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How to Help Your Child Learn to Eat Broccoli

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This article was reviewed by a team of experts, including Alli Delozier, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist. View full list of reviewers below.

Bailey’s camp counselor handed out the day camp’s pre-approved lunch to all the kids. To Bailey’s horror, the lunch included….broccoli. Oh no! 

Bailey hated broccoli.

After a few minutes, the camp counselor noticed that Bailey hadn’t eaten anything on her plate yet. “Are you not hungry?” she asked Bailey. “You haven’t touched anything.”

Bailey replied, “The broccoli is touching everything, and the broccoli is REALLY SLIMY!”

The counselor pressed, “Well, we can’t have you going hungry. Can you try it? Take one bite.”

Instead, Bailey stared at the plate and firmly refused to give it a try.

As caregivers of picky kids, we often see situations like this. If a “slimy” piece of food touches another food on the plate, it’s game over. The child will not eat it. We understand the hard position it puts both the child and the caregiver in. We are here to help!

In this article, we will explain how to get your kids to eat broccoli. We will discuss the following:

The Benefits of Broccoli for Kids

You may be wondering if broccoli has benefits for kids or if kids should even eat broccoli. We recommend at least trying to teach kids to eat broccoli (and any unfamiliar foods!) so they can reap the nutritional benefits.

What is broccoli good for? Broccoli contains a compound called kaempferol. Kaempferol is a special compound that can help support kids’ healthy brain function and growth. 

Broccoli also contains calcium. Calcium plays an important role in children’s bone and tooth health by helping keep them strong!

The fiber in broccoli will support heart health, increase blood flow and decrease instances of constipation for your child. 

Related: Learn even more about reversing picky eating.

How to Serve Broccoli to Picky Eaters

Broccoli can be served raw, hot or cold. It is very versatile and easy to incorporate. Consider serving broccoli raw as a part of a veggie tray for a snack. Broccoli also goes great with different sauces and dips. As a side dish, broccoli can also be steamed, stir-fried, roasted or boiled. Serving broccoli to picky eaters in different ways helps prevent them from getting stuck in a rut and may make them more likely to try broccoli.

If your child is hesitant at first glance, try serving a micro portion of broccoli. A micro portion is a very small portion, about the size of a small sample or even smaller. Micro portions can make a nervous or selective child feel more comfortable around a new food. They will also reduce food waste during the early food exposure stages.

Most importantly, we recommend taking a no-pressure approach when trying to get kids to eat broccoli. Pressuring kids to eat usually backfires. It often makes them less likely to try a new food. Pressure can come in many different ways. Here are a few examples of ways parents can pressure their children to eat:

“Finish your plate before it gets cold.”

“If you want, I will take a bite with you.”

“Please, please just take a bite. It’s good for you!”

Referring back to Bailey’s situation, her counselor tried to get her to eat lunch by pressuring her to take one bite. But Bailey then refused to try the broccoli entirely. Without that pressure, Bailey may have made the decision on her own to try the broccoli. 

Related: Join BetterBites – the best selling course for the families of picky eaters.

How to Talk About Broccoli to Help Your Child Try It

Words carry strong messages. When approaching your child about a particular food, it is important not to use negative words. Negative words are not helpful when trying to encourage a child to eat something. It’s harder for a child to overcome picky eating if the words they use to describe foods are consistently negative. Words such as “slimy” or “gross” reinforce a child’s picky mindset.

Neutral words, on the other hand, focus on the characteristics of a particular food and are more objective. In many ways, neutral words incite curiosity for the child.

Here are some examples of neutral words you can use to describe broccoli to your picky kid:

  • Green
  • Crisp
  • Looks like little trees
  • Big smell when cooking
  • Soft (when steamed)
  • Crunchy (raw)

The camp counselor could have introduced broccoli to the kids by saying, “Broccoli florets look like little trees, don’t they? Broccoli also has a strong, earthy smell.”

Related: Need recipes with broccoli? Try Real Easy Weekdays: The Meal Plan for Busy Families.

How to Help Your Child Understand What Broccoli Does in Their Body

As mentioned, word choice is extremely important and may set the tone for how a child will feel when a new food is presented to them.

It is important to encourage neutral language and relate what a food does in their body in a way that is easily understood. In this case, you can explain to them the nutritional benefits of broccoli in an age-appropriate way. 

Remember, this is not a quick fix for picky eating. Behavior change will take time, patience and repetition. This is a building block for long-term success.

Here are some examples of how to talk about what broccoli does in a child’s body by age:

Age 0-3: Broccoli helps us get strong.

Age 3-5: Broccoli helps our bones and teeth grow strong.

Age 6-11: Broccoli has calcium and helps our bones and teeth grow strong.

Age 12-18: The calcium in broccoli helps strengthen and harden bones to prevent bone breaks and fractures.

Along with saying that broccoli looks like little trees and describing the taste, Bailey’s camp counselor could have added, “Broccoli helps make our bones strong!”

Related: Get our free picky eater guide, From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better Without Losing Your Mind.

Broccoli Food Activity 

Food play is important when introducing a new food to your child. Food activities are a way of presenting the food in a less intimidating way.

Food play can take on many different levels of exposure for the child. You can start with activities that involve seeing the food, then move on to touching and smelling activities, while working to the ultimate goal of tasting the food. Your child may bounce from one stage of readiness to the next and skip steps in between. Children may also regress from being able to touch a food to only being able to look at it. This is OK, just keep presenting the food!

One reason food play is a helpful technique for fussy eaters is because it contributes to desensitization. Desensitization is a process that allows the child’s sensory systems to become more familiar with the food. Thus, the food becomes less intense to the child’s senses, making it seem less “slimy” or “stinky” because they know what to expect.

Food play can be done in many different ways. It can be very simple, like having your child draw a picture of the food. It can also be more complex and require more planning. 

If you need food activity ideas broken down by age of child (0 to 10 years old) and stage of learning to like new foods, you may enjoy our food activities guide: Food Play Every Day: 101+ Food Activities for Kids

Here is an example of a broccoli activity for kids and selective eaters.

Broccoli Shredder Challenge

Age group: 3+

Materials

  • Head of broccoli (can use raw or cooked or both!)
  • Bowls 

Steps

  1. Give each person a bowl to hold their shredded florets.
  2. Practice tearing the broccoli with your hands to get a feel for it.
  3. Compete with your child to see who can tear off all the broccoli first.

Thanks for being a part of our community that’s teaching kids to eat more foods!

About Kids Eat in Color

Kids Eat in Color gives parents the tools they need to teach their kids to eat veggies and try foods without a battle! From introducing new foods to a picky eater, to reducing meal-time stress, to taking off some of the burdens of meal planning, shopping, and cooking, we are here for parents. 

Author

Shemar Hawkins

Reviewers

Johane Filemon, MS, RDN, CLT

Alli Delozier, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Laura Petix, M.S., OTR/L

Erinn Jacobi, M.S., OTR/L

Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed

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Shemar Hawkins

Shemar O. Hawkins is the Child Nutrition Fellow at Kids Eat in Color. He reads and synthesizes scientific literature and creates research briefs on child nutrition and guides to help parents and caregivers feed their picky eaters. He is currently working on becoming a Registered Dietitian- Nutrition at Texas State University.

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