Sometimes it can feel like such a struggle to feed our little ones their veggies. I think most of us would have some recollection of having to sit and chew an over boiled and revolting piece of broccoli or brussels sprout as a child. It wasn’t very nice. Vegetables are amazing, not only for their countless nutritional benefits, but because they can taste incredible when cooked in a variety of ways and with different ingredients. We want to show our kids how this is possible.
Australian guidelines recommend toddlers should be getting an average of 2-3 serves of veggies in their day. And children (ages 4-11) should be eating between 4-5 serves a day.
Here are my 12 tips to help get your kiddies eating the rainbow!
1. It starts with you
Be a good role model and show your kids that you eat and love your veggies – be enthusiastic about them. It’s amazing how much our kids take in from us. They might not like every veggie you eat and that’s fine, but when they do, sit together and enjoy them.
2. If your child really struggles to eat veggies, hide them where you can
A great way to include more veggies is to grate them into their favourite meals. Bolognese is a perfect example where you can grate carrot, zucchini, sweet potato and celery and bulk up the sauce with goodness without your kiddies even realising.
3. Continue to introduce and reintroduce veggies to your little ones
As babies, it can often take up to 10 times before they decide they like a particular veggie, so don’t give up if they start spitting out the sliced cucumbers that you give them. Give it a few more attempts and you’ll probably find they change their minds. This is the same with older children also. The amount of times my Lily has LOVED a veggie and then the next week, she says she hates it. I’ll try it again a few weeks later and voila, she loves it again!!! So don’t give up if your 4-year-old decides they don’t like carrot. Try it again down the track and you might be surprised.
4. Change up how you cook them
Preparing and cooking veggies has come a long way from the days of being boiled until they were nearly cooked to nothing – yuck!! If you ever experienced this type of thing, it’s no surprise veggies were not your most loved food. Try and experiment with different methods of cooking vegetables (try and steer clear of cooking them in the microwave every night). Roasted vegetables can be so tasty roasted with a little extra virgin olive oil or use an air fryer to crisp them up and make it interesting. You can always sprinkle with a little grated cheese to make them more enticing for children.
5. Get your kids involved in preparing them
I know it can be a little frustrating but take your kiddies to the supermarket/market with you and let them choose what veggies they like the look of. When you get home, give them a blunt/child friendly knife and let them join in cutting them up into different shapes and sizes to have in the fridge as a healthy snack.
6. If you have the space, grow a veggie garden
This can be as simple as planting some cherry tomatoes and snow peas in a small space in the courtyard or garden. Getting your child involved in the process of planting and growing the vegetable can give them a sense of ownership and have them become more interested in the process and more likely to enjoy eating them.
7. Cut them up in different shapes, sizes and serve them with a yummy dip
I can see how eating veggies on their own can get a bit boring for kids. So, serve them as a snack with their favourite dip, such as hummus, fruit salsa, nut butter or guacamole. Use mini cutters to make fun and interesting shapes that might increase the likelihood of them eating them
8. Add butter
Butter gets a bad rap, but it is fine to add in small amounts to take away the bitterness that kids find hard to eat in some vegetables. Butter does contain Vitamins A, E and D3 and these are important for young bodies. It also helps them absorb the nutrients from the vegetables. So don’t be afraid to add some butter to the frying pan and sauté some fresh vegetables or add some butter to mashed vegetables.
9. Serve the vegetables first
I use this little trick quite a bit and it works for my 4-year-old. When she is hungry, either for a snack or dinner, I serve up her veggies first (often raw cut cucumber, carrot, capsicum and cherry tomatoes) and tell her to start with them, her other bits are coming. When I don’t make a big deal out of it and don’t force her to eat them (I simply pretend her fish or chicken is still cooking), she happily sits there eating them because she is hungry. You can also try this for when kids have come home from school – have a plate of cut veggies out and ready and they might just start crunching into them, you can always say “start with them and I’ll get you something else after I finish doing this job” (whatever it is). Often, they will just start munching away.
10. Offer a “two for one” deal
This a great one and often works with my four-year-old. When you’re about to start preparing their dinner – grab out 2 different veggies from the fridge and ask your child “Do you want carrots or corn or both”? It’s amazing how many times Lily responds with “both” because she likes being able to make the decision herself. There are times when she chooses just one and that’s fine too, I just cook a bit more corn and she has the one veggie. You must pick your battles – it’s not fun sitting there every single night and trying to force feed them their veggies. It doesn’t create a positive relationship for your child in relation to vegetables either.
11. Try not to give too much attention to it
I find the more casual I am about healthy eating and the less pressure I put on my kids to eat “healthy” food, the more likely they are to eat the veggies.
12. Add veggies to smoothies
Both my girls LOVE smoothies! And this might not be the case for everyone, but mine adore them. If you find a basic smoothie that they love, make some slight changes to it by adding a small handful of spinach, a stick of celery or a handful of chopped cucumber. Lily barely notices when I do this and it just gets an extra serve of veggies into her.