How to get kids to eat more veggies

Jodie McGough, Paediatric Dietitian, Change for Life

Have mealtimes become increasingly stressful in your household? Are your children refusing to eat vegetables or try new foods?  Fussy eating amongst toddlers and young children is relatively common. Below are 10 tips to get your kids eating more vegetables and trying new foods.

 Firstly, Blend them.  Some children don’t like the chunky texture that vegetables often add to dishes. Try blending them into a smoother texture.  This includes simple recipes like pasta sauce, savoury muffins, savoury pancakes and homemade dips like hummus, sweet potato, beetroot, and avocado. Try and serve these with raw veggie sticks to make eating fun.

Secondly, make mixed dishes.  For some children who don’t mind seeing small pieces of vegetables, there are plenty of meals where you can incorporate small amounts of vegetables.  Start out slow when mixing in veggies. Try one or two at first, rather than loading the whole dish with vegetables.  This includes ideas like spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna, quiches, vegetable fritters, savoury muffins, stir fry, pasta bakes, and soups.

Thirdly, try smoothies. This can be a tasty way to include more vegetables into your child’s diet. Use one favorite fruit that your child loves and load up with vegetables such as kale, spinach and carrot.  Fourthly, cook and prepare meals with your kids.  There are a variety of ways kids can help in the kitchen for all ages. Children who are more involved in food preparation and cooking are more interested in eating it. Consider allowing your child to cut certain foods, peel the vegetables and mix and stir ingredients.

Next, be a good role model. Children learn from those around them. Make sure you’re also eating the foods you want your kids to eat. Try not to use any negative language around foods. If you dislike certain vegetables or other foods, try not to make a fuss about this as children will often mimic the actions of family and friends. Importantly, don’t overwhelm kids.  Don’t serve up a plate full of peas if they hate peas. Try only a small amount when starting out, such as a serving as small as a teaspoon. Ensure the portions you offer are appropriate for their age.  Young children don’t need to eat as much as their parents.

So, get creative with presentation.  For fussy eaters, use special plates, bowls, cups and cutlery. Some kids prefer their foods are separated and not touching. You may want to try a special plate which can divide foods. Serve preferred foods with new foods. Next, keep in mind the division of responsibility.  Parents decide “what, when, where” the child eats.  Remember, children decide “how much, and if” they will eat what is served.  If they won’t eat what is served, remove the food once dinner time is over. Don’t force your child to sit and finish their meal. Try not to offer a backup meal.  If they are hungry later, offer the same meal and not an alternative. Healthy children will not starve themselves.

Be aware not to bribe your kids. This can make mealtimes more stressful for both parents and children. Bribing and nagging also creates a negative association with food. You should, however, allow praise and encouragement when your child does try a new food. Don’t be put off by rejection. Some children may need to be offered a food more than 10 times before they accept it. Try offering the same food in different ways. The more exposure the child has to new foods, the more accepting they will become. If you have tried everything and feel there are other problems your child may be having, see a dietitian and your doctor.  There is lots of help at hand- so help kids eat and have fun with their veggies.

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