“How do I get my kids to eat their veggies?” must be one of THE most frequently asked questions by my parent-followers and clients. The importance of getting our 5-a-day has been drilled into us, yet for many, the prospect of getting our toddlers and children to eat their greens can be as anxiety inducing as getting a message from your boss, saying, “We need to talk” …
We know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, is generally one loaded with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fibre that may reduce the risk of disease and certain cancers. We also know that the baby and toddler years provide a crucial window to introduce a wide variety of foods and tastes, and to establish good eating habits for life. No pressure then.
The reality of getting our precious offspring to try, taste and accept fruit and veg can be a major challenge and every parent’s experience of this will differ. My own experience was completely different between each child; one ate everything, one refused everything, and the third ate when she felt like it (pretty much sums up their personalities too!).
Here are my top tips to encourage your kids to eat their 5-a-day.
Slow and steady wins the race…
Hands up if you’ve ever found yourself at lunchtime (or later) and your little one still hasn’t had any fruit or veg? (You’re not alone). Don’t forget that breakfast and snack-times are also good opportunities to include some extra plant-based foods. Add grated apple to breakfast cereal or offer grapes and cheese, or veggie sticks and dips at snack-time. Add a couple of different veggies at lunch and dinner and you’ve smashed your 5-a-day!
If at first you don’t succeed, try again…and again…and again
Have you heard that three is the magic number? Forget that! When it comes to new foods, research shows that it may take as many as 15 exposures before a child will accept the taste and flavour. Most kids will reject the bitterness of Broccoli on the first, sixth, tenth taste, but keep going. The key to success is to keep offering tastes in a non-pressurised and calm setting and in a variety of ways – get them handling veg in the kitchen, selecting veg in the supermarket, always include it on their plates (even if they reject it) and importantly, make sure that they see you eating it (and enjoying it) too!
Be a little sneaky of you need to
Incorporate (ok then, hide!) veg in foods by grating, mashing and pureeing into their meals. Grate carrot and courgette in pasta sauces, puree veggies and add to soups and add extra spinach to smoothies. Hiding veggies in your kids’ foods is an excellent way of ensuring that they get their nutrients. However, always offer alongside a portion of veg in its natural form so that you are continuing to expose them to their veggies.
Fresh, frozen, tinned, dried…it all counts!
Fresh, frozen, tinned, and dried fruits and veg, and pulses, beans and legumes can all contribute towards your 5-a-day. Tinned and frozen veg are full of nutrients but are also extremely convenient and timesaving ingredients. Try adding frozen veg to soups and stews or bulk out meat dishes by adding lentils or beans; both are easy, cost-effective, and tasty ways to make meals go further.
Inject a bit of fun
Kids of all ages enjoy getting their hands dirty in the kitchen. Challenge your toddler to create their own teddy bear pizza, make a rainbow fruit kebab or encourage them to make a funny face using a range of different foods. Better still, get the whole family involved!
The biggest piece of advice that I can share, parent-to-parent, is to try your best to stay calm (I say that, fully appreciating how stressful mealtimes with kids can be) and give your kids time to accept fruit and veg as a part of their daily diet. Don’t give up. As we know, kids are different and will accept new foods at different rates. Be patient, try lots of different foods and approaches, and above all, try and have fun with it. Good luck!