Convincing your kids to eat their vegetables can be a real challenge! Research shows that as little as 8.6% of four to eight-year-olds in Australia eat the recommended serving of vegetables on a daily basis (2-4.5 serves) and this percentage gets even lower as age increases.
The most commonly consumed vegetable is potato (probably in the form of chips!) I know I can’t even get my kids to eat mashed potato sometimes – even though I tell them it is the same potatoes as chips – fussy little munchkins!
So, why are vegetables so important?
They provide many different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, and water. They also help prevent weight gain and can protect against chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, so we really need to try and make them as palatable as possible and keep introducing them on the plate. Studies have shown that it can take up to 20 times of introducing the same food to kids before they can fully decide if they like them or not.
Also, different colours of fruits and vegetables provide different nutritional benefits. For the healthiest diet, it’s important to include a mixture of colours as much as possible.
If you’re struggling with this, then you’ll know that there’s no one solution that promises success for every child. Here are our top ten tips, so hopefully, you can find at least one that works and gets your kids to eat their veggies without too much hassle, whining or mess!
THE TOP 10 STRATEGIES YOU NEED TO SUCCEED
1. Set a good example
Kids naturally learn by example, so set a good one for them! If your child sees their parents or older siblings eating a plate loaded with vegetables and enjoying them, they will probably be more inclined to want to try them themselves.
Make time to sit down for family meals at the table whenever possible so your kids associate eating their veggies with a positive caring environment. We even find that sometimes our kids will only eat something new if they see us eating it and so we give them a bit off our plate – super exciting to eat mummy or daddy’s food.
2. Be persistent
If they don’t like something on the first try, don’t give up! As kids grow, their tastes are constantly evolving and they may have to try something a dozen times before they warm up to it.
At the same time, don’t be too forceful. If you’ve tried a certain vegetable several times and your child absolutely hates it, it may be time to put it to rest and try something different. After all, none of us like everything!
3. Get the kids involved
From the shopping to the preparing to the cooking process, your child is much more likely to eat the meal in front of them if they have played a part in creating it.
Let them help you choose the vegetables at the store, or for something a bit more exciting take them along to the local community farmer’s market and have them choose from the fresh produce there.
In the kitchen let them hand you their favourite vegetables from the fridge and then get them involved in the washing and scrubbing, choosing what shapes they want you to cut them in, and picking how to season and cook the dish! They can put chopped vegetables into the steamer or arrange veggies onto a pizza base for you.
Fun gadgets such as spiralizers and juicers make the process more exciting as well – just make sure you are doing the work while younger kids watch or supervise older children closely.
4. Get creative
For young children, making faces or animal shapes out of chopped up vegetables can make the prospect of eating them ten times more appealing. Try cutting broccoli into mini trees and cauliflowers into sheep, make grape centipedes by threading them onto skewers, make ants on a log by filling celery sticks with peanut butter and sultanas, and create palm trees out of chopped up banana, kiwi, and mandarins.
Also, try cutting up everything differently – for example, cut cucumbers into fingers rather than circles, cut carrots into shapes, etc. Have you ever noticed that food can taste different depending on how it is cut or prepared?
5. Hit when the hunger strikes
If you’re busy preparing dinner and you have a little one complaining about how hungry they are try serving up an appetiser of veggies. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat! Cut up some colourful vegetables such as carrot, cucumber, and capsicum. Serve these with a healthy dip such as hummus or guacamole.
6. Enforce the ‘one bite’ rule
This means asking your kids to take at least one bite of everything on their plate, even if they think they won’t like it. Encouraging them to at least taste everything is a great habit to get into and a fantastic life lesson to teach them about giving everything a go.
7. Hand out praise
When your child tries something new or finishes everything on their plate be sure to give them praise. This works best when you tell your child exactly what they have done well, for example, ‘I love the way you tasted your sweet potato!’
Don’t let the praise be the whole focus though- remember that you are trying to get your kid to eat vegetables because they enjoy them, not just to attempt to win your praise.
I’m pretty sure you would get sick of being served the same thing on a daily basis, and your child will be the same. Switch things up with different textures, cooking methods, and seasonings! You also don’t always have to rely on fresh vegetables – canned or frozen are a great alternative if you’re out of ideas or time.
Just make sure to check the ingredient label and avoid things with added salt, sugar, or fruits and vegetables canned in syrup (natural juice is best). And then you can even have a race to see who can finish their peas first (or something similar). Works well with competitive kids – haha.
9. Get a bit sneaky
Try hiding extra vegetables in foods that your kids enjoy. Grate or puree carrot and zucchini into bolognese sauces, or even try making mac and cheese sauce with potatoes and carrots. Make sure you still serve vegetables in other forms as well, as hiding them won’t help to change your kid’s thinking patterns towards them.
10. Bribe the kids with dessert
Definitely not a first choice but drastic times call for drastic measures! When all else fails I have found that the idea of a super delicious dessert can be just the thing to get kids to eat their veggies. Obviously, this isn’t ideal and shouldn’t be used as a tactic on a regular basis.
You can even use their favourite yoghurt as a dessert option or homemade ice cream (gelato) made from frozen fruit, ¼ cup of sugar, and 1 x egg white all blitzed up – YUM!
Did nothing work for you yet? Don’t give up! Every child is different and if you keep at it, you’re sure to find something that gets through to yours. Helping kids to develop healthy habits at an early age will make them much easier to maintain as they get older. They might not thank you now but they’re sure to later!
For more information on healthy eating for kids check out the resources below:
Raising Children, the Australian Parenting Website
Australian Dietary Guidelines
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