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Why Babies & Toddlers Hate Vegetables (and what to do about it!)

This post might be a rude awakening for some parents and it’s not meant to be a slap in the face, but I think it’s important to share the truth about foods that are marketed towards babies and toddlers. Especially since eating a processed food diet is the #1 reason why kids don’t like vegetables.

When my daughter started eating solid food, I didn’t buy any jarred baby food. I never bought a single jar of pureed peas, pureed bananas – or any of those other jars of pureed baby food. I also didn’t blend up pureed fruits and veggies at home to make my own homemade “baby food”.

When I tell some people that, I can tell they are confused and wonder what in the world I fed my daughter when she first started on solids. 

There is an entire industry dedicated to selling jarred and pureed baby food and parents are led to believe that this is what you are supposed to buy for your baby (unless you make homemade pureed foods). Yet in my experience, babies can start with small soft finger foods and become eaters on their own.

Letting a baby feed themselves after the age of 6 months is called Baby-Led Weaning, and this has worked amazingly for Harley. 

Harley eating green beans for the first time

Jarred baby food is not the same as real food.

My Advisory Council member, Dr. Jonathan Aviv, studied the ingredients and composition of jarred baby food and discovered that even organic versions are surprisingly acidic compared to whole foods. For instance – a jar of banana baby food contains the additives “citric acid” and “ascorbic acid”, which can turn the entire jar of food acidic About 100 times more acidic than a regular banana! This increased acidity can have an effect on the digestion of food and give your baby acid reflux. 

Jarred banana baby food is not the same as a mashed banana.

Dr. Aviv says if you see the ingredients “citric acid” or “ascorbic acid” to be wary, as it can turn the entire contents of the food acidic.

The industry goes on to perpetuate the idea that babies “graduate” from purees onto finger foods with a whole new line of more processed foods for toddlers…

You’ve got Pasta Pick-ups, Lil’ Crunchies, Arrowroot Cookies, and Lil’ Meat Sticks. With these products, the industry is helping put young children on the processed food bandwagon so that it only seems natural to them to eat food from box, bag, or jar. This is the stage that my daughter is at now – and just like I never bought her jarred baby food – I don’t buy these products either. When she sees me or her Dada pick up anything processed, she’s curious and wants a bite too – this is more motivation not to eat processed foods in front of her and keep the junk out of our house.

The ingredient list on most store-bought toddler food is despicable. Especially Gerber Graduates line… 

I was pretty shocked looking at the number of ingredients on the back of this package of this Gerber toddler food…and even more shocked Gerber is allowed to produce food for small children with hidden MSG that stimulates your taste buds to the point of addiction – not to mention the mysterious “flavoring” which could mean anything and the carrageenan linked to digestive issues. Sheesh!

Instead of the additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), the food industry sneaks in other additives – such as “autolyzed yeast extract” and “torula yeast” which contain free glutamic acid – the main component of MSG that makes food addicting. This is a super shady trick by the food industry that allows them to use MSG right under our noses and get us hooked on processed food.

Gerber loves to get our kids hooked on MSG and added flavors from a young age… 

These Gerber Lil’ Crunchies are nothing more than Cheetos for babies. They seriously have almost identical ingredients to Cheetos. Instead of using monosodium glutamate in Cheetos, they sneakily use “Autolyzed Yeast Extract”. This is one of the most infuriating products out there. I’d take heed of that warning to “Keep Package Away From Children” a bit further and run… run far away from these products.

Gerber even adds MSG-like additives to their “seasoned” veggies… 

I’m not the only one appalled. A reader sent me this note about Gerber ‘Lil Sticks:

I found this while grocery shopping for my baby. This was in the baby aisle and can not possibly be healthy. I can’t wait to see what your investigations turn up with baby products… What is Gerber trying to feed our kids?”

Yep… just more MSG-like additives, flavors, and sugar added to conventional processed meat. Yikes. Gerber should be ashamed. 

It’s no wonder kids don’t like vegetables. Their taste buds are being hijacked at every meal! 

