How to get your kids to eat more veges
My mum dobbed me into my kids the other day when we were visiting.
Yes, my vege phobia as a child was uncovered!! I really only ate potato and a few salad veges. My poor mum!
This lasted right into my mid 20s until I decided to get over myself and eat some darn veges. However, I still do a bit of a dry retch at the thought of a big plate of boiled veges.
I tried lots of things and worked out how I liked my veges cooked and how I could add flavour to make them yum. Nowdays I love my veges – but please don’t make me ever eat mushrooms, peas or broccoli that has been steamed too long!
There is a lot of debate about whether you should hide vegetables or not hide, but I say, do whatever it takes to get the kids eating veges – their growing years are so important and good nutrition is vital. However, in saying that, don’t stress about it too much – fruit can also provide a lot of nutrients that are found in vegetables and kids won’t starve themselves!
My own kids went from babies who ate homemade pureed veges with relish (I mean the joy type relish not the yummy type) to toddlers who spat everything out to teenagers who still sometimes sigh at veges. It’s not the most fun bit of parenting, is it?
So here are my tips for jazzing up those veges and making them more appealing for kids (and big kids).
How to get kids to eat more veges:
♥ Add butter. Everything tastes better with butter (am I right??) Toss some steamed veges with a knob of butter and a good sprinkle of Herbamare. You can also use olive oil. I am also going to say… add bacon, cream and/or cheese.
♥ Add salad dressing. Obviously salad dressing on a salad is delish but I also love it on my steamed veges! Try this recipe. We all know a little raw honey on carrots is a winner too!
♥ Add a tasty sauce. Satay, soy sauce, white sauce, cheese sauce, hollandaise, garlic mayo or roasted tomato sauce. Mmmm!
♥ Wrap them in pastry. Try these Mini Meat Pies.
♥ Dip them. A yummy dip and raw or lightly steamed veges are a winner. Try my Easy Herb and Garlic Dip, hummus, salsa, tzatziki, nut or peanut butter. Alternatively, put the veges in the dip and serve with some good crackers or crusty sourdough bread. Here’s a great round-up of dip recipes.
♥ Crumb them (because everything tastes better crumbed!!). Get an egg and a touch of milk and whisk and then dip in some breadcrumbs or almond meal, fry with some coconut oil or fat and bake in the oven. Zucchini cut into chips, crumbed and oven baked is amazingly yum! Also try it with rounds of eggplant, topped with a tasty tomato sauce and mozzarella.
♥ Cut them smaller. A big hunk of broccoli can seem daunting to a little kid. Small pieces seem much more manageable and tasty. I often cut veges like carrot and zucchini with my mandolin on the larger setting. It also means they cook quicker.
♥ Cut them into different shapes. A carrot stick might be boring but what about a lovely thin carrot ribbon? Would heart shaped roasted potatoes taste better?
♥ Buy the best quality, freshest veges you can find. They taste better and sometimes the ones in the supermarket have lost their flavour!
♥ Put them on a stick. Seriously, who doesn’t love something on a skewer? Dice some veges (zucchini, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and red onion work well) and pop them on a soaked bamboo skewer. Throw onto the barbie or under the grill. You can add a tasty sauce or baste with salad dressing before cooking if you like.
♥ Try cooking them differently. My kids hate pumpkin but love pumpkin soup! We can get into a cooking rut sometimes, but mix it up and try a new method. Roast some cauliflower instead of steaming it, stir-fry brussel sprouts with olive oil and bacon, make sweet potato chips instead of mash, make crispy kale chips, steam veges very lightly instead of boiling – you get the drift.
♥ Try them raw. Lots of kids will happily munch on raw veges but hate cooked! Obvs don’t do that with potato.
♥ Put them on a pizza. No explanation necessary, because…. pizza!!! Pizza scrolls are also a winner. I love these animal face pizzas by Annabel Karmel.
♥ Puree them. Smart mums know that pureed veges can hide in all sorts of unusual places. What about spinach in pancakes, sweet potato in brownies, greens in sorbet, avocado in chocolate mousse, cauliflower in cheesecake, anything and everything in pasta sauce and soup!
♥ Get them involved. Helping prepare food gets kids taking ownership of what they eat. You can of course ham it up and tell them how amazing their yummy meal is. Little kids can wash lettuce and tear it into strips, older kids can chop!
♥ Eat your veges when you are pregnant! This pub med study shows that kids can get a taste for veges via the amniotic fluid. Fascinating!
