Vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. If a taste for vegetables is sown in infancy and childhood then the nutritional pay-backs will be harvested year on year. Young children who eat vegetables continue to accept and consume them throughout their growing and adult years.
Despite knowing this, we understand how hard it can be to get children to eat vegetables! This blog will share ideas on how to introduce vegetables to young children with the aim of making them part of the everyday diet.
1) Don't give up!
Many parents recount that when weaning their child they would eat “everything!” but now, as a toddler or young child they flatly refuse. If this sounds familiar you are not alone and in fact this trait can be traced back to our cavemen ancestors!
To protect toddlers from poisonous berries it became favourable in stone-age times that toddlers were wary and refused bitter or sour foods. Some suggest this trait continues to the modern day, and explains preferences for sweeter foods and the narrowing of food choice in toddlers. The good news is that experts now agree that any inherited food preferences like these are not hard-wired meaning they can be overridden.
It is important that you show your toddler that vegetables are “safe” and enjoyable part of the diet. Keep providing small portions of vegetables even if they are just nibbled then pushed to the side. Repeat exposure, meaning serve the food at least 6-15 times over 2 – 8 weeks; and maintaining a positive attitude whilst doing this will help young children develop acceptance. Interestingly, studies tell us that it usually only by the 6th attempt, that liking might start to improve - but remember once you achieve liking don't stop!
2) Do use play and imagination
A child’s imagination takes them to the most wonderful places where they can explore and learn. Using role-play can help children to explore and learn about new vegetables.
Play at being bunny rabbits, make a burrow under a blanket on the floor then have a snack of raw carrot sticks. Play at being a plant-eating dinosaur then munch on broccoli trees. Paint your child’s face as panda or turtle and enjoy some panda stir-fry with bamboo shoots, or turtle greens for dinner! Go bug hunting in the garden and then for lunch make tomato ladybirds! Now that you have captured your child’s imagination, talk about the delicious vegetables.
3) Don't forget vegetable snacks
Include vegetables as a snacks as well as on the dinner plate. Enjoy sweet green, red and yellow peppers, carrot and cucumber by cutting them into strips lengthways and serve with dips. For older children these vegetables can just be crunched on their own. When eating snacks please remember that children should be sat upright and supervised. Cut vegetables (such as cherry tomatoes) lengthways or in half to prevent risks of choking as you would with grapes.
4) Do think of vegetables as an ingredient and not just as a side
Vegetables can be included as a side dish to a main meal but don't forget that they can also be used as an ingredient in most dishes. Adding vegetables can make the meal go further and it provides a way of eating vegetables without necessarily noticing.
Adding chunks of cooked butternut squash or roasted vegetables to minced beef in lasagne is a regular in our house. If your children don’t like “bits” you can disguise onion, red pepper, courgette and carrot by chopping them finely in the food processor then adding to bolognese or shepherd’s pie. This helps overcome complaints and the painful process of picking all these bits out! Over time though you can gradually reduce how finely you chop or food-process these vegetables.
Make your own soups. Combinations of pea, lentil and carrot, butternut squash appeal to children due to the bright color and sweet taste. Eating from a spoon can be hard for younger children so serve them in a mug as a starter, or with a sandwich as a lighter meal. Using frozen vegetables can take some of the hard work in preparation away yet using them will not compromise on nutritional value.
5) Do be a role model
Your children love to mimic you, you may have seen this when they try on your high heels or pretend to shave. Mimicking also happens when it comes to eating habits and the consumption of fruit and veg. Eating fruit and vegetables yourself as a parent or carer will benefit your health. You will also see these good habits rub off onto your children. Remember too “it’s not just what you do but also the way you do it”. Children will pick up if you are eating vegetables under protest and are likely then to do the same. For ideas of enjoying vegetables in your own diet please click here.
We hope that this blog has given you some suggestions to build a liking for vegetables in your own family and we wish you luck on this journey. If you need support, if you are concerned about your child’s diet or growth please seek advice from your Doctor, Registered Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist.
If you need guidance on portion sizes for fruit and vegetables this can be found here.
Experts recommend children consume at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Notice the wording in this recommendation, telling us that both fruit and vegetables are important – why not now look at our blog on “Winning favour with fruit”.