Babies and toddlers can be exposed to a wide variety of vegetables from a young age without having to resort to help from processed food. This isn’t just common sense, it’s backed by science too. Researchers from the University of Colorado School of Medicine found that a big reason kids don’t seem to like green vegetables is because they are not nurtured to like the flavor and bitterness of them from a young age. While babies naturally love sweets, they need to be exposed to dark green vegetables on a regular basis to learn to love them. The researchers further found that a major contributor to the problem was all of these prepared baby foods out there that don’t prominently contain vegetables. Out of 548 foods they found only 52 of them were single-vegetable products and NONE of them were dark green vegetables.

It’s best to start introducing vegetables right when they begin eating solids, as babies between 4-7 months are the most receptive to new tastes. When very young children eat processed baby and toddler foods they are reinforcing a love for sweet and heavily processed foods instead of for the healthiest foods on our planet… vegetables. And, I can speak from some experience. I’ve been giving Harley vegetables at nearly every meal since the beginning and she already really loves just about every single one… she even picks the kale out of her pasta and eats it before anything else.

Are Squeezy packs healthy?

A lot of parents love squeezy packs, and I can see why. They are super convenient to travel with, don’t require a spoon, kids love them, have simple ingredient lists, and are easy to find organic. That being said, I don’t buy them for Harley. 

From a very young age, children develop habits and start to form opinions about food. Think about this… squeezing pureed pear into your mouth from a sanitary pouch with a spout is nothing like picking up pieces of fresh pear and putting them in your mouth. When you eat real pears, you can see it. You can feel the juicy texture in your fingers and smell it. This helps you to learn more about what you are eating and learn to love real food (versus food that comes in a shiny package with a cartoon character on it). When they see pears in the grocery store, they will start to associate them with the real pears they have been eating at home. If they’ve been sucking pears through a pouch, it’s unlikely they’ll make that connection. Offering real whole foods (whenever possible) is how you help foster healthy eating habits for life.

There are more reasons to stop buying squeezy pouches…

  • These products typically contain less fiber and more sugar than whole foods meaning they have an increased ability to spike blood sugar in the body.
  • Some pouches have added sugar in the form of “fruit juice concentrate”, making the fruit in the pouch sweeter than the real thing.
  • They could be highly acidic, just like jarred baby foods when they have citric acid and ascorbic acid added to them.
  • If they are preserved with lemon juice or citric acid, this could be harmful to teeth when sucked from a pouch and allowed to sit on the teeth for an extended period.
  • Toddlers are developing their fine motor skills, including how to hold food, bring it to their mouths and chew it. These pouches totally bypass the chewing process.

Quite simply, even if the ingredients are simple, these are not the same as eating real food and not something I would rely on a regular basis.

And, then there’s all that added refined sugar in toddler snacks…

What is “added refined sugar”? This is processed sugar that is added to a product that isn’t part of a whole food (So, it wouldn’t include the sugar naturally found in a whole banana, for instance). Here are some common examples of added refined sugar you may see on an ingredient list:

  • Sugar
  • Cane Sugar
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Corn Syrup
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Invert Sugar
  • Fruit Juice Concentrate

You may have heard the guidelines that say that adults are supposed to eat fewer than 25 grams of added sugar per day for good health. Well, it’s even more strict for young children. In fact, it’s recommended that toddlers under the age of two not eat ANY added sugar per day, and that the only “sugar” in their diet should include those naturally found in whole foods. 

Yet, the processed food industry doesn’t care – they still add refined sugar to virtually everything. Almost all of the store-bought toddler snacks out there have added refined sugar… even organic ones! 

