Written by: Cally Worden
Some kids love veg. They happily hoover up their greens with gusto. I’m sure these amazing youngsters exist, but I don’t know any personally. Most kids I know of are at best ambivalent about their veg, at worst positively opposed to the very idea. My own two have their favourites – quite inexplicably both will eat broccoli until it sprouts from their ears, but place a green bean on their plate and you’d think I’d asked them to eat worms. So how can we make sure our kids get their 5-a-day without having to assume battle stations at every meal? Here are a few ideas.
1: Get Them Involved
A shocking number of children in the UK still don’t know that chips come from potatoes, or that carrots grow in the ground. Planting a few simple veg in the garden can offer a great learning experience for your kids, and help them engage with their inner veggie. Similarly, letting them choose veg on the weekly shop, and then cooking a meal with them will help to get their buy-in at mealtimes.
2: Make it Fun
Getting creative with food presentation can work wonders. Broccoli florets make great little trees, carrot sticks can be logs on a cabin in the woods, sweet corn in a circle is the perfect sun in the sky, and circular aubergine slices make ideal faces to be decorated with peas to create the features. Open your mind and you can make the food look interesting to your kids. This is often half the battle.
3: Remember the One-Bite rule
This works in two ways. It has been shown that forcing kids to finish their meal creates negative meal associations that ultimately lead to more picky eating. Some experts suggest that you insist only that your child has one bite of each vegetable on their plate. Then they may finish. Studies have also shown that those children who have initially rejected a certain food need to be exposed to it around 8-10 times before they begin to find it palatable. This worked a treat with my son and tomatoes.
4: Get Inside their Heads
The prospect of leaping into the mind of a small child may be scary, but try to look at the whole veg thing from their perspective. They don’t give two hoots about health and nutrition. But they DO often feel small and powerless, so the whole ‘Veg make you big and strong’ argument may deliver better results. My darling son proudly states that peas make him ‘Big and Prong’ whenever they appear on his plate.
5: Fill out the Flavour
Veg alone on a plate look to many kids like uninviting islands of doom. Mixing veg up with flavours they enjoy can make all the difference. Both my kids have a wild aversion to mushrooms – I think it’s a texture thing. Yet serve them up chopped into a Chicken and Mushroom Risotto and they wolf them down and come back for seconds. It’s okay to dress up your veg to show your child the difference that flavour blends can make. Butter, bacon and cheese are all favourites for this approach, as most kids love them. Use whatever works for your child.
6: Get Smooth
Blending veg into a sauce is a great way to mask their appearance and unique flavour. Using this approach, my kids have happily eaten, amongst other things, celery, cauliflower, sprouts and kidney beans. Served alone, these veggies would have started a siege at the dinner table. As they grow up I’m showing them how I cook such meals – they are surprised to see ‘scaryveg’ included, but don’t feel cheated, just curious. Finely chopped veg also work very well in meat or bean balls, and fish cakes.
7: Lead by example
Take a long hard look at your own diet. Does it include a variety of veg, consumed with eager regularity and within eyeshot of the kids? Kids love to copy parents. We are often reminded of this is a negative way when they blurt out a swear word in polite company. So use this innate kid behaviour for the good, and place your own veg consumption centre-stage for them to mimic as much as they like.