One of the most common complaints from parents trying to give their children a healthy and balanced diet is that their child won’t eat vegetables.
So how do you handle a fussy eater who picks out even finely diced veg and point blank refuses to eat anything green? Can you tell them why vegetables are so important. Here we discuss the power of vegetables so they can know why it is worth the effort to get 5-9 portions a day (and this should be more vegetables than fruit) for you and your children.
Dr Jess says: My daughter Amelia went through this phase strongly at 2 years old, which is a common age. She was much more stubborn when we tried to force her to eat vegetables and we tried every form of bribery or punishment we could think of!
We learned gentle persuasion and used all the methods below and didn’t give up for 6 months (she was determined!). We kept introducing different vegetables and slowly she improved. Now we have a child at 6 who we are so proud of when she asks for vegetables if there aren’t enough on her plate!
1. Give Them Some Control
Children (and some adults!) don’t understand long-term gain, they don’t understand why they should eat an apple instead of a chocolate bar. Clearly the chocolate bar tastes better! And they definitely don’t understand why you are suddenly trying to force them to eat strange and bitter tasting green things on their plate.
Telling them ‘its good for you’ or that they can’t leave the table until they have eaten their vegetables rarely works and can give them more negative associations. They often dig in their heels and it becomes a daily battle of wills.
- Show them the vegetable process, take them to the shop to pick the vegetables and let them pick one out. Limit their selection to 3 or 5 if you are struggling.
- Make that the vegetable of the week and try out different ways to prepare it. If they are old enough, let them pick recipes that get them to try it.
- For younger children, show them the vegetable at each stage make it exciting, give it names and / or superpowers and make it a big part of the meal.
2. Make It Fun
Many children’s worst enemy is boredom. They want your attention and will take positive or negative attention which is why shouting rarely works. Engage children using excited voices, gestures, making faces and shapes and even singing songs for younger children. For those who are older make them feel special and part of the process. They can then feel proud of choosing and even cooking the vegetable and this is much more likely to make them eat it. The difference between vegetables and crisps or sweets is not just the taste. A big part of the junk food industry is marketing. You have to create your own marketing plan for your chosen vegetable. Some ideas we use are:
- Broccoli looks like a tiny tree which you can ‘plant’ in mash round the plate – our daughter believed that if she ate all her ‘trees’ they would stop her getting ill (full of antioxidants (1) and makes her grow stronger with every mouthful (helps bones (2)).
- Use peas to make patterns on your plate or roll them down ‘ramps’ of carrot into dips! They look like little ‘eyes’ which is why they help you see better (contain lutein an eye nutrient (3).
- Slice beetroot and use it to magically colour everything on the plate. This magic ‘paint’ is what makes you able to run faster (beetroot improves exercise performance (4). Be careful not to stain clothes as it doesn’t come off easily!
3. Make It Beautiful
Children are attracted to bright colours (like many adults!) and eating a rainbow of natural foods is the best tip for adults and children to ensure a good balance of vegetables and nutrients. When shopping show them the rainbow selection and let them help you find the colours. Get them to tick off the colours they eat in a chart to earn rewards when they ‘complete the rainbow’. See if at every meal they can make it as colourful as possible with natural foods. Download our rainbow chart to go on the fridge and remind you just how many vegetables there are.
4. Use Kid-Friendly Ideas
Dips – Kids (and adults!) love dips, but they don’t have to be sugar laden ketchup. Making pots of dip with vegetable sticks or portions is more exciting.
- Make your own mayonnaise (or buy organic) which is high in good fats and low in sugar.
- Use humous or baba ganoush (made of aubergine as an added bonus veg) which many children naturally love.
- Make our cream cheese dip and mix in any herbs, curry powder, garlic salt to flavour it or just have it plain.
Kebabs – This is a great way to make children enjoy eating vegetables. The classic red onion or peppers on a kebab stick are more appealing and can be sandwiched in between sausage or chicken, and courgettes, aubergine, butternut squash, mushrooms or green beans all make great ‘rainbow kebabs’. It always amazes me that children won’t eat the vegetables on their plate but will eat them off a kebab stick (especially if they help make it or pick the order of veg if too little).
Veggie-burgers – A brilliant way to make vegetables a lot more tasty. Check out our veggie burgers recipe. The creamy nuts and cheese make a really delicious burger which are quick to make and you can hide nearly any vegetable in!
Butter – We all know butter tastes great but did you know it is also pretty good for you? Especially when grass fed and organic? Adding a lump of butter to your pile of vegetables drastically improves the taste and you can make this even more exciting by experimenting with flavoured butters (which also freeze well).
- Make flavoured butters by blending butter with wild garlic, garlic, basil, parsley, lemon, shallots, sun-dried tomatoes, blue cheese, parmesan or wasabi to give exciting new flavours. Children can surprise you with the tastes they like and they often forget about the vegetables they are dipping when they are excited to see what the butters taste like.
Alien / monster soups – No matter what rainbow of colours you have, soup often blends into brown, green or orange. We liken these to monster and alien soups and put cheese or butter ‘eyes’ in them and draw mouths with balsamic vinegar or a little soy sauce. Again a multitude of vegetables can hide in a soup and without the texture of the vegetables and some added cream or parmesan to soften the flavour many children will eat them.
5. Grow Them
The best way to get kids fully engaged with the world of vegetables is to grow them.
This isn’t as difficult as it sounds! Growing peas is easy and quick, and you only need a pot and stakes to twist them round (it is also a good idea to stick copper tape round your pot to stop slugs eating them). A few weeks later you will often have your first pea pods and even my 6 month old baby loved his first sweet and juicy peas.
They taste SO much better fresh! Tomatoes, courgettes and sweetcorn (we like baby ones) are also incredibly easy to grow and very exciting. Courgette flowers are delicious stuffed with cream cheese and fried in parmesan, and collecting and cooking them with your children is a lot of fun. Salad leaves and rocket grow in a tiny tray and we tend to put in some flowers like nasturtiums and cornflowers which are beautiful and edible which always amazes children and their friends!
There is little that equals the delight children get from growing their own food and this usually guarantees a lifelong love of natural food.
Visit the Natural Doctors Kitchen for many more healthy recipes for kids and adults!