Getting Children to eat veg can be difficult. My son James was a dream child he loves food, including vegetables,
My Daughter, Ella, on the other hand, was not such a dream in this area. She is really fussy about what she eats. She likes what she likes and from a young age would reject food without trying it.
Infuriatingly, she would say she loved something one day, then hate it the next day. Every mealtime is like a game of culinary Russian roulette. Especially during the holidays. 5 meals a day never knowing if you’re getting it right and wasting food.
Ella is much better with accepting food now Which allows me to be stricter with the rules. In fact, she eats some really weird things sometimes, Anchovies in celery for a six-year-old I’d consider it pretty odd. Blueberries on pate and carrot on ice cream.
Fruit, usually, is far easier to get into a child than vegetables. They usually look a little more desirable and of course have a sweet flavour. Vegetables, on the whole, can be a bit boring unless jazzed-up a bit.
So here is how I got my children eating vegetables daily with minimal stress.
I spent years noting down, experimenting and trying to figure out what my children like to eat. Eventually, it dawned on me. Why don’t I just ask them? As parents, we know what’s best and are usually trying to pretend what their eating is something else. “It’s not fish its chicken” or “It’s popcorn just hasn’t popped yet”
I forgot they go to school – I mean, I didn’t forget to take them. I had a realisation. They eat a good amount of their meals outside this house. Lunch and two snacks at school or after school club, staying over at Nannies, Aunts, Grandam’s, Friends. They know a lot more about food than I have given them credit for. Next time I time did the shopping list I asked them what they wanted.
When James said: “Ooh I love a bit of beetroot mum” I was very surprised!
Take them shopping
The next step was to take them to the actual shop. I took them separately to avoid them influencing each others decision.
It is very much easier and more communicative when they are sperate. James, as I said, is very good already. So that day was fab. We came home with all sorts of exotic ingredients to experiment with. Most of which I actually had to look up what they were.
Ella was more predictable. I managed to persuade her to try some new vegetables. She was really excited about some of the pre-made vegetables. She was keen to try cauliflower rice and cabbage, which I never buy.
On the plus side of letting them choose. When it’s on their plate and they decide they don’t like it, simply explain that it was their choice. They should eat it this time but you will remember they don’t like it for the future.
The rule in our house is; you don’t get pudding until you have finished what’s on your plate. If you don’t have room in your tummy for the good stuff, you certainly aren’t saving that space for the bad stuff!
However, if you are going to enforce this rule you have to be very careful with portion size. Forcing them to eat an amount uncomfortable for them can be even more unhealthy. The plates in sections work very well. Children can see what have to eat and in what order. Each portion of the vegetables looks smaller.
Put vegetables with Everything. Always!
The most important tip is to put veg and/or fruit with every single meal they have. Exposure to vegetables at every mealtime will eventually become, what they know a meal should look like. A plate should feel incomplete without something fresh and colourful included.
This will help you visualise what each plate should look like The NHS nutrition Wheel is a great tool. Don’t cram the plate with food. In fact, smaller amounts are better to avoid confusion or feeling daunted by the amount. For breakfast, even if they have toast throw some blueberries or raspberries on the side. With lunch, includes some cucumber sticks or cherry tomatoes, Even scrambles eggs could have some spring onion with a scoop of peas on the side. Children really don’t care ‘what goes’ with what. They tend to eat more individually, (Remember grated carrots on icecream!) discuss the wheel with them and use it as a guide for each meal. Talk to them about what’s on their plate and if it is carbohydrate, fruit, veg, protein etc
Repeatedly put vegetables on their plate they don’t like,
Don’t buy them especially, but if someone else in the house enjoys Tomatoes in their salad put one on each plate. Encourage, but don’t force them to try it. Explain that their taste may have changed or the previous one may not have been in season. Everybody’s tastes change. We have around 10,000 taste buds at birth, these are replaced every two weeks, as a result, our tastes are constantly changing.
As I child, the thought of beetroot disturbed me. Until I was 30 mushrooms scared me and until 6 months ago I didn’t particularly like peas.
Think about how many types of apples or potatoes there are. They can also taste very different as they go through the ripening process. Or how different strawberries taste in summer.
Children will pick up on this very quickly and are way less tolerant of the difference in flavours. Explain this to them. Encourage them to keep trying it. For example, If I cook something with mushrooms I throw them in whole. They are easy to pick out. Always Leave a rogue one on the plate. you never know they may try it. they may even like it.
Try offering simple plates of food
Take note of how they eat it and what they choose to eat and in what order. I noticed this worked for Ella. I was being particularly lazy and sick if cooking her stuff she didn’t eat. James and I had omelettes with and salad. For Ella, I took a small slice of my omelette a few chunks of cheese, Some celery, cucumber and Carrot and put them all separately on a small plate.
She tried the celery put it down, then ate the cheese, half the omelette. She ate the rest of the veg then the celery. In the end, came away with a clear plate and very surprisingly informed me it was the best lunch ever.
Take them to a Market or Farm shop
or pick your own vegetables. I find something really romantic about going to a market and picking fruits and vegetables. It’s a fun experience and when I use the ingredients in a recipe they seem precious somehow, more valuable. It’s such a wonderful experience and massively underrated.
