My 8 Top Tips to help your kids eat more vegetables
Try these treats and snacks in lunch boxes or to take along to a morning tea. Free from added sugar and refined flours, all recipes are gluten free.
Decadent Chocolate Slice
When we started transitioning to a whole foods diet the kids didn’t exactly say “oh yay mummy, we love to eat spinach, please give us more, and can we start wearing socks with our sandals?”. There has been much kicking and opposition along the way. Especially from my eldest son who had had longer living on cereal, white bread and macaroni cheese. Overtime he slowly has realised eating healthier makes him feel better and he knows the reasons why, but he still looks back on those white starchy filled days with fondness.
Tip 1 - Start talking about the food you’re eating – which will peak their interest
“oh I can’t wait to eat this tomato. It’s going to be so yummy, but best of all, it’s going to almost give me super powers/long shiny hair/make me run really fast (whatever your kids are in to)” or
“this carrot is filled with so many amazing things, like vitamin A (just make stuff up) which will mean I’ll be really clever at work and may get a pay rise. Eating these veggies really makes my body happy and makes me feel good” or
“look at the colour of this spinach – isn’t it amazing how clever nature is? Nature knows this is good for us and knows what we’re meant to eat”.
You’ll sound a bit silly, but that’s ok. Kids are more interested when we’re sounding a bit odd, and even though they may roll their eyes, the information is going in “veggie’s are good for you, mum/dad like them, they like them because they are good for them and can help them achieve things”.
Tip 2 - Talk to your kids about what’s going on in their body (thanks to Abby of Nourish for this tip)
Tell them that basically there is a war going on inside their tummy’s with bad guys and good guys (bad bacteria attacking good bacteria). You can make it seem relevant to what your kids are in to - witches trying to attack fairy’s, t-rex’s trying to attack tri-ceratops, zombies trying to attack a human army - whatever floats their boats.
Then tell them that every piece of food they eat gives the “good guys” super powered ammunition to fight the bad guys. When my youngest would put a veggie into his mouth I would say “oh wow, you are going to totally blast those zombies with that. That will give your army guys loads of power – can you feel it happening in your tummy?”.
This helps kids to envisage what’s going on inside them when they eat food, to bring a relation to the food they are eating and how it affects them, and makes it kind of fun.
You can also (occasionally) talk about not-so-great food they are eating “hmmm, I think the t-rex will love that you’re giving him extra ammunition with that”. But I’d keep this to a minimum as we want the focus to be on what’s good about healthy foods, and lessen the attention on not-so-healthy.
Tip 3 - Have fun
My kids are way more interested in eating their veggies when I make them into faces, give them toothpicks to stab the food with, or give them something to dip the veggie in. Another great idea is to give them chop sticks to eat the food with – especially if it’s going to be really hard to eat with chop sticks. They get so focused on trying to pick up the food they actually forget what they are eating half the time (tip for little ones - tape the end of the chopsticks together at the top making it easier for them to pick up the food). We also sometimes play games at the table, like everyone has turns naming an animal starting with A, then B and so on. But you have to have a bite of a veggie before you can answer.
Tip 4 - Sneaking more veggie in to get their taste buds used to it
Start adding more veggies into your main meals – finely chopped spinach or courgette (peel the green outside off at first if “green things” are an issue) into mince, grated pumpkins, carrot etc. Cooked and pureed cauliflower stirred into their macaroni cheese or pasta dish, homemade veggie pesto’s using spinach or broccoli, veggie soups etc. You can even sneak veggies into baking – chocolate kumara brownies, carrot cake, chocolate zuchinni muffins etc.
This helps our kids taste buds get used to the flavour of veggie’s whilst at the same time disguising it. Jerry Seinfeld’s wife Jessica has a great book on this called Deceptively Delicious.
Tip 5 - Get them involved and what do they like?
Getting kids involved in the kitchen, peeling, chopping, tossing a salad etc, means they are way more likely to try the food when they’ve prepared it. This helps them feel connected to the food they are eating and not just have it served to them on a plate.
Also asking kids about what veggies they actually like makes them feel empowered and gives them a voice to make choices. Look at some pictures on the internet, or get in them involved in choosing a recipe or making a meal plan.
Take them to the supermarket or fruit and veggie shop to pick out some vegetables they like or you all haven't tried before.
Another great idea is to get them growing vegetables and herbs either in the garden or in pots. They will be keen to eat what they grow, plus it gets them out into nature and helps them feel proud and connected to their food.
Tip 6 - Plate of adventure
This is great to do when you are trying to get your kids to like a new type of food. Whilst cooking tea, announce in a loud dramatic voice “tonight we are going to be having A PLATE OF ADVENTURE!!!!” – for impact wear a red cape, pop your undies on the outside of your pants, and pretend to fly around the room superman style.
When they’re all sitting at the table looking at you like you’ve been at the cooking sherry again, before you give them their main meal, give them a small plate with a teeny tiny bit of something on it that they wouldn’t normally eat – ie. a tiny bit of a lettuce leaf. Tell them about how great it is for them (it will give the good guys ammunition to fight the bad guys in their guts etc), and tell them that once they have “tried” what’s on their Plate of Adventure they can have their normal meal. “Tried” can mean sniffing it or licking it or tasting it and spitting it out – it doesn’t matter whether they eat it or not, as long as it goes nearish their mouths. It’s just about getting them to try something new. You can make up your own Plate of Adventure to eat with them too, and talk about how you didn’t used to like said food, but as you grew up you got used to it and now like it – kids always want to be grown up. Also it can take 15-20 times of tasting a food before we start to like it.
Try doing this a few nights in a row with the same thing, and after a while they will get used to the taste, then start incorporating the chosen food into their main meals a little at a time. Then try something different the next week.
Tip 7 - More of the veggie, less of the "other stuff" - you get more "other stuff" when the veggie is gone
Let the veggies outweigh their plate. Half of our plates should be veggies, quarter protein/good fats, quarter carbs. So I give my kids a big helping of broccoli, a way smaller amount of something I know they like (ie, chicken) and then once they have eaten their veggies, if they want more of the meat or carbs, I give it to them.
Tip 8 - Feed them their veggies before dinner
Make up a plate of veggie sticks – carrot, cucumber, toms, zucchini, beans, broccoli, whatever they like, with a healthy dip if necessary, and let them fill up on those before dinner.
What things do you do to get your kids eating more vegetables? Let us know in the comments below.