♥ Use the Learning Bowl technique. Nutritionist, Mandy Dos Santos at Little People Nutrition says this is a great introduction to new foods for those kids that may have anxiety or sensory issues.
♥ Start from the source by getting a vege garden happening or just grow some cherry tomatoes in pots. Not only is it a lot of fun, but again, taking ownership of food is important for kids.
♥ Get the kids to select some veges at the farmers’ markets or supermarket. We need five small carrots, can you find a crazy looking potato for your dinner – that sort of thing!
♥ Add grated veges to everything. Muffins or cakes (try my Carrot Cake recipe and this Chocolate Zucchini Loaf), burgers, meatloaf, bolognese, chicken nuggets or a zucchini slice. Grated veges cook down well into foods. Peeled zucchini is especially easy to hide if your kids are super duper fussy!
♥ Try them powdered. Especially for the extra fussy child who likes to pick out every bit of vegetable, powdered veges work a treat. We love the Take a Broth Tasmania Vegetable Broth Powder. You can stir it into food just before serving or sprinkle it on popcorn or plain rice crackers.
♥ Keep putting the veges on the plate. Experts say it takes up to ten times for kids to be exposed to a new food before they will eat it.
♥ Put them in a smoothy or juice. Green smoothies are all the rage! Add a handful of spinach (which is tasteless in a smoothy) to some coconut water and a few pieces of fruit and blend. Sneak in a little carrot or cucumber into a freshly squeezed juice.
♥ Use some marketing skills. Veges are good for super strong muscles like Superman, this green drink is what Shrek drinks, this makes you grow, this makes you run fast and play. This isn’t broccoli, it’s dinosaur trees!
♥ Don’t forget brekky and snacks. Offer veges throughout the day, not just at dinner. Eggs cooked in capsicum rings and cut up carrot sticks with some peanut butter are yum.
♥ Eat dinner earlier. Most adults I know struggle to eat well when they are tired. Get in early and feed the kids a nice wholefoods dinner with veges before they start getting overtired. Just after school can be the ideal time for dinner.
♥ Make sure they are hungry. I know most kids graze, but I found it helpful to stop snacks at a set time to ensure the kids were hungry for dinner.
♥ Practice what you preach. There is no way kids are going to love vegetables if you are not eating them. Set a good example. If you want to ham it up a bit and exclaim with joy every time you eat veges, you can do that too!
♥ Try new vegetables all the time. Get the kids excited about purple carrots and qukes (mini cucumbers)!
♥ Make it fun. If you have the time and can be bothered, making some fun things out of veges can work well – presentation is often half of the battle! Check out Pinterest for some cool ideas – not all of them are time consuming and fiddly. I am seriously in love with these Capsicum Frogs!
♥ Serve vegetables in something different. For toddlers, serve cut up veges in ice cube trays or mini-muffin tins. Older kids might like making a creation with food on one of those special Face Plates.
You can even make the veges the serving container like these cute cucumber dip cups or serve their sandwich in a rolled up lettuce leaf instead of bread.
♥ Don’t lose your cool. Yeah, I know how frustrating it is when you shop, prepare and cook and those little rugrats turn their nose up!! But, when you lose your cool, you are creating negative feelings and associations around food. Keep it positive and then if they won’t eat, be neutral. Don’t ever force, bribe, negotiate or threaten.
♥ I’ve always enforced the ‘you don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it’ rule. All of us have veges we hate and so will your kids – respect that but do make them at least try it before they decide they don’t like it.
♥ Persevere. Kids go through stages, so keep at it and don’t give up!
My kids are now in their late teens and love eating vegetables – cooking them for meals, making up salads for their lunches and just gnawing on carrots and celery. I think this has a lot to do with their long term familiarity with vegetables. They still hate pumpkin though!!
Need more help?
Feeding Fussy Kids. Sydney naturopath and nutritionist, Julie Maree Wood shares her expert advice and recipes to get your kids eating nutritiously. I love this book!!
Deceptively Delicious. Jessica Seinfeld is a master at hiding vegetables in her kids’ favourite recipes.
Check out this blog post listing kids books all about vegetables.
Naturopath Iwa Brown from Magnolia Naturopathy also has some great tips for Feeding Fussy Kids.
I would love to hear your tips – do you have something else to add to my list??? Leave us a comment or some links to your favourite vegetable recipes!