any ideas on getting picky toddlers to eat veggies??

Kelsey - posted on 09/12/2009 ( 10 moms have responded )




I have a 3 year son who refuses to eat veggies. I can't find any gf/cf sauces that might make them taste better. Any ideas??


Diane - posted on 09/18/2009




I typed up a list of tricks that worked for us - maybe some of these might spark some ideas:

GF/CF Diet – Hesitant or Picky Eater

Our 11-yr-old son has been on the GF/CF Diet since 2001 with amazing results. At age 2.5, he had an extremely limited diet, and most of it either contained gluten and/or casein (his drug of choice!). We took two weeks to slowly switch cows milk with a milk sub (we used Vance’s Darifree from, but there are many options at, and six weeks to find substitutes for his other foods, slowly switching out gf/cf alternatives that he would accept. He wasn’t completely on the diet though until we replaced everything. We knew we had a keeper within a few weeks. I usually recommend to parents to give the diet a try for at least three months, from the point that they were 100% on the diet (it’s all or nothing, because even crumbs can sabotage your efforts). But you will probably know much sooner if the diet is helping.

Some tricks that worked for us to get our son to try new foods:

Bribery: Offer a highly-preferred food for taking one bite of a new one, and immediately make a huge deal if that bite is taken. (We never targeted a food that we didn’t think he would like if he did take a bite, and always offered a food that did taste good, knowing it would probably be thrown away once he refused it. We threw away hotdogs for months before he finally took a bite, and when it did, it became an instant favorite when he realized they really tasted good. The same thing happened with sausage, meatballs, rice with melted margarine (ultimately adding pasta sauce and cut up meat and shredded veggies or green beans), etc. (If there are no preferred GF/CF foods, try allowing 20 minutes to watch a favorite video or play with a preferred toy, given immediately once the food was tried.) One trick that worked several times was taking him to the grocery store just before lunch when he was getting hungry, and opening up a bag a GF/CF chips and eating it in front of him while shopping. Just ignored him, while I crunched on the chips and made “Mmmmm – these are good” sounds. He would grab the bag and start eating some too, and ½ a bag later, we’d be checking out with a new food option on our list. May not be the healthiest, but adding snack options really helps expand food choices. His snacks now include veggie chips, pea crisps, yam chips, plantain chips, beet and root chips, fritos dipped in hummus, sweet potato tortilla chips, crackers, dry cereal, raisins, fruit leathers, dried fruit, fruit sauce and much more. (I buy the Healthy Harvest fruit sauces, that do not contain added sugar or corn syrup – same with juices – we try to eliminate unnecessary added sugars, dyes, flavorings, and other additives that provide no nutritional benefit or food value).

Bathtime fun: Offer a small bowl of chips or crackers during bath time as a special treat, or ½ of a juice popsicle in the tub. They feel special that they got a treat in the tub, and you’ve turned a fairly new food into a reinforcer.

Secret Weapons = Smoothies and Muffins – The best secret weapons for moms of picky eaters. May take awhile to get them to accept muffins and/or smoothies due to texture and color issues, but once these are part of the foods that will be eaten, they offer up a whole new world of opportunities for getting “good stuff” into your picky eater. This includes shredded veggies and fruits like zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, apples, pears, berries, etc. They can also hide protein powders (rice protein, egg protein, or Kirkman’s Pea Protein powder), and Flaxseed meal or EFA powder from Kirkman Labs to add omega threes. We’ve even measured out a daily dosage of Calcium powder per cookie or muffin (Kirkman’s chocolate flavored calcium powder has no ill after-taste). But if you use muffins or cookies for calcium, you need to monitor intake, and reserve them for the daily dosage only. Recently I made a batch of banana muffins, and added about ½ cup of GFCFSF (soy free too) chocolate chips from Enjoy Life Foods – a huge hit, and they also contained flaxseed meal and soy-free margarine.

Meatballs or meatloaf can also be a great way to sneak in finely grated squash, carrots, or protein powders. Make a huge batch and keep them in the freezer for easy meal prep as needed.

Recently we added another success to our arsenal of food options: Cooked and pureed butternut squash was used as a sauce over pasta, and our son was none the wiser. Ate it up just like spaghetti sauce, and got a healthy serving of squash instead. He also loves mashed potatoes, and a recent instant hit: mashed sweet potatoes. Or julienne some potatoes and/or sweet potatoes and make oven fries. The yam fries taste even better dipped in warm applesauce with cinnamon sugar.

We also always have a bag of Ore-Ida Tater tots on hand in the freezer to serve with hamburgers, hotdogs, etc.

Another idea: If your child will eat rice, try steaming some cauliflower (do not over cook – keep it al dente – then coarsely chop it up and it can be used instead of rice, or mix rice with it and add veggies, meat, margarine, or pasta sauce.

Once our son would eat hot dogs, we also added “pigs in a blanket” (hot dog cooked in a GF/CF biscuit), and corn dogs (made our own GF/CF Corn dogs on a stick).

