Written by: Valerie Hazelrig
If only they tasted nicer…..
As I sit and write this, I’m scowling at a series of stubborn green stains on the wall. The splodges are a reminder of a fierce battle, not from an alien invasion, but from my youngest daughter, who up until very recently, absolutely refused to eat her greens.
But now, she’s sat across from me, happily munching broccoli and peas, barely even touching her turkey teddy bears. Seems I may have just won the War of the Vegetables, but it wasn’t without a terrible struggle.So whats the secret recipe to making kids eat their greens???
Fussy eating habits tend to begin between the ages of twelve months, and two years. And curiously, the phenomena seems to be on the increase, as doctors and dieticians report ever-more children who would rather go blue in the face than eat their greens.
One specialist speculates that it could be due to young taste buds being corrupted by sugar and salt. Modern foods are packed full of flavour-enhancing additives, so the relatively sour taste of something like broccoli would be like a shock to a tiny tongue. Busy lifestyles mean parents are happy to feed children ready meals, and if a child doesn’t like a particular food, it’s far easier and quicker to try something else, as oppose to playing endless games of ‘Open Wide, Here Comes The Aeroplane.’
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, 80% of kids in the UK eat less than the recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day, which increases their risk of getting cancer. So, getting kids to eat their greens really is a matter of life and death, and not just a matter of leftover food.
So, here are five tips to make kids fall in love with their greens, I hope you’ll find them useful.
- Smile. Children are more likely to try foods if they see adults smiling as they eat them. The study, published by the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, shows that childrens’ immature brains are impressionable to the emotions of other people. When a child sees you smiling as you munch a fork full of cabbage, similar feelings are triggered in their own prefrontal cortex.
- Get the kids in the kitchen. As you probably know, kids love cooking and getting involved. Showing them what goes into a meal, and how to prepare foods is guaranteed to stimulate their appetite – after all, who wouldn’t want to taste their own handiwork.
- Reward green behaviour. If you fear your little ones aren’t eating enough iron-rich leafy green vegetables, then rewarding could be the key. Having a sticker system can be fun. Go to your local craft shop, purchase some cool and funny stickers. Each time your child chows down on something green, add another sticker to the chart. When they’ve collected enough stickers, reward them with something suitable, like a pocket-money bonus, or a new toy. Of course, bribery isn’t always necessary – just earning the stickers can be enough. Also, you’d best practice some cheerleading moves – enthusiastic noises and gestures are the best kind of positive reinforcement of all.
- Don’t give into tantrums. If a child is refusing to eat, screaming and hurling food at the wall, then remove the offending dish and offer them water to calm them down. When a child asks for more food, do not be tempted to replace it with something more palatable. Re-serve half a portion, and reheat it if it’s cold. If you offer a new meal, or a cup of juice, this is merely rewarding and reinforcing bad behaviour. This is the wrong kind of learning curve, and the behaviour will carry on if it’s not broken now. And whatever you do, do not give in. Children learn through set rules and routine. If they know you have a weak spot, they will keep on pushing your boundaries until you give in. Think of eating greens as a mandatory task, like wearing a hat in the sun or wearing a seatbelt. It’s a job that has to be done
- Get raw. Many kids don’t care for bland, cooked vegetables, but they may prefer to dip carrots, cucumber and peppers into a side order of ranch dressing or houmous. After all, it’s fun and crunchy!
If these tips fail, and your child is losing weight, then it’s time to take them to a paediatrician. In the meanwhile, I’m going to try my daughter with sprouts and let you know how it goes.
There are dozens of recipes out there to make your kids’ least favourite vegetables go down more easily, with even the much-reviled Brussels Sprouts made several times more palatable with some carefully-applied bacon & garlic. This article should pick out 5 of the more divisive types of veg & give them the Mary Poppins treatment, leading to lifelong improvements in eating habits and getting you to work with your kids rather than against them. In fact, why not let them pick the recipes themselves?