Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Serve Veggies FIRST

Want a quick and easy way to increase your child’s vegetable consumption?

Serve vegetable soup as the first course. 

Seem like too much of a headache to prepare soup? Don’t think your child will eat vegetable soup?  Serve carrots—or any vegetable— as the first course instead.  Read Salad Days.

Two recent studies show that appetizers can dramatically increase vegetable consumption among preschoolers.

This is BIG news. Fewer than half of all American children meet their daily recommended intake of fruits and vegetables.

In both studies children aged 3-5 years old were given vegetables before a main meal of macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli, unsweetened applesauce and milk.

The kids were given:

  • Tomato soup in one study.
  • Raw carrots and dip in the other study. 

In the tomato soup study, vegetable consumption jumped from 1/6 of a serving without the soup to almost a full serving with the soup.

In the carrot study, the children’s vegetable consumption increased from 1/3 of a serving to 1 full serving.

How did this happen? It's worth spelling out that the kids didn't eat less broccoli during the main meal because they had eaten veggies during the first course.  (In fact, kids in the soup study ate slightly less pasta when they had eaten soup, but they ate the same amount of broccoli either way.)

Serving vegetables as a first course takes advantage of your child’s hunger.

It also removes the influence of competing foods.

Serve a meal with pasta and broccoli and your kids are going to gravitate towards the pasta (their preferred food) until, and probably only when, they finally respond to your parental pressure to eat a few “trees!”

But serve your little darlin’ vegetables when there’s nothing else to eat…and presto! 

I can hear the protests now: But my child will simply hold out until the main course.

It could happen, but if it does, you’re in the land of control struggles.  (The way out is to offer the appetizer without comment, without pressure to eat it, and to make serving a first course your habit.)

But most kids will eat the appetizer because they like it.  Or at least they like it enough to eat it if there’s nothing better sitting on the table.

  • 90% of the children in the tomato soup study rated the soup as “yummy” or “okay.”  In other words, the soup was acceptable. 
  • 91% of the children rated the carrots and dip as “yummy” or “okay.”

Serving kids vegetables before the main meal will also teach your kids the right habits.

Vegetables appetizers can:

Think sophisticated.  Think European. Think multiple courses!

 And let the first course do for vegetables what dessert can do for fruit.

 ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~



Spill, M. K., L. L. Birch, L. S. Roe, and B. J. Rolls. 2011. “Serving Large Portions of Vegetable Soup At the Start of Meal Affected Children's Energy and Vegetable Intake.” Appetite 57: 213-19.

Spill, M. K., L. L. Birch, L. S. Roe, and B. J. Rolls. 2010. “Eating Vegetables First: the Use of Portion Size to Increase Vegetable Intake in Preschool Children.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91: 1237-43.

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Reader Comments (7)

Love this! My kids love to play restaurant (both my husband & I have worked in the restaurant business) where they are the customers and the adults the servers. We always offer a raw vegetable appetiser! I'll often intentionally cook the veggies so that they're done ahead of the rest of the meal, so when my kids are crying about being hungry, I plop the green beans (or whatever) down and watch them disappear.

August 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Stone

Rachel: Great idea to cook the veggies first! Thanks for sharing it. Dina

August 15, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

Works like a charm at our house. Especially when friends are over and you know that they will be highly distracted at meal time. We always have a vegetable platter out and the peppers, carrots, cukes, and what not disappear as they are swiped on the fly!

August 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCLP


Ain't it true: timing is everything!!


August 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

What a wonderful blog! I'll be sharing this article on My Munch Bug's Facebook page, thank you!
Dr. Dina, I would love to send you a review sample of my book - Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and my children's CD: Dancing in the Kitchen. Please contact me at Meanwhile, here is a silly video all about learning to eat peas - ENJOY!

August 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie Potock

I would add that they need at least ten minutes to contemplate their appetizer before you serve up the mains. This also works if you serve veggies and hommus dip for their afternoon snack, so they get a serving of vegetables before dinnertime even comes around.

September 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrowingRaw

I agree that giving kids sufficient time to eat the veggies is important. Thanks for the clarification.


September 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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