French Toast can be a fun breakfast treat. I would make up about ½ a loaf of GF/CF bread into French Toast, and keep in the freezer for easy prep later. Slice up into fingers, and serve with a small glass custard cup of maple syrup for dipping.

Chicken Nuggets became a preferred food fairly quickly. We bought a fryer and would make large batches of GF/CF nuggets to keep in the freezer for easy reheating. While he was leery to try them, serving them in McDonald’s Chicken Nugget boxes helped at first. We also made a game of me leaving them on cooling racks in the kitchen, our son sneaking up and stealing a nugget and running off to eat. I’d make a big deal about him not taking any of my nuggets, using a playful tone, and more playful banter when he was caught stealing nuggets. He would eat at least a dozen this way.. I also made these meat nuggets with turkey and pork, to broaden his meat protein sources. Eventually they were also baked, including beef, and even lamb. Our son became quite the carnivore. Once we moved to the South, smoked ribs became an instant favorite, and our little carnivore could polish off a rack of grilled pork ribs all by himself if we would let him.

The approach that has always worked best for our picky eater was ways to make it fun. It can throw him off a bit so that he doesn’t realize that I’m really just trying to get him to eat something new. Once he eats it and likes it, we’re over the hump and have added another new food. Rotating foods often help him to not forget that he likes a new food. BUT I WILL ADMIT RIGHT NOW – if he does not like a food given to him, he does not have to eat it. Period. There may be foods that he eats that are not preferred, but he at least can tolerate them, and will eat them in order to be able to have dessert or another preferred food. But if he tries something and doesn’t like it, no problem. I hate lima beans, peas and cream corn. You couldn’t pay me to eat them. Now that he has a very wide range of foods he will eat, he rarely rejects food given to him, and I don’t push veggies because they are so easy to hide in his favorite foods.

Recently my husband (the chef in our home – he loves to cook and makes amazing meals), decided that we were spending too much money on frozen sausage, so we pulled out his cookbooks and searched for the ideal sausage recipe. Did some experimenting until he found several variations that are to die for….lots of different spices to add amazing flavor, and while at first he just smashed the sausage meat into rows of medallions on waxed paper and kept them in the freezer, he eventually got courageous and bought sausage casings and an attachment to our Mix Master that fills sausage casings to make really professional looking (and tasting) sausages. Personally I would never go to that trouble – parenting autism takes so much of my energy and patience as it is, but the frozen sausage rounds are quite simple to batch make, and they are much better for our kids, without the preservatives and chemical additives found in store-bought sausage.

If these ideas sound daunting, believe me….they were impossible to me early on. Ryan ate only a few things – extremely picky, and it took much time over years for his options to grow to where he is today. But progress did happen gradually over time, with much determination, trickery, bribery….what ever it took. We implemented drills to target new foods in his home ABA program, and experienced many successes with very little coercion. Once he understood cause and effect, and that he would get instant gratification, we added several new foods per week. It was all SO WORTH IT. He eats better than any kid at school, and laughs when his friends think his meal looks gross. He tells me “Mom, they don’t know what they’re missing!” Other times, they are salivating, wishing that they, too could have ribs or leftover fried chicken for lunch. Anything made for dinner always has at least one or two lunch servings left over to help keep our lunch menu stocked.

Ideas for Picky Kids:

diane in TN


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Tina - posted on 11/03/2010




I hide veggies in pizza. I have pureed cauliflower and mixed it with the sauce and I've put other finely cut veggies under the cheese where he can't see them

Diane - posted on 01/18/2010




Ignore the goofy kid photo - that was me in the early 70's - complete dork with cateye glasses. Friends are posting their youth photos in the profile. Can't wait until I'm grown up again!


Diane - posted on 01/18/2010




These are AMAZING - Really. But be sure to use a dedicated GF/CF Fryer - not oil that has been used for gluten too:

GF/CF Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients: 3 to 5 lbs frozen chicken breasts, thawed
2 to 3 cups GF breading mixture (recipe below)
1-2 eggs
1-2 cups CF milk substitute (Darifree, rice or almond milk)
GF flour (rice, potato, tapioca, amaranth, etc… whatever’s on hand)
Coarse salt (Kosher or sea salt)
Fill deep fryer with light olive oil. Use 360 deg. setting.

Break 1 egg into medium bowl, add 1 cup CF milk substitute, whisk briefly. (Alternative: Can add a little GF flour to make a light batter) Set aside. (depending on how many batches of nuggets being made, you may need to double liquid to 2 eggs, and 2 cups milk substitute.)

Pour approx 1 cup GF breading mixture into shallow bowl, set aside.

Cut chicken breasts into bite-size pieces. Put GF flour in qt-size baggie, add chicken, and shake to coat. (Recommend coating chicken in batches….not all at once).

Remove chicken, shake off excess flour, and dip completely in egg mixture. Roll in breading. (doesn’t work well shaken in bag – better if rolled individually)

Place breaded chicken pieces in fryer basket (make sure hot oil does not reach bottom of basket). Cook for 2 ½ - 3 minutes (cooking times will vary depending on fryer and temperature of oil). Shake excess oil, pour chicken onto paper towel-lined bowl, and sprinkle salt immediately, while chicken is still hot. Transfer to cooling rack.