Some Children’s farms sell fresh produce from the farm shop. Instead of treating them to the ice cream or a cake let them pick out some Vegetables for dinner and cook with them. ( obviously, you can get cake or ice cream awel) It makes it part of a whole day out and the foods bought will then have a fun exciting association. Even if it doesn’t resonate at the time they will gain a positive association with this food.
Cook with them
When we think about cooking with the kids its usually baking. Desserts, cookies, cakes, pizza all of the unhealthy things or healthy stuff wrapped up to look like unhealthy stuff. Cook dinner with them. Whip up a fish pie or spag bol. Make a stir fry or vegetable curry.
Get all of the vegetables out on the table in a colourful display and create a production line of choppers. Make a massive batch to freeze.
James my 9-year-old is really into cooking and is even working on his own cooking blog. At Christmas, I was trying to find him a really good cooking book. All of the kids ones were nothing but cakes, cookies, sweets and pizza. I think personally it just leads to confusion around the subject. We are trying to teach them what we should be putting into our body. Not making good food look like junk food.
How does it affect our body
Instead talk to them about nutrition, what vitamins are in vegetables and other foods, what it does to our body. Don’t tell them they will turn in to the big green giant if we eat sweetcorn. Or that carrots will make us see in the dark. Definitely not that broccoli will put hairs on our chests. (Which terrified my daughter when her grandpa said this to her). Instead. Explain that green vegetables are good for our tummy and give us iron so we have more energy to play. Carrots contain beta-carotene which improves eyesight. Fish contains omega 3 which helps us think and learn. Peppers have vitamin c which will prevent us from getting ill. Be honest, do a bit of research with them.
I’m sure it goes without saying that introducing these things from as young a possible will have a big impact. You can even do little activities. Like letting toddlers and weaners play with fruits and veg. –
Ie: painting sorting, trying and dipping in different things like hummus, honey, porridge. Stuff that’s easy to whip up and gooey enough to dip into. The interaction, even if they aren’t eating it, gives the child a positive and curious association with food.
Hiding is more of a last resort. We are trying to teach our kids to enjoy vegetables and consciously make the decision to eat them. However, some times we just need a quick fix. Those days when we have just had enough of their screwed up faces at the disgust that we have dared to let a pea slip onto their plate. ( I won’t tell them you did it on purpose ) There are some great recipes for hiding vegetables in. Soups are great. Just blend it all up. Try giving them in a mug, as a snack mid-meal. or in a bowl with some animal-shaped pasta floaters.
Pasta sauce. Pop a load of vegetables on a baking tray season and toss in some oil. Roast until soft and cooked through. Then the blend. Split into portions. I do individual ones for those days when 2 of us want the same but the other wants something different. Jamie-Oliver has a fab Green pasta recipe Spaghetti bolognese or cottage pie is good. Chop everything really small things like mushrooms and courgette cook down really well so they don’t know it’s there. Smoothies or smoothie bowls
Make stuff look pretty
I don’t like the idea of making healthy food look like junk food. Instead makes some funny faces. Or rainbow salads. You could eat off of the table instead of plates. Try putting hummus and guacamole in mugs or plastic champagne glasses, something novelty and fun.
Talk to them about the benefits
Go into detail about why they are eating vegetables and how they work in the body. They might be kids, but they may also be interested. My mum would always say things like “little and often” or “Don’t eat too much”. I don’t think I ever really knew what that meant. I don’t really get full up, I can eat a hell of a lot without feeling full. As a result, I found it difficult to judge how much I should be eating. Our children may not understand why we are asking them to eat broccoli. Or what alternatives there are if they don’t like it. Why we eat protein and need a varied diet. Find out this information and tell them and repeat it. Explain why you would rather they had carrot sticks instead of a biscuit for a snack. Not just that it’s healthy, but because the sugar will make them tired later and rot their teeth. Carrots will give them an opportunity to put nutrients in their body, and they won’t be too full up for dinner.
Have a few quick-fire answers prepared for things you know they might complain about. Explain that they don’t have to love every meal they eat but their body needs fuel. If they don’t like Breakfast encourage them to just eat it anyway. Remind them they have 2 extra chances to eat nice stuff that day. 4 if you include snacks and 5 if you have a pudding!
Praise and rewards
Offer praise for eating their vegetables. You could use a Reward chart or dessert or simply verbal praise. Don’t forget to discuss with them why you are doing that. Why are you pleased they have eaten it and why is it better than sweets. What will it do for their body?
Stick to your healthy routine when you are out
We are all guilty of grabbing some fast food when we just can’t be bothered to feed them any longer. On a Friday after school when our grocery delivery in coming in the morning. You’ve only got half a tin of beans and some wobbly celery in the cupboard. If you don’t fancy celery and bean pate for dinner. Instead of hitting the fast food place, why not take them to a restaurant. Try to eat out what you would do in. Instead of pizza hut go for pasta or salad. Instead of a greasy kebab go to a Greek restaurant and experiment with the meze options. Maybe plan to cook some of them at home?
Make them available
Have vegetables ready to go, for example, carrot and cucumber sticks chopped in the fridge. or readily prepared stuff. I know this stuff is more pricey, but for this reason, sometimes it helps. My kids love those mini cucumbers from Tesco. It’s the perfect portion and if I’m busy and don’t have time to chop something. I can send them to the fridge to get to themselves. This decreases the risk of saying yes to a packet of crisps or biscuits. A hand full of mange tout or sugar snaps works well or carrot. Don’t even peel it just give it a rinse if it is fresh.