No area of raising children causes greater concern for parents than whether their kids are eating well. The greatest worry is usually, does my child eat enough fruit and vegetables? And unfortunately, most children develop an aversion to veggies at some point in their lives.
There is no magic approach for ending this vegetable strike. If there were, all parents would be using it. Instead, there are lots of methods that have varying degrees of success. Which one works for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your personality, your child’s personality and your family’s general eating habits.
We’ve taken a look at the common methods for dealing with children’s anti-veggie stances, and provided helpful guidelines on how to implement them.
Before you delve in, there are two things to note. The first is that vegetables and fruit contain most of the same nutrients, so if your child is eating fruit but not vegetables, they are still getting a healthy and rounded diet. The only downside is that fruit does contain more sugar. The second point is that consistency is key. Keep on trying!
Try these clever ways
Secret veggiesWhat children don’t know, won’t hurt ‘em, right? If you can find ways to sneak vegetables into some of their favourite foods, you’ll be getting the results but avoiding the fight. Try pureeing green veggies and hiding them in Bolognese or orange veggies in tomato sauce for pasta. If you think you can get it past your child, you can also hide small cubes of carrot in a lasagne. Be aware of their tastes and try to sneak an invisible veggie in wherever you can.
Variety before dinnerSlice up carrots, cucumbers, red peppers and mushrooms and present a brightly coloured medley for your children to snack on before their dinner.
Chances are, most of the ingredients will end up in an adult stir-fry later
Chances are, most of the ingredients will end up in an adult stir-fry later, but by giving your child the impression of choice and control, you might win the battle without fighting it directly. Giving them no alternative on their plates when they are hungry might also compel them to try something that wouldn’t stand a chance against fish fingers.
Magic juice or smoothie potionIf your kids consistently resist eating their vegetables, you can try getting them to drink a smoothie or juice with a veggie punch. Things that seem unpalatable in chunks are often delicious in liquid form – and if you use apples or melon as a base, you can even add vegetables like spinach without attracting too much suspicion. The key here is usually colour and sweetness – go for bright reds, oranges or greens rather than sludge, and don’t use any vegetable that’s too bitter. Add a bit of honey if you need to make it more palatable.
The magic of presentationIf you get creative with presentation, your children will be more inclined to eat what you’ve served up. For example, children like eating things on a stick, so making a kebab out of a tomato, slice of cucumber and chunk of carrot could get them through three of their “five a day”. You could also try cutting vegetables into exciting shapes – like stars or hearts, or arranging them in colour order. Check out Pinterest for some inspiration .
Dipping is funFor some kids, the secret is in the sauce. You can serve them a medley of vegetables and they’ll down them all as long as they can dip them in the sauce of their choosing. The sauce itself can contain vegetables – hummus or pesto are great options for a healthy dip, and you can blend just about anything into cream cheese (try spinach or red peppers).
Let them cook itIf you involve your child in making the meal, they will often be more inclined to eat it. Let them take part in the planning and the cooking, and give them some control over the ingredients that go in, as long as some of them are vegetables. You can buy a selection of children’s cookbooks with large images that allows them to choose the meal that they would like to try to cook next. Look out for cook books that relate to favourite television characters or child celebrity chefs to get them interested.
Let them grow itLots of parents report great success in getting their children to eat vegetables by getting them involved in planting and harvesting them. Even if you only have enough space for window boxes, you can plant peas, beans and lettuces, and encourage your children help themselves. If you have a bigger garden, you can plant squashes, pumpkins, carrots peppers and aubergines, and make your children responsible for checking ripeness and harvesting when the time is right.
Here’s to a veggie-filled future! While it really is a good idea for your children to get the variety of nutrients offered by your “five a day”, some kids seem to pass through their childhood eating nothing but potato chips and yoghurt with no ill effects. Obviously, you shouldn’t give up completely, but if your child isn’t eating according to your ideal diet plan and resists all intervention, sometimes the best you can do is go with the flow and keep on trying.
Remember that as long as you’re managing to get some fruit or vegetables into your children’s tummies some of the time, you’re probably doing OK. Don’t let the process upset or anger you, because the heightened sense of conflict will probably make your children more determined not to eat what’s put in front of them. Do your best and remember that most children make it to adulthood without any serious deficiencies.
If, however, you are genuinely concerned about poor health or malnutrition, then speak to a doctor or dietician for some expert advice.