat. All food. As long as you are providing fresh food and close to natural ingredients, he's getting all the good stuff that his body needs, even fruits and creams and carbs. All of it is excellent nutrition for a toddler!

And I think it's more likely he eats the filled pasta because filled pasta is delicious! If he's anything like my 18 month old, he wouldn't tolerate something he didn't like to 'get' something he does. She'd just eat around it and leave the veg. If he's eating it, it's because he likes it.

One thing I have tried to do more of is thinking about seasoning vegetables better. I mean, I don't even like a boiled, limp, broccoli. How could I possibly expect my daughter to eat it when there is yummy spaghetti right next to it? That's a tall order even for a grown up. So what has worked out better is to get more adventurous with methods and seasoning. Things that sometimes go down with my kid:

- Mixed greens (ie chopped green beans, broccoli, etc), sauteed in olive oil and minced garlic, finished with a squirt of lemon.
- Cucumber and tomatoes chopped up and dressed with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil and lemon. Or extra virgin olive oil and a little bit of balsamic vinegar.
- Cucumber chopped up and dressed with sesame oil and a TINY bit of salt.
- Roasted veg of all sorts, seasoned with everything from garlic granules to paprika.

Finally, yes, just persevere. Keep offering. Be chill about their choice whether to eat it or not. Don't get tempted to stop serving because "he doesn't like it". He will never like it if he never sees it. Don't put certain food items on a pedestal or a labelled as "bad". Use mealtimes as a time to connect, not to fight about food.

And in addition to that, keeping modelling the behaviour you want to see. Give yourself a small serving of the veg and eat it while he's having his meal. Be honest. If you really don't think it tastes that good, say what you think out loud ("Oh I should have roasted that a bit longer, you're right, that would have tasted better.") you won't feel so bad he's not eating it and also think about how to tweak the recipe :)

And even if he never becomes a huge fan of veg and just has a few favourites, it's ok. There is nothing magical about vegetables. There are lots of foods that provide the same nutrients and benefits as vegetables do. As long as he keeps having that diverse diet he will be fine. More than fine!
posted by like_neon at 2:38 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]

Kids have a different composition of taste buds to adults so veggies & a lot of other things taste way more bitter to them than they do to us.

Make the veg sweeter, my mother did this by roasting or grilling them to bring out the natural sweetness, but also focus on the sweeter vegetables. Carrots, red peppers, corn, sweet potato, pumpkin, some greens etc. Also kids often prefer raw veg to cooked once it's safe enough for them to eat them, again because they're sweeter.

You can also do the old hide the veg in the food methods that parents have done for generations. Everything from grating them & hiding them in meatloaf to pumpkin soups.

Worse comes to worse, if they're eating fruit they're getting a lot of the same nutrients. Fruits are good.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to answer my question!

We'll keep going. I've bought Ellyn Satter's "Feeding With love and Good Sense".
posted by HoraceH at 9:54 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

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