What’s a parent to do? Thankfully, there are healthier store-bought baby and toddler foods to choose from…

Of course I always preach the gospel of eating mostly homemade, whole foods – and it’s no different when feeding my baby or toddler. But, ever since Harley was born I’ve been getting lots of baby food questions from other new parents out there looking for healthy store-bought options:

“Hi Vani, My name is Tania and I am a first time mom of a beautiful 14 month old girl. Until now she has been enjoying her breast milk and solid foods 3x a day, but as she is getting older and we spend more time outdoors and with other kids, she has gotten really interested on snacking 😕 as she sees all the other kids with Cheerios and cookies… I honestly want to stay away from giving her snacks, but at the same time I want to be able to have options. It is beyond sad to see organic and non-gmo kids food brands to have “natural flavors” to their puffs, bars, etc. Therefore, I wanted to ask you (as a first time mom yourself to such a beautiful baby girl) if you have any recipes for such things or if you have discovered any store brands that you would feel comfortable giving to your daughter! Also, do you use any Food storage containers to keep her baby food warm other than what you shared on a recent post you had? Your help, as always, is greatly appreciated.” ~ Tania

“I was wondering if you had any information about food choices in general for toddler diets (brand to avoid and which ones you recommend)… Any and all info on what to feed our kids would be awesome. Reality is we can’t always travel and be on the go with fresh foods and time is truly a barrier to making my own food for my child. Thank you for everything you do!” ~ Amanda

Thankfully, there are some packaged options that are a better choice and are more convenient than making everything from scratch yourself. And, there are some processed foods that I buy for Harley on occasion. Here are some good options I like:

What do you do when your daycare ONLY allows packaged food (not homemade)?

“My daughter will be going to daycare come September and the daycare she will be attending provides the AM/PM snack. This would be great, however the snacks they provide include cheerios, goldfish, nilla wafers, pretzels, etc. I do not want my daughter eating processed snacks on a daily basis, and I am hoping I can send in my own snacks. However, I don’t want her to feel like she will be missing out. I was hoping you could recommend some alternatives to the snacks listed above that would be better for her but appear similar so she wouldn’t know the difference (she is only 15 months)? Thanks in advance.” ~ Alicia

Whole real fruit should always be an option at day cares and if it’s not, I would lobby the management to start allowing it. But, if you’ve got no other option than packaged food, give these a try (but don’t rely on them on a regular basis when at home and have the choice):

I shared a recipe for healthy Mini Muffins with vegetables that Harley absolutely LOVES. They are so quick to make and stash in the freezer for snacks… it’s almost as easy as processed food! Get the recipe for Harley’s Mini Muffins here. 

I hope this helps you find better choices to feed your little ones healthy foods, which will set them up for a lifetime of loving real whole food (instead of heavily processed products in a can, bag, or box). If you know anyone who has a baby, toddler, or is expecting… please share this post with them. Next up – I’ll share what Harley eats in a day, so stay tuned and be sure to subscribe to my FREE newsletter below.

Xo,

Vani

P.S. If you’ve found other store-bought foods that have clean ingredients for children – please share them in the comments below! 

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55 responses to “Why Babies & Toddlers Hate Vegetables (and what to do about it!)

  1. Yummy Spoonfuls is a great go-to option! . http://www.yummyspoonfuls.com The food is Organic, flash frozen, slow cooked and super clean ingredients. They are in the freezer section of many big stores like Target. They also have foods for tots. The company was started by passionate organic food enthusiast Camila Alves. Good for when you have to buy baby food for on the go ..or just when life gets crazy 🙂

      1. Hi,

        Thanks so much for always keeping us informed with your healthy choices and tips. My son Finn is 13 months and has down syndrome, so he does not really get the self feeding concept and tends to gag if things aren’t pureed. I try and make him homemade purees but he lately is not interested, but loves the love child pouches :/ it’s so frustrating!!! Any tips on healthy pouches I can find in Canada? Have you heard of the brand Rudolfs? I’m lots at what to do with him.

    1. Company was actually founded by Agatha Achindu. Camila Alves is a co-owner & chief brand director. Their foods are great and nutritious. Yes, a great go-to option!

  2. My daughter just told me this morning how at school for kindergarten snack, she was laughed at for having carrots. My guess is that most of the other kids had packaged foods for a snack. The school provided an afternoon snack for everyone, which was always fresh fruit or veggies, thank goodness!

