“How do I get my kids to eat more vegetables?” This is a question I am asked often. We all know parenting is going to be tough when we fall pregnant but I don’t think people emphasize enough how tough it is to fight with a stubborn child about vegetables. Never has a logic, sound-minded adult lost their shizz quicker than having to deal with a child who just refuses to eat lovingly-prepared vegetables. I am very lucky in that regard, my kids eat most vegetables. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I cooked them a lot of vegetable-heavy food when they first started eating solids (and I stayed away from only giving them the sweeter vegetables) but I also have a few other tips and tricks I fall back on when I’m trying to get them to try something new or something they don’t like.
1. Add Flavour
I think many parents are scared to flavour their kids’ food and yes, please don’t add garlic to your baby’s puree’d food but for toddlers and older kids, adding ingredients like fresh lemon juice/zest, a little garlic, fresh herbs and mild spices (like coriander, cumin, smoked paprika, cinnamon and clove) will add interest and will brighten up the natural flavours of the vegetables. Stay away from adding too much salt (but still, season the food) and please don’t add sugar to their vegetables in an attempt to get them to eat more. Most vegetables have a lovely sweet flavour already so there’s no need for that. It’s so easy to transform boring greens to something more interesting by just adding a squeeze of fresh lemon and a little garlic. Just be sure to add the lemon right before serving as it can often discolour the vegetables.
2. Experiment with cooking techniques
If there’s one thing I can’t stand (nevermind my kids), it’s vegetables that have been boiled to death. No-one wants to eat spinach that has turned brown or mushy broccoli. You are doing yourself, your kids and the vegetables a disservice by not cooking them correctly. If you can, try to get a steamer (or a cheap steaming basket from an Asian store). Steaming vegetables will leave them with all their nutrients attached, they will be beautifully bright in colour and they will taste delicious. Blanching vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and green beans will result in vegetables that are vibrant green with a little crunch still to them. This is also the cooking method I use when I am cooking vegetables to add to a salad. Simply dunk them in some ice water and the cooking process will be stopped leaving you with perfectly cooked vegetables. Other cooking methods that work great with vegetables are roasting (great for robust vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potato, cauliflower, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, beetroot and carrots), Sautéing (great for peppers, onions, mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, broccoli) and deep-frying (perfect for mushrooms, cauliflower and tempura-style veg).
3. Introduce new vegetables
When your kids have been fighting you about eating spinach for years, perhaps it’s time to try something else. Walk into any grocery store and you will be met with an array of vegetables, all waiting to be discovered. If your kids hate broccoli, try green beans, asparagus or brussels sprouts (surprisingly a lot sweeter than broccoli). It might also be a good idea to hide the vegetable they hate in a dish of other vegetables. Make a stir-fry with vegetables they do eat and add some of the vegetable they don’t to introduce it a little more gently.
4. Hide vegetables in their food
Jessica Steinfeld was onto something when she launched her book “Deceptively Delicious”. Hiding cauliflower or butternut squash in their mac and cheese and spinach in their brownies are a sure-way of getting your kids to eat their veg. It’s still important though to keep whole vegetables on their plates so that they know they still need to eat the real deal as well. I also find that adding vegetables to spaghetti bolognese and quesidillas makes it a lot easier for them to eat a whole bunch of vegetables without them even realising. You can also relax knowing that even though they don’t want to eat the steamed broccoli on their plate, they’re getting in some vegetables anyway.
5. Bribe, beg and bargain
It’s perfectly fine to bribe, beg or bargain with your child when it comes to getting them to eat their veg. We all do it and don’t let anyone tell you they don’t. Just make sure that it’s not a daily occurrence and choose your battles. If your child has eaten his/her veg every day from Monday to Friday, maybe give them Saturday and Sunday off. That way, they will see that you appreciate their efforts and that you’re not an irrational tyrant. Another thing I do is to stand firm that they can’t have any dessert or treats if all their vegetables aren’t finished. They don’t have to finish everything on their plate but their veggies are a must. Of course, be reasonable about this too. You can’t give them a mountain of broccoli and expect them to finish it all.
So, those are my Top 5 tips to get your child to eat their vegetables. Do you have any tips you would add to my list? I’d love to continue the discussion in the comments below so please share if you have found fail-safe ways of getting your children to eat (and enjoy) their vegetables.