Think you’ve got more chance of winning the National Lottery than getting your kids to eat more vegetables?
Think again! There are plenty of ways you can get your kids to wolf down their greens (and reds, oranges and purples) to meet the recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and veg.
(See our ‘7 tips to get your kids to eat their veggies’ further down this post).
Why Five A Day?
Children should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Health Service (NHS). That’s because fruit and veggies are crammed with health-boosting vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C, and potassium.
Vegetables are also a great source of dietary fibre, which will help maintain your child’s gut and prevent constipation and other digestive problems, according to the NHS.
How big is a portion?
The amount of food your children need will depend upon their age, body size, and physical activity levels. As a rough guide, however, the NHS says one portion is the amount that can fit into the palm of the child’s hand.
That could be:
Usually, fruit and vegetables are low in fat and calories so long as they’re not fried or roasted in lashings of oil. Eating them can help children and adults maintain a healthy weight and keep their hearts healthy.
The vegetables can be fresh, frozen, canned, juiced, or dried, the NHS says.
Here’s the challenging part: children don’t care what health organisations recommend. They can be extremely picky when it comes to eating the food on their plates, and what the WHO and the NHS say counts for nothing.
So what do you do? How do you convince your kids to eat more vegetables without turning every meal into a battle zone?
Read on to find out how you can overcome this parenting challenge…
7 Tips to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies
1. Lead by example
It’s pointless trying to convince your child to eat lettuce or broccoli if they can see you don’t eat them yourself. Let them see you tucking into salads and cooked vegetables with gusto. Don’t pull faces when you do it. Your child has to be convinced you LOVE vegetables.
2. Don’t reward them with sweet things
It’s tempting to promise children they will get ice cream or some other treat if they polish off some carrots or aubergine first. But you’ll only be setting yourself and your child up for problems later.
Dan Parker of Veg Power, which offers healthy, child-friendly recipes from leading chefs, told The Guardian newspaper that the offer of a food reward is a big mistake.
“Never reward with food,” he says.
“If you say they can have a pudding if they eat their vegetables, you’re glorifying the pudding and demonizing the vegetable.”
3. Don’t camouflage the veg
Some nutritionists recommend you fool your kids by mixing vegetables with other foods, so they don’t realise they’re eating things like cauliflowers or garlic. But Parker said that’s another mistake.
“You may get more veg inside your kids, but what you want is for your child to have a healthy relationship with eating vegetables.”
4. Get them involved in meal preparation
Encourage your kids to be involved in choosing and preparing vegetables. If you go supermarket shopping, ask them to help you select the veggies. At home, ask them to help you make some meals. In every issue of our Brilliant Brainz children’s monthly magazines, we feature a fun and healthy recipe for your kids to make at home, plus a feature on foods from around the world.
It’s amazing how much tastier kids seem to find food they have made themselves. Is it the pride in their own work? A function of being involved and creative in making food? … Not sure, but it seems to work! (See 10 Reasons To Cook With Your Kids).
5. Offer them dips
Top chef and best-selling author Jamie Oliver recommends offering your kids a variety of vegetable-based dips.
They can use bread or veggie sticks like carrots, cucumber, or celery with the dips. Remember that raw vegetable pieces can be a choking hazard for very young children, so keep them small.
“Legumes such as beans and chickpeas are a great and inexpensive veggie staple, packed with proteins and easy to incorporate into family meals,” says Jamie in a blog post.
He likes making his children humous, butter bean pastes and dips using beetroot.
6. Mix things up
Food blogger and best-selling author Emily Leary struggled to get her son to eat foods that weren’t orange.
He was okay with butternut squash, swede, sweet potato and carrots but not with foods of different colours.
Obviously, he was eating healthily. The problem was his diet was becoming more and more restricted.
Emily realised that the orange-only food regime was his ‘normal’. Eating foods outside that colour palette made him very anxious.
The only solution to her son’s resistance to new food was to change the routine, she says in her book “Get Your Kids to Eat Anything”.
“If ‘new’ was at the root of my son’s fear of variety, then it was the routine that must change to make new the norm.
“If, from day to day, his food varied so much that he never had the chance to get set in his ways, then trying something unfamiliar would become expected and therefore comfortable.”
Her approach was ultimately successful, and her son’s opposition to new tastes “fell away”.
7. Don’t give up
Your kid might resist some vegetables the first few times you put them on the plate but don’t despair. Keep trying. Maybe offer the same vegetables differently. If they reject diced carrots, give them grated or ‘spiralized’ carrots the next time.
And don’t forget, if you need a bit of <ahem> surreptitious help from an outside source, a gift magazine subscription to BRILLIANT BRAINZ will expose your kid(s) to healthy living recipes and introduce them to foods from all around the world.
It’s so much easier when they come to you and say, “Hey, can I make this veggie pasta bake for lunch?” (as featured in issue #43) than when you are trying to do the convincing! 🙂