We all know that vegetables are good for us, even our children will tell us that! However, they are still the source of many complaints like, “my child doesn’t eat enough vegetables!” Vegetables can be a real source of conflict between parents and children. But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be?
Colourful vegetables are great sources of fibre, vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals (anti-oxidant phytochemicals) that help our bodies grow, repair, restore and rejuvenate.
The fibre keeps our ‘good’ intestinal bacteria happy as they ferment it to make food, so they can grow and increase their numbers. The anti-oxidants protect our intestines (and the rest of our body) from damage caused by exposure to toxins and ‘bad’ bacteria. There’s a lot of research showing that the state of our intestines (‘gut’) impacts our children’s (and our) mental and general health, making it even more important to keep the bacteria happy.
BUT HOW MANY SERVINGS PER DAY?
Before I start with the tips, I’d like to talk about the quantity of vegetables to aim for each day. And I’ll remind you that it is unrealistic (and may cause some intestinal discomfort!) to go from a small amount of vegetables to a large amount in one go! Work your children towards the recommended serves of vegetables by gradually increasing the amount eaten each day or even week, depending on your child’s acceptance of vegetables and change.
Each day aim to offer your child a variety of colourful vegetables. You can read my other blog post on how to increase the number of vegetables in your day to get some ideas on how to fit more vegetables in to your meals, easily. For example, include vegetables at breakfast time. See the blog post here.
Recommended daily intake will vary depending on their age and activity level. Toddlers vary in their intake each day, so it can be less stressful to look at their vegetable consumption over a week rather than day.
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Note: One serve of vegetables is 75 grams (equal to ½ cup cooked vegetables; 1/2 medium potato; 1 cup of salad vegetables; or ½ cup cooked legumes (dried beans, peas or lentils). Source: Healthy Kids, NSW
1. Model the behaviour you’d like to see
This means two things, in my experience. Eating vegetables and enjoying them yourself; and talking about how you are feeling about the change. Talk about how trying new things can be scary or not pleasant, but you still try it anyway because it helps us grow as a person and vegetables make our bodies strong, so we can run fast. Children don’t respond to claims like “because it is healthy” like adults do, so make it relatable to an activity they enjoy.
It can take children up to 10 tries before they will embrace a change, so don’t let one refusal put you off.
Try, try again! My mother-in-law got her pea-hating daughter to eat peas by starting with one pea on her plate. Every time she served peas she’d increase the quantity until she was eating a reasonable amount. Gentle persistence really pays off.
Some suggestions to help add vegetables in to your day are: sipping vegetable soup for morning tea or lunch, corn on the cob; jacket potato topped with coleslaw, ghee, butter, or sour cream instead of a sandwich for lunch; popcorn (home popped, no microwave stuff, with butter and a little salt ok); chopped or lightly steamed vegetables plain or with salsa (keep the sugar content low), hummus or yoghurt dips.
2. Find out what your children do like
For example, one of my children will eat vegetables all day long, but only if they are raw. He likes crunchy textures and finds cooked vegetables slimy. Another of my children will eat any vegetables as long as they are separate on her plate. All my kids love peas, but they mostly love them frozen – cold, crunchy and super sweet!
Exploit what they love.
3. Make it fun
Arrange the food in patterns on the plate or call the vegetables by different names (EG little trees for broccoli). This works really well for younger children. It can be tempting to push for one more mouthful, however, arguing, shaming, punishing, or forcing children to finish all their plate creates a negative experience, and the child will learn to associate food with bad feelings. Negative food experiences have the opposite effect and increase picky eating. Ask for one bite/try but leave it at that so as not to start a fight.
Some children may need to start but just having the food on a separate plate on the table and gradually work towards having the food on their plate and/or touching or holding it before they can consider putting it in their mouth or even chewing and swallowing it.
Going slow is ok, be led by your child to help support a lifelong acceptance of eating vegetables.
Avoiding change or trying new things is hard-wired into humans as a protective mechanism from our cave dwelling days. It can take time and much love and support to overcome this. Especially for toddlers who are just exploring the concepts of autonomy and control.
4. Get your children involved
Children are generally more likely to try something if they have had some involvement in growing it, picking it out or serving themselves. Can the kids pick a vegetable at the shop for you to try together as a family this week? Perhaps they can help find a recipe or instructions on how to prepare it and then cook it together? Do you grow some herbs or salad vegetables in a pot or garden bed?
Serving meals banquet style so they can serve themselves can help children feel more in control and more open to trying something new.
These can take time when you are already short on time. However, the investment will pay off as your children grow and they can help you shop and cook. Please trust me.
5. Make them tasty
Kids taste-buds are more sensitive than ours.
Remember not liking broccoli as a kid? It probably tasted more bitter to you than what it does now. So enhance the flavour, or outright cover it up!
Adding sauces or butter makes everything tasty, for everyone. I think butter (or ghee) and vegetables just go together. Making vegetables tasty includes not overcooking them. Mushy vegetables aren’t anyone’s friend. Lightly steam or fry only until the vegetable colour is enhanced and it is still a little firm to the bite.
Easy sauces to make are creamy garlic/mustard sauce; beurre blanc (butter sauce, I use a bit of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with water instead of white wine), melted butter or olive oil, fresh lemon juice, low sugar tomato sauce, tzatziki or hummus dip. See this garlic cream sauce recipe for inspiration (if you don’t have a thermal cooker, this is easily made on the stovetop, just chop or crush the garlic and put everything in a saucepan).
6. HIDE THEM!
While your children are learning to embrace vegetables eating, hiding them is a valid option. In fact, I still regularly hide vegetables in smoothies (not too much fruit please), pureed or grated into pasta sauce, or soups or casseroles. Because, even I sometimes slip on my vegetable intake. We are only human.
I love to make ‘white sauce’ out of cauliflower. <evil laugh> they don’t notice the difference on the lasagne. Here’s a recipe to try for cauliflower white sauce.
Try not to be disheartened! Remember patient, gentle persistence will pay off with vegetable consumption.
I’d love to read how you’ve gone with my tips and about your tips for increasing vegetable intake too, so please leave a comment.
If you would like support with your or your family’s health, please book a time to discuss how I can do this with a free 15-minute discovery call.