Don’t hide veg in food, give kids a say in what they’re eating – and share the journey of discovery
Zoë Boothby and Lucy Campbell – The Guardian
‘Don’t try to give kids a lesson in nutrition because they just won’t care.’ Photograph: Getty Images
- Take a long, hard look in the mirror
Before waging war on your child with broccoli, it’s time to look at what you eat. “If their trusted adult is eating the same food as them, they’re more likely to try to eat it themselves,” says Sarah Almond Bushell, a registered dietician at the Children’s Nutritionist. “Eating together as a family is therefore really helpful.”
- Don’t camouflage veg in meals
It can be tempting to lull your child into a false sense of security by presenting them with veggie nuggets or cauliflower mash, but this isn’t a recipe for long-term success. “You may get more veg inside your kids, but what you want is for your child to have a healthy relationship with eating vegetables,” says Dan Parker, the chief marketing officer at Veg Power, a crowdfunded organisation that offers healthy, child-friendly recipes from leading chefs including Jamie Oliver. Having said that, pick your battles: it’s unlikely that your children will respond positively to brussels sprouts, so stick to tried-and-tested favourites such as peas and carrots in early years.
- Enjoy this journey together
Don’t try to give kids a lesson in nutrition because they just won’t care, says Parker. Instead, prepare vegetables together and let them respond on a sensory level: ask them about the smell of celery or the sound of it breaking. Give them a role to play in building a healthy relationship with vegetables. This could be as simple as letting them pick out the pepper they want at the supermarket or even growing their own vegetables in the garden. “If they get to choose, prep and cook then they’re much more likely to eat,” says Parker. Bushell also recommends communal serving – where food is served in bowls in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves – as a good way of giving the child a greater degree of control over what they’re putting into their body.
- They need to know what to expect
Getting children into a routine can also make it much more likely that they will want to eat vegetables when it comes to mealtime. “If they know that every time they have a meal or snack there’s going to be some form of fruit or vegetable, it lowers the level of worry and anxiety that can build up around coming to the table to find there might be food there that they don’t like,” says Bushell.
- Consider how you reward your child
Your children may have eaten their fair share of green beans, but don’t reach for the McFlurry just yet. As Parker reminds us, it’s about thinking intelligently about how we acknowledge good behaviour. “Never reward with food. If you say they can have a pudding if they eat their vegetables, you’re glorifying the pudding and demonising the vegetable.”