GF Breading Mixture:

Ingredients (use any combination, or all)
Rice and/or Corn Crunch-ems Cereal (TJ’s, Whole Foods, Mother’s Markets, sometimes even Grocer Health Food aisle) NOTE: CHEX recently changed their formula to make their Rice and Corn CHEX Cereals GF - Read labels carefully to ensure the GF version is used, and you can go with CHEX found in any grocer
Rice Crackers
Instant Mashed Potatoes (Idaho Spuds or Barbara’s)
Quinoa flakes
Salt & Pepper (Alternative: Can add herbs, like oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram to add flavor.)
[Adjust proportions to your liking – You can be creative….whatever GF grains on hand at the time – Check labels for hidden gluten!]

Process in food processor until consistency of bread crumbs.

• Set up kitchen counter into an assembly line, with glass bowls lined across (cut chicken pieces, flour-coated chicken, batter mixture, breading mixture, empty bowl for pieces ready to be cooked.)
• Freeze in large freezer bags (or individual portion sized bags)
• When reheating a serving after freezing (5-8 pieces), set microwave oven to 30-45 seconds (70% power level), then transfer to toaster oven tray and toast one cycle, to add light crispness to nuggets.
• This recipe works great with turkey as well. For our VERY picky eater, we also did a variation with ground beef or ground pork, add shredded zucchini or yellow squash, drop onto baking pan in nugget-sized spoonfuls, bake, then dip in egg batter, roll in breading mixture, and fry as with other nuggets. A way to sneak veggies into the diet, as well as be able to rotate meats in our children’s diets.
• REMEMBER: Toaster oven and fryer should be dedicated to GF/CF cooking!
• Bring heated nuggets to restaurants when eating out and serve in old nugget box or large French fry box.
• Add some Terra Yam chips into the grinder when making breading mixture for a flavorful twist.

Joanna - posted on 01/12/2010




You all are amazing... love the ideas. Dianne- can you share some some good GF/CF chicken nugget recipes? My son didn't like the Ian's freezer brand and my initial attempt at homemade was rejected. It's his favorite and will be crucial when I remove the GF next week.

Thanks for all the great ideas!

Sarah - posted on 10/27/2009




We also have a really picker eater. We hide veggies (all kinds, depending on what we have in) by cooking them first in olive oil with herbs/spices, then putting them in a food processor with whichever meat (turkey and beef both work well). Since we are also egg free, we use about 2/3 meat 1/3 veggies (or they fall apart). Blend up in food processor and shape into either patties or small meatballs, cook on a griddle and freeze in batches. We use the meatballs with pasta sauce and quinoa pasta (he loves this) or the patties with some almond butter to dip them in (kiddy satay). The trick we've found for pasta sauce (he rejects if it's too goopy) was to freeze a jar of GFCF pasta sauce in ice cube trays, then turn out and keep in a bag in the freezer. One cube is perfect for our little guy, it's enough to coat the pasta and meatball, but not too much. Plus it saves wasting large amounts of sauce, or having to give them the same meal over and over.

We also freeze pumpkin (canned) in ice cube trays and store in a bag.

Our son loves applesauce so we add in about a cube amount of either pumpkin, or the gerber baby (organic) sweet potato or carrots. He doesn't even notice them, but loves it. We give him GFCF chips to dip in it, but he'll also dip grilled chicken, hotdogs or anything else (and it's a great way to get him to finish off meat by dipping it).

We have basically come to accept that right now he self limits a little on texture and it's tough to get him to try new things, but we sneak things in here and there.

But, lots of kids not on this diet do that too and generally our kids' diets are more balanced and healthier than a lot of others because we are all so careful to make sure they get enough protein, etc.

Diane - posted on 09/15/2009




My 11 yr-old still refuses veggies. But he gets them regularly. Learn to be sneaky. Veggies can taste great, shredded into muffins. Zuchini, yellow squash, carrots - all taste great in muffins. Make large batches and keep in the freezer. You can also add protein powders, omega 3s and 6s, calcium powder (measured into doses), etc. Butternut squash can be steamed, then pureed to use as a sauce over pasta. Veggies can be minced and mixed into meatballs or meatloaf. Lots of ideas for picky kids on the TACA website, GF/CF diet section.

diane in TN

Stacey - posted on 09/12/2009




My Son used to love his veggies, but as he got a bit older he has gone off them a little, he will still eat them, but not much. He loves corn. Have you tried giving him corn on the cob? Try putting a little bit of gfcf butter/ spread over it, there is a frozen brand, McCains who do a 'juicy' range that are really yummy. We haven't had that since we started the diet so youd have to make sure they are gfcf. I have heard of a great recipe book by Jessica Seinfeld (Im sure thats her name) and she hides veggie puree in things such as brownies and nuggets etc and kids have no idea, obviously these recipes aren't gfcf but you could probably substitute and experiment or even just get some ideas.

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