So, you’ve read all the parenting books and scoured the internet for healthy meal options that will nourish and excite your children, but wait — they won’t touch anything except baked beans and chicken nuggets?
How can you encourage a child that broccoli is delicious and carrots will give them superhero sight? Ok, maybe not, but you get the drift. According to the Public Health Agency, what we eat during our early years can influence our health later in life. Getting your kids to eat vegetables and other healthy foods is important not just for their immediate well-being but for their future selves too.
So what can you do if you have a stubborn veg refuser at the table?
5 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Vegetables
- Set a Good Example
According to research by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), immediate family members are the most influential role models when it comes to children’s eating and physical activity habits. If you’re feeling frustrated by your child’s unwillingness to try new foods, take a step back and assess your own diet.
Does your child see you routinely eating vegetables, or is it a rarity? Have you been outspoken about your hatred for Brussels sprouts in front of them? One of the most effective ways to encourage a child to eat more healthily is to set a good example by filling your plate with plenty of veg — and showing how much you enjoy it!
- Aim for a Balance
Set realistic expectations about what your child will eat. Would you be excited by a plate of plain veg and steamed rice? Probably not. Create balanced meals that include a mixture of vegetables and new foods for your child to try, but also include a few of their favourites, be that chips or spaghetti hoops. Keep these staple ingredients in stock at all times so that you can easily whip up a winning combination of fresh veg and your child’s much-loved favourite foods.
Online shopping is a dream for busy parents and makes it easy to keep the shelves stocked. If you know that one particular ingredient can transform a meal from food hell into food heaven for your children, consider setting up a regular monthly delivery so that you never run out. Your child won’t touch anything that isn’t smothered in cheddar? Treat them to a cheese subscription. Do they want chips with everything? Leave frozen chips permanently in your online shopping cart so that you never forget to add them to your order.
- Get Them Involved in Preparing Meals
Don’t just plonk a plate of food in front of your kids and expect them to eat it. They might do, but they’re unlikely to try something new just because you tell them it’s good for them. To become excited about healthy eating, children need to learn about the ingredients in their meals and enjoy the full sensory experience of selecting, preparing and cooking vegetables. What does raw celery smell, taste and feel like? What does it sound like when you snap it?
Take your children to the supermarket with you and pick out the ingredients you need together. Better still, start a veg patch in your garden or an indoor herb garden if you have no outside space. Give your child an appreciation of vegetables from field to fork. They’ll be much more adventurous about trying new veg if they know what they’re eating.
- Work on Your Presentation
We’re not saying that you need to spend hours creating Michelin three-star perfect looking meals for your five-year-old. But how food looks plays a big part in our willingness to eat it and our enjoyment of it. A rainbow of colourful veg looks more appetising than a pile of greens. Plan your meals with care to make your children enthusiastic about tucking in.
And there’s nothing wrong with a little “garnishing”. If your kids love cheese, grate a little on top of their broccoli. Have fun with your meal preparation — make swirls with tomato ketchup or chop veg into novelty shapes, whatever is age-appropriate for your child.
- Establish a Routine
If you’re really struggling to persuade Jack Junior to eat his veg, set a routine and manage expectations. It’s much better if he wants to eat what’s put in front of him, rather than doing it because he “has to”, so try the above ideas first to see if you can instil some enthusiasm for healthy eating. If all else fails, establish some “rules”.
For example, let him know that every meal will include one portion of vegetables — carrot sticks in his lunch box, green beans with his dinner. For children, just as for adults, the unexpected and unfamiliar can be daunting, and we often instinctively turn away from them. If veg with a meal becomes the norm, it’s less likely to cause anxiety and tantrums.
If you’re frequently tearing your hair out because your child won’t eat the delicious (in your opinion!) and nutritious meals they are presented with, take a breath and consider a different approach. It may take a little time, but with careful planning and a few small changes in routine, your children can become veggie lovers!