    1. You might try fun vegetable shapes. I used to buy books on how to make garnishes. Peer pressure goes both ways!

  3. Gee, I was way ahead of time in not using any baby food products on my children and I am talking 30 years ago. I simply took food I made for myself and mashed it up enough for them to manage to swallow properly. And when they wanted to feed themselves (finger foods) I just cut it up into bite sizes tiny pieces. I did it with every food group including meats. But I should have figured over the years that they would start making even baby food wrong in the processing all for the profit of the company, with no care for the consumers health.

    1. Maria – I love Michael Pollan’s advice – “If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, then neither should you” 🙂

    2. Good for you! My mom raised my sister and I the same way. That was 50 some years ago. We also had to try one bite of everything. As much as I hated that, to this day I try a bite of almost anything.

  4. I have seen too many of those squeezy packs that are well within their “good” date and full of mold. No, thank you!

    1. This is something I did not investigate thoroughly… but am very concerned about the few news reports I did see about this.

  5. Hmm, that explains why when standing in line at an sporting store, a toddler behind me freaked out begging for a bag of Cheetos – screaming, crying and throwing a fit. I have seen many toddlers throwing fits in my time, but this was something else. I think she was going through withdraws or something. These poor kids. If only their parents knew/cared.

    1. Think about it. An addicted toddler … acting out that way over a junk food. Scary to think of the future for our children.

  6. This is perfect timing for me as I have a four month old and my doctor said I could start her on rice cereal. I’m planning on waiting until she is 6 months to do Baby led weabing. Can you write an article on how exactly you started? What foods, how you broke them down, etc. If you can recommend any resources you used I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you!

    1. Avery – There’s a very good investigation from Consumer reports on the arsenic levels in baby rice cereal. I personally did not give rice until after she was one year’s old – I started with avocado as her first food … 🙂

      1. I agree that babies cannot digest starch, too early, as mentioned. Herbert M. Shelton, ND, DC, ND Litt., wrote about this, decades ago. He said that while babies still have the hook shaped protrusion on their lip, that helps them to grasp the nipple, they will not have the enzyme needed to digest starches, which is at least until 9 months of age, and I think he also said it is better to wait until they are at least a year old. What I question, about this link, though, is that it is heavily slanted toward using animal products, as the first foods babies should be receive, aside from breast milk. I think that is entirely wrong, Check my FB account, for a link I just posted, which is about 100 scientific reasons, to avoid animal products.

  7. I did not feed my son any processed foods or baby foods when he was little. I had a food grinder at the table and ground up what I was eating for my meal, for my son to eat. He learned at a very young age to use his utensils and fed himself. When his molars grew in, I then offered him cut up solid foods to chew. He did have yoghurt as his first solid food and enjoys it even now, 36 years later.

  8. what about love child organics? the pouches. i know the spelt flour cooking contain cane sugar.

  9. I try to make my own baby food too… but when I can’t I have been using once upon a farm. The pouches that are in the refrigerated section not shelf. The ingredients look good, you should check them out and tell us what you think.

  10. This is a wonderful post and articulates the many reasons why I am developing a line of clean label, plant-based spreads. My daughter is 2 and I struggled to find tasty, clean and convenient snack options in the marketplace for her so I created it myself! Proud Label’s spreads are balanced with vegetables, protein and fiber, naturally vibrant from the vegetables themselves, vegan, free of the Big 8 allergens, and have no added sweeteners or salt. Veggie lovers and picky toddlers love them! I can’t wait to bring our clean, nutrient rich products to the market for other families to enjoy!

  11. My first son was born in 1970 he would eat 9 jars of baby food a day 3 at each meal.
    I think back in the 70’s the baby foods were not as bad as they are today! My other 2 kids I would just blend up what ever we where having! Just wanted thank you for investigating the bad ingredients in our foods. I love our website…!!!

  12. All this is a little overwhelming but I’m really glad someone is investigating what is being put in our food. Especially for babies. I’m going to share your site with my grand-daughters. One is expecting their first child in December and I know they’re going to be great parents. I really appreciate all your research and sharing on this subject.

