For me, one of the biggest obstacles in moving towards a more plant based philosophy was the fear that my kids would miss out on nutrients. Partly due to a lack of meat (hello where is their protein and iron coming from??) but also due to a lack of variety in the vegetables they want to eat.
I’ll talk about protein and iron another time – today I wanted to focus on getting veg in.
So here are my 6 ways to increase veg (and fruit) in your kid's diet.
Obvious I know but I wanted to reinforce this for our starting solids peeps. It is so very important to make sure we don’t get stuck in the same old when introducing solid foods to our babies. Let’s face it, babies brought up in vegetarian households don’t starve. Babies in parts of Asia eat spicy curries. It is all about what you are introduced to and shown as a norm.
Make veggies a fun food
In our household we don’t get a treat for eating veggies. Why would we?
Veggies are a tasty treat in themselves! My daughter gets excited when she is allowed to pick cherry tomatoes from the tray, or gets a pickle in her lunch. Her cousins go wild for Ocra salad (not my favourite, but whatever floats your boat).
If you make your child ‘eat their veggies’ to get to the prize…then it makes veggies look like the yucky options which is a chore to eat.
How do I manage this?
First we do not get second helpings of any other foods on our plate until each thing is tried once (at least). This looks different for different children. ‘Trying’ may be licking the food, biting but spitting it out, touching it, smelling it, or eating one piece.
Second, there are no negotiations. A meal is the only meal you are getting.
Third, we don’t provide ‘treat’ foods after a meal (and nor do we call them treats but that is a separate post). My children absolutely get high energy nutrient poor foods at times (icecream, chocolate etc) however it is not tied to any particular behaviour. For example, I don’t connect ‘being good’ with having these foods, or ‘eating all your dinner’.
I may include a ‘treat’ food with snack time. It may come out after dinner if we happen to have something in the house. There is no rhyme nor reasons, so expectations cannot be set up.
Give them a choice
As kids get older you can let them choose one of the veggies on their plate.
Give them an either/or option. “I was thinking I’d do potato or pumpkin tonight – which would you prefer”.
Another way of doing it is “Would you prefer mashed or baked potato for dinner?” Alternatively “we are trying a new vegetable every week – I’ve got mushrooms I can add to our pasta OR spinach we can have in lasagne, which would you choose?”
Hide spinach in their smoothie – but at your own risk
Now I’m not adverse to hiding food. It has its benefits. It is a great way of getting nutrients into kids whilst you wait for their taste buds to mature.
However you run some risks.
First, children can go through a ‘this food is contaminated’ phase. Basically if a safe food touches an undesirably food, it is now off limits. Sometimes just for that meal, other times it can strike that previously eaten food off the list entirely.
Now if you are hiding unwanted foods in safe foods – and your child figures it out – you have eroded their trust of you preparing their meals, and you may have banished a food to the ‘no go’ pile which you were relying on them to eat for nourishment.
Second issue, is that typically by hiding the food you are also hiding the taste. This might be okay in the short term, however it can just end up prolonging fussy eating as children have not experienced that food’s taste and texture. If they don’t visually know what a vegetable looks like in ‘real life’ then they are less likely to feel safe eating it on its own.
The third reason is that many foods we hide veggies in, are sweet. This does two things;
1) It increases our child’s taste preference for sweet over savoury and
2) It can negatively impact oral health, diabetes, behaviour, and energy balance.
Nonetheless we have some great recipes on the website (and emailed out to subscribers) on no or low sugar veggie packed foods.
Grow a garden
I know I know easier said than done. Trust me I’ve replanted my little city garden so many times, as I’m rubbish at keeping plants alive.
Point is, you can still buy your food if you’re a rubbish gardener like me. Kids don’t have to source everything from a self-grown garden to get the benefit of understanding where their food is from. You can grow just a couple of tomato, cucumber, and capsicum for e.g. then let them have the 1 or 2 that survive as a little treat.
It is the process of growing and seeing the finished product which is where the learning comes from – not continually having veggies from those plants for every meal.
Other options include making friends with a local grower to get the kids involved once in a while. Talking to your kid’s daycare or primary school about starting a garden the kids can help in. Going to a ‘teaching garden’ – there are often ventures like this in the city where market gardeners will help increase children’s love of fruit and veg by holding regular open days where the kids can get involved.
Make veggies appealing
No I don’t mean making them into pinterest worthy clown faces or their favourite cartoon character. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I mean think about HOW your veggies are cooked, what sauces you use, the cooking techniques you employ.
For example; Using the steamer insert in your pot, and lightly cooking your vegetables then putting a sprinkling of olive oil or vegetarian butter on them, will make them taste amazing! No soggy unappealing vegetables.
Likewise making your own vegetable fries with parsnip, carrot, potato, and sweet potato is super yummy for little kids.
DIY pizza, pasta, sandwiches, wraps, and smoothies where the only rule is they need to choose 2 vegetables is also a healthy option.
Making pasta out of vegetables or using vegetable based pasta are also easy ways of getting some goodies into the diet of little ones.
Have you seen our FREE eguide?
I share my best advice on turning even the fussiest eaters into fruit and veg champions. Download it now, AND keep an eye out for our upcoming 1 Week Challenge!