Did you know there are different kinds of vegetables and each type has a unique role in your child’s diet. Learn about vegetables for kids and how you can make sure your child gets them all.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “eat the rainbow”. There are 5 subgroups of vegetables (leafy greens, starchy vegetables, beans and legumes, red and orange, and “other” vegetables) based on their nutrient content.
Why are some types grouped by color then?
Vegetables get their rich colors and taste from phytonutrients. These are compounds in vegetables that protect the plants from harm from the sun and disease. Phytonutrients also protect us from disease.
So which ones are the best veggies for kids?
Your child needs all five types of vegetables to have good nutrition.
Learn about the five types of vegetables for kids and how the vitamins these vegetables contain help kids grow and stay healthy.
How Many Vegetables Do Kids Need?
According to USDA’s MyPlate, children 2-18 years old need about 2-4 cups of vegetables a day. How much your child needs depends on his age, activity, gender and weight.
These are general recommendations for all vegetables. There are no guidelines for how much of each type of vegetable kids should be getting.
As long as you offer a variety of vegetables, your child won’t miss out on important nutrients.
What Nutrients Do Vegetables Contain?
Vegetables are loaded with nutrients that protect the immune system, support growing children and are healthy overall no matter how old you are!
Here are the nutrients vegetables are highest in and why your growing child needs them.
Not only does fiber keep the gastrointestinal system running smoothly, some fibers are food for the good bacteria in the stomach.
Folate is important for cell division and growth.
Potassium helps protect growing bones and keeps bones strong by preventing calcium loss.
Vitamin A is important for eyesight and healthy hair and nails.
This vitamin acts like an antioxidant that helps the immune system stay strong. Vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron – an important nutrient kids need for healthy growth and development.
5 Types of Vegetables
Ideally you should aim to provide a few vegetables from each of the following sub-types throughout the week to make sure your child gets a variety of vitamins and phytonutrients.
1. Dark-Green Vegetables
These nutrient-packed vegetables contain vitamin A and C, folate, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
It’s no coincidence that kids tend to like bland flavored starchy vegetables more than bitter greens. Kids have strong taste buds. The bitter flavor and leafy texture of some green vegetables can be unappealing to young children.
Examples: Broccoli, romaine lettuce, kale, spinach
2. Red and Orange Vegetables
These colorful vegetables are known for vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. The bright colors and sweet flavor of this group are usually more appealing to kids.
Examples: Carrots, pumpkins, red peppers, tomatoes, sweet potato, acorn & butternut squash
3. Beans, Peas, and Lentils
Beans and lentils are an excellent source of plant protein, fiber, minerals, and folate.
Coming up with bean meals for kids is probably the biggest challenge.
Bean chili is an easy meal for kids. Canned tomatoes and corn give this dish more flavor and the bonus nutrients from two other vegetable groups (red and orange and starchy)!
4. Starchy Vegetables
Starchy vegetables have a mild and sometimes sweet taste and creamy texture, making this type of vegetable the most popular with kids. They’re a source of carbohydrates and fiber.
Sometimes starchy vegetables get a bad name for being higher in calories than other vegetables. There’s no such thing as bad vegetables. Starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates, but kids’ growing bodies and brain need a lot of energy..
Tired of baked potatoes? Try my kid-friendly potato leek soup recipe found in my Dinner for Young Athletes e-guide.
5. Other Vegetables
The vegetables that don’t belong in the other categories are combined into this group, so they vary in their nutrient content.
Avocados contain some fiber and fat, and cucumbers are mostly made of water. They’re very different vegetables. Variety is the key to getting all the nutrients this group offers.
Examples: avocados, green peppers, onions, mushrooms, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers
Got a picky eater who won’t eat veggies? Download our cheat sheet for help!
Vegetables for Picky Eaters
Getting kids to eat vegetables can be challenging, but forcing kids to eat their vegetables is not the solution. Kids don’t have to eat every single vegetable to be healthy. Aim for variety and keep introducing vegetables from all five subgroups.
Here are some tips to introduce new vegetables for picky eaters.
Manage Your Expectations
The bitter taste of leafy green might be too intense for a young child. Start with a mild green like spinach or romaine lettuce. Once his acute taste buds are used to the flavor work up to the more challenging vegetables like Brussels sprouts and swiss chard.
Change Up the Preparation
Vegetable for dinner doesn’t have to mean a plain, boiled side dish. Vary how you cook the same vegetables. Grilling and roasting keeps a little of the crunch and adds some sweetness!
Don’t Be Afraid of Toppings
Healthy eating isn’t an all-or-nothing choice between steamed broccoli and french fries. It’s okay to add melted cheese to broccoli or extra olive oil to roasted or grilled vegetables. If your child won’t eat unless he puts ketchup or another topping on his food, that’s fine.
You don’t have to stay in a dinner rut with the same vegetable sides. Reimagine vegetables for kids. Experiment with grilling, roasting and steaming and topping with grated cheese or olive oil. Or make one-pot meals with the vegetables mixed in such as chilies and soups if your child will eat foods combined.
(If you’re gravitating to more plant-based eating, you’ll want to read about the Mediterranean Diet for Kids.)
The goal is a colorful mix of vegetables so your child doesn’t miss out on vitamin C, folate, potassium, vitamin A and a variety of other vitamins and phytonutrients found in all vegetables.