Useful hacks (or outright lies) that can trick toddlers into healthy eating

“I made dinner tonight and it is so be-licious!” 

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published April 9, 2024 11:32AM (EDT)

Toddler eating broccoli in high chair (Getty Images/Gabriel Mello)
Toddler eating broccoli in high chair (Getty Images/Gabriel Mello)

You know what's more difficult than advanced trigonometry? Getting your toddler to eat healthy on a consistent basis or getting them to try new foods. 

My daughter, who trusts me to take care of her, to slay all of the monsters under her bed, to hold her at doctor's appointments during shots, to explain things that she doesn't understand, to be her go-to guy for everything when everyone is around or when it's just us, does not, cannot and will not listen to any of my food recommendations. The nerve!

Doesn't matter if it's candy, cake, cereal, or whatever - if she doesn't know it, then she doesn't trust it. Sometimes I feel like she looks at me as if I am a scammer, a food scammer - a great guy when it comes to recommending movies or new cartoons or books, but a super scammer when it comes to anything edible.

“Hey baby,” I say in my sweetest voice. “You love pie and you love apples so I know you would just love this apple cobbler.” 

“Cobbler?” She responds one eyebrow raised, her small nostrils flaring over the plate, “Daddy, no. It’s be-sgusting!” 

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What confuses me the most is that sometimes she'll do this with foods she is very familiar with. Paying attention to detail, to some of the smallest things like packaging, the way it is arranged on the plate, and who prepared it, whether it's me or her mom. 

“Mommy, you are the best cook in the world,” she swoons, kissing up to my wife. “Your pancakes are so be-licious!” Daddy's pancakes are be-sgusting!” 

"We have been having this battle with our child since we switched her to solid foods three years ago and have developed a few ways to con her into eating healthy and sometimes trying new foods "

My wife could lay back and suck up all of the praise, but since she's a good sport, she explains to our daughter that they are the same pancakes, from the same company and we prepare them the same way — in the toaster oven, for four minutes, sliced into triangles and served with strawberries and whipped cream.

But that’s not good enough, my daughter requires more. 

We have been having this battle with our child since we switched her to solid foods three years ago and have developed a few ways to con her into eating healthy and sometimes trying new foods. I'm excited to share a few with you. 


I cannot personally vouch for broccoli-sicles as I have never tried them (fortunately for my family, broccoli is one of my daughter's favorite foods), but I picked this up from another parent as we waited for our kids to get out of dance class. She simply said that she puts a stalk of broccoli in the freezer, removes it when it's completely frozen and proceeds to let her child eat it like a popsicle. 


Again, we don't have to do this. It actually sounds disgusting. But maybe it will help you out. 

Keeping your teeth healthy

This is as mean as it is as disingenuous, but it might be necessary.


Trips to the dentist have taught me that candy and sweet juices destroy deciduous teeth. The problem is that most kids love candy and sweet juice. My wife and I were lucky enough to have this information before my daughter started eating solid foods and drinking things other than milk. So, how do you trick your kids out of candy and sweet juice? 


You just tell them that their teeth are going to fall out in bloody chunks if they indulge in candies or juice of any kind. I know this is a very bad lie, but this lie has gifted me a child who will go trick or treating for three hours straight, collect two big baskets of candy and won't try any. Her dentist remains happy.

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Green French fries

This is another lie that was brilliantly cooked up by my wife. We never had to convince our daughter to eat French fries, I don't think anyone needs convincing to eat French fries because French fries are delicious. But you can't eat French fries all day and we know that. 


So, one night, we were out at a restaurant and my daughter kept requesting French fries. String beans —which I realize that many people out of my community call green beans — were on the menu. My wife raised her big eyebrows and said, “Instead of getting you the normal French fries, we are going to try green fries because they are special.” 


And my daughter ate that lie right up along with her string beans. I don't want to oversell this because my daughter still loves French fries, but now she knows that in order to get those normal fries you're going to have to enjoy some green ones first. 

Apple for pizza trade-off

My child loves pizza as much as anybody else with a pulse and would eat it every day all day if she could. As a parent, I think we should give our kids the foods they love; however, we should also make them earn those foods — and I do this by saying you can have all of the pizza you want, or spaghetti, or what every kind of carb you are craving on that particular day as long as you eat apple slices first. 


I treat apple slices like junk food dividends. You eat a few apple slices, you get some junk food — that way I know you're getting the fiber you need to digest the crap you love. 

Your new assistant

This is the number-one trick for getting your kid to try new foods and enjoy their vegetables.


I've done the research and I've talked to multiple parents who have also done their research — and as a collective, we all agree that our children are sweet little narcissists. They love to go to the market and help pick out the vegetables, to come into the kitchen and help mix up the seasonings, and to say that they took part in preparing the meal. My daughter goes so far that sometimes she excludes me and my wife by yelling, “I made dinner tonight and it is so be-licious!” 


They take pride in the food they help prepare, so let them! It will make your life a whole lot easier.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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Children Food Healthy Humor Nutrition Parenting Vegetables