    I will share your site with as many people as I can.

  13. Curious how you suggest handling relatives/grandparents who insist on giving processed, sugary foods to grandkids? Conversation has been had over and over again to not purchase it as snacks when the grands visit and also shared articles like this with them. Still continue to buy it. So frustrating!

    1. That’s so frustrating. Our family isnt super close but they think how we feed our kids is ridiculous and that we deprive them. We don’t leave them alone with them because my children’s diet is so important to us

    2. Yeah – this is super frustrating. I can see this is going to start in even my family! The best you can do is bring their snacks for them to give and hope for the best 🙂

    3. I have the opposite problem in that my grandchildren were fed processed foods all their life and won’t eat my homegrown veggies, so WE have given in and eaten the junk with them. I feel like crap! I know that we are supposed to be the adults here, but we see them so seldom and I don’t want an argument. My husband is the worst!

    4. My recommendation: YOU are the parent. They had the chance to raise their kids how they wanted. They do not get to make those choices for your children. And if they say, “well my parents/relatives didn’t listen to my wishes” – well, then they should have put their foot down more. Break the cycle and stand up for what you want for your kid. It is a generational thing – they literally do not understand what you do in regards to food. You will be unpopular. They will talk behind your back or make snide comments to your face. Hold your ground for what is important to you. You are talking about the health and well-being of your child now and for their future. It’s rough, but you can do it!

      1. It is not “a generational thing” with me … when I have my grandchildren (which is often), I only feed them organic, fresh fruits & vegetables, whole grains & organic dairy products. They get very little processed food at my house, since I don’t buy it or eat it myself! If it is a snack like crackers or pretzels they have to be organic & 5 ingredients or less. They eat enough crap at birthday parties etc. so they know that they won’t be getting it from me …. no complaints yet!!

  14. How do you feel about Once Upon A Farm Organic Cold Pressed pouches. Obviously whole foods are best but for those that need a pouch or purée, is this a safe option?

  15. I like Lara bars as a snack if we are out and cant choose whole foods. There are q fee varieties that have no added sugar. I wish they were organic though. My son will be 2 next month and has never had added sugar. He has never had processed crappy food or dairy. He loves every vegetable. His favorites are brussel sprouts and asparagus. We also did blw.

  16. Have you considered LittleSpon.com?

    Made fresh from organic veggies and fruits. Overnighted to your home.

    Subscription with lots of choices. We love it.

  17. It isn’t just the ingredients in squeeze packs that may be harmful. It’s the packaging itself, and not because it’s plastic. It’s because the packaging may not be airtight where it is attached to the “straw”– the piece where the child puts their mouth. I used to work in a health food store, and I saw a lot of these products brought back because they were rancid, and every time there was a tiny opening somewhere around the straw, just enough to let air get in. Since you can’t actually see the food inside the packaging, I don’t think it’s a good idea to let your child eat it.

  18. Excellent article. Thank you for educating us.
    I would like to point out that the environmental footprint of these “foods” is very high, with all the plastic, and processing.
    Goddess blessings,

  19. Hey Vani

    Thank you for sharing this info..I have an 18 month year old who pretty much has weaned himself from breast milk. I wasn’t planning on giving him any milk supplement but I am wondering if I should… I’ve heard goats milk is the closest thing to cows milk, and I also recently discoverd Ripple, a pea protein milk (but I am concerned the ingredients included natural flavors). Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. oops, I meant to say, I’ve heard goats milk is the closest thing to breastmilk! not cow’s milk!

