Parents face plenty of hurdles, but perhaps none as challenging as convincing our kids to eat green veges! Although there is no magic wand, here are 10 tricks and tips that might help.
The most important factor in promoting healthy eating is us, as parents. We have to be committed to consistently providing good choices. This also means modelling the behaviour. It’s not do as I say but very much observe what I do. Parents eating fresh vegetables and fruit and rehydrating with water provides a great example for the whole family. Just as they mimic all your bad habits, they copy the good ones too.
It works for adults as well as kids. Gazing into the fridge/pantry and seeing an oozing chocolate cake or chippies calling out seductively makes choosing the healthy option that much more difficult. This is especially important with snacks. Generally we are looking for something quick and easy when we’re hungry, or our kids are. If there are carrot sticks, apple slices, hummus and yoghurts ready to go it’s the easiest and fastest option. It’s a win win.
Hungry is good
Ensuring there is enough time between meals can make a real difference to how enthusiastic kids are about eating. Alternatively, how you stave off a meltdown before dinner is crucial. Instead of offering unhealthy snacks, offer green beans or carrots and hummus or tomatoes drizzled with some olive oil.
Kids in charge
Who doesn’t want to be the boss? Allowing our children take charge of some aspects of choosing the menu for the day can reap huge rewards. Discussing what will be on the menu for the week and empowering the kids to have some choice can make them much more enthusiastic about the end result. Try giving them options prior to the meal: ‘Would you like beans or peas today?’
Super at the market
My boys have always come to the fruit and veg markets with me and are happy to disappear with a list of things to find. Age-appropriate shopping for toddlers may involve giving them a picture of an apple and encouraging them to look for it or pre-schoolers can search for bananas with no brown patches.
Even toddlers can wash veges or rip salad leaves. Getting kids into the kitchen can make all the difference to how they view food.
Jazz it up
Foods often improve dramatically when they’re given a face lift. Many veges taste very different when cooked differently: think potatoes – roasted, mashed, chipped, fried. Even the dreaded Brussel’s sprouts are delicious when parboiled and roasted until crispy (well we think so!) Think outside the box – adding a dip or sauce or sprinkle of cheese turns the average into the extraordinary. Crudités definitely vanish quicker when a pot of dip is on hand!
If in doubt, add a vege
In our house, veges get added to pretty much everything. Many dishes are ‘kid friendly’ in that they lend themselves to being stuffed with veges like fritters and quiches, or for flavour add grated carrot to sauces for sweetness, or boost the nutrient content of muffins with grated zucchini or beetroot.
Ooh, now this is a subject dear to my heart. We eat with our eyes so presentation is important for all of us. The better something looks on a plate, the more likely we are to at least try it. Transforming veges by making something fun can create a lot of excitement at the dinner table. And, there’s no reason why kids can’t make their own creative plate. My boys love to put together cars and animals using chopped up fruit and veg. If creative plates seem like a step too far then try serving dinner on coloured plates or in Chinese takeaway-style boxes or even picnic style on a rug on the floor. A break from routine can be a welcome tonic.
Eating well is so important for children as they are growing and learning healthy habits for life. Being familiar with foods is often the key to acceptance so continually offering a wide range of fruit and veges over time will succeed. Having a plate that is 50 per cent veges for lunch and dinner should be the norm and consistently presenting a plate that looks like this will normalise it. I am a firm believer in tastes changing so don’t give up if foods are not accepted first or even 20th time around! The most important thing is to continue to try.
Judith Yeabsley is a mum of two boys who is passionate about healthy food for kids. She runs a food art website, theartofnutrition.com, focusing on presenting fruit and veges creatively. She also works to change the food environment in schools, community groups and lunchboxes. For information on this and great recipes, see theartofnutrition.co.nz.