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Bringing the Rainbow to the Table: Introducing Colorful Vegetables to Children's Meals at Childcare and Home

family around a dinner table

Ever wonder why colorful vegetables are so important? Not only are they bursting with flavor, but they are also the most beneficial ones for keeping our bodies healthy and strong. They are rich in carotenoids and antioxidants, important for preventing different types of cancer. But let's face it, getting young children to eat vegetables can be challenging. We are here to guide early childcare educators and parents of young children with some tried-and-true tips that are as fun as they are effective.  


First up, let's talk about the magic of repeated exposure. Encouraging children to embrace vegetables is like nurturing a budding friendship—it takes time and a bit of creativity. Experts suggest introducing a vegetable to children around 8 to 10 times on different occasions to help them get use to its flavors and textures.  


But why stop at mealtimes? Think outside of the dinner plate! From planting vegetables in your garden to exploring their colors and smells firsthand, there are plenty of fun ways to get children acquainted with this important food group. And let's not forget the power of play and circle times!   


Try setting up a salad bar or pizza-making station for some interactive vegetable fun. Or dive into vegetable-themed activities like color-matching games and storytelling sessions with books, such as "Sylvia’s Spinach" or "Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli." By blending these strategies into everyday routines, we can nurture a positive attitude towards vegetables that'll stick with your child for life. So don't throw in the towel after one attempt!   


Get imaginative—plant a small vegetable garden together and watch those little green sprouts grow, engage in some vegetable-themed playtime, or even serenade them with songs celebrating the wonders of new or unpopular vegetables.  


Now, let's dive into some ways to prepare vegetables   that will excite children to dig in! You can serve vegetables in a wide range of creative ways at lunch or during snack time.   


You can try sneaking vegetables into your favorite entrées or meat dishes. Add a pop of color and nutrition by tossing some red bell peppers and zucchini into your spaghetti sauce or liven up your egg and ham quiche with a handful of spinach. You can even give your soups a nutritious boost by throwing in some kale. For more inspiration, check out the USDA's website for healthy and delicious recipes.  


And let's not forget about snacks! Whip up some vegetable-centric treats like Feta, Cucumber, and Tomato Stacks or Raw Broccoli with Yogurt Mustard Dip. By incorporating these creative preparation techniques, you'll not only enhance the flavor of your vegetable dishes but also make mealtime a fun and enjoyable experience for the whole family.  


Another great idea is to turn meal prep into a family affair. Take your children along for a trip to the grocery store and let them pick out their own vegetables. Involve them in the kitchen. They'll feel like culinary superheroes as they proudly select their colorful allies for the dinner table.  


When it's time to gather around for a meal, make it a celebration! Sit together, share stories, and eat vegetables with the kids. If you've got a child who's already a veggie-eating champ, recruit them as the ultimate role model; they can try a new vegetable first and pave the way for the others.   


But wait, there's more! If you're hungry for more vegetable knowledge, be sure to check out the USDA MyPlate website. It's a treasure trove of information on all the different vegetables, guaranteed to inspire your next culinary masterpiece.  


So, there you have it—your guide to making vegetable eating an epic adventure for the whole family and your childcare. Let's band together and make colorful vegetables the shining stars of every mealtime quest! 


Author: Saima Hasnin, Ph.D.  


About the Author: 

Saima Hasnin is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research and Extension activities are focused to improve children’s diet quality in the early care and education settings and increase educators’ adherence to the federal childcare nutrition recommendations.  



Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. (9th Edition.; p. 164). (2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Nekitsing, C., Blundell-Birtill, P., Cockroft, J. E., & Hetherington, M. M. (2018). Systematic review and meta-analysis of strategies to increase vegetable consumption in preschool children aged 2–5 years. Appetite, 127, 138–154.