    2. As I just mentioned above, check my FB account for the link to an article, that is about 100 scientific reasons, to avoid animal products. Animal milks are tainted in the sense, that pollution falls on the grass they eat, and they do not have sweat glands, mostly, so they have to excrete more toxins into their milk. Cows’ milk is supposed to have more of the most toxic substance known, dioxin, than any other food. Plus whatever else. Goat milk is definitely more suited to a human baby’s body structure, but it falls under the same category. We can ask why nature, does not prioritize the health of the calf, but for one thing, this is not a problem, that nature is used to handling, and also, the health of the offspring will be in question, anyway, if the parent is not in the best shape possible. Be careful about things with extracted proteins in them. Many are extracted using acid, perhaps other chemicals, to remove the cellulose and other parts of the vegetables. A great deal of rice, has more arsenic in it than is safe, because of the way it is being grown, on past cotton acreage. Lead arsenate and similar things, have been used on cotton, for 200 years, now. Lundberg rice, tested out very clean, according to Mike Adams. One of the best things, is to make almond milk yourself using a Hurom juicer, or a Vitamix. You can strain it, if needed. Blanch the nuts, and remove the brown skins, with your hands, or in a towel, beforehand, and soaking them a while, beforehand, is also helpful. Adding a bit of fruit, may make it more palatable.

    3. We found out my son had a dairy allergy around 18 months and the doc just suggested cutting it completely. If you make sure he has enough sources of calcium, protein, and fats in his diet, milk isn’t necessary!

  20. I completely agree with all of this information, and the general strategy you recommend for babies and toddlers. I did all of these things, and my daughter ate a wide variety of whole and healthy foods for quite a while. Just as an FYI, right around 19/20 months (she is 2.5 now), she started exerting her will and really decreased what she would eat. I still give her healthy choices, but the wide variety of what she will eat is gone. So, it’s a good reminder that every kid is different, and the best efforts still get overruled by strong-willed toddlers! I am hopeful that by starting her out well, she’ll eventually return to her original eating habits. Only time will tell!

  21. I’ve been waiting for Vani to post something about the baby and toddler foods found in stores. I think it’s extremely important for all foods to be watched for. Not just those for older kids, teens, and adults but also for babies, toddlers and even your pets.

  22. Really glad to have found Food Babe .I love hearing all the helpful comments also. It’s disgusting what companies can market to people in general, let alone children. And not every parent knows about the dangers of these foods yet which means they’re still buying them for their children. This is why I think labels should be 100% transparent and we need more protections for children like getting this junk off the market! It really seems like you have to be a scientist to navigate grocery aisles nowadays. Thanks Vani for helping us navigate!

  23. Actually, way back in the 80’s I never used baby food in jars either. But, ascorbic acid just being vitamin C, I think that would be fine.

  24. Biodynamic Baby food!
    White Leaf Provisions

    We were huge proponents of baby led weening and cultivating our son’s palette with real, Whole Foods that we were eating but when you need to travel internationally on planes and daycare requirements, we needed to find some convenient options.

  25. Our preschool also feeds vanilla wafers, goldfish, and pretzels as “healthy grains” which is so far from the truth. My son also has dairy, soy, and legume allergies so he can’t eat that crap anyway. However, we have found a few clean store bought substitutes that we can have at school that are similar to the main stream snacks:
    Back to Nature Harvest Whole Wheat crackers (only the plain version) – similar to Triscuits
    Unique brand Whole Wheat “splits” or “shells” pretzels (4 ingredients, and way more tasty than most pretzels)
    Barbara’s Organic Honest O’s original cereal (1 gram of added sugars per serving, but the best Cheerios substitute I could find)
    Dry roasted pumpkin seeds
    Made in Nature coconut chips (which have added sugars, but I keep at preschool for when the other kids bring in cupcakes or treats for birthdays and such so my boys don’t feel left out)

    1. Also, Health Warrior pumpkin seed bars for a nut free granola bar option. Again, some added sugars but more protein than sugars so I will take that as an occasional/emergency snack to have on hand.

  26. Hello. I have an 8 month who I have been making vegetable purées and fruit purées as well as giving him finely chopped eggs and chunks of avocado. I struggle with giving him pieces that are small enough so he won’t choke but large enough that he can pick up. In fact I’ve found it impossible to find this happy medium. The other day I gave him small pieces of steamed broccoli and like an hour or so later we were playing and I noticed the broccoli was still at the roof of his mouth. He hasn’t gummed or swallowed it. Any suggestions for what to give him that he can pick up and feed himself?

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