If you are a parent, grandparent or carer of children, you may have experienced the ongoing battle between little ones and vegetables (especially the green ones).
I’m not sure what it is about children and not wanting to eat their vegetables but this has been a meal time issue for many families, for many years.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t like eating vegetables, my sister on the other hand needed a little more convincing. Growing up, we always had either salad or cooked veggies with all of our meals and I have done the same with my boys. My eldest has always been pretty good at eating anything and everything but my little 5 year old has had a little more of a struggle.
These are my top 10 tips to encourage children to eat more vegetables. They have worked amazingly well in our house and I hope they help you too. We all want our children to grow up healthy and strong and to have a good relationship with all food, so this list is a great resource for anyone who finds themself in a daily dinnertime battle.
1. Lead By Example
It goes without saying, but if you don’t eat your veggies, it’s not likely that your children will be so willing to eat theirs. I can remember when my boys were toddlers, they always loved to eat from my plate, no matter what it was, if I was eating it they wanted some of it. Children are so aware of what we do and say, so making sure we are actually living up to what we are saying is a great way to lay down healthy foundations for our families.
2. Establish Expectations
Work out what your dinnertime rules are, and maybe introduce a reward for keeping those rules. What do you expect your children to eat or try? Do you use the ‘One Bite’ rule? or the ‘No Dessert Until Your Plate Is Clean’ rule? Set realistic expectations that can push your children to try new things without stressing them out (or making them want to throw up). In our house, our boys need to finish their veggies if they want dessert but if I KNOW they do not like something (like tomatoes) I might just ask them to take one bite.
3. Be Consistent
Whatever you decide your rules are, be consistent with them. If you are a bit wishy washy with your expectations then your children won’t feel the need to push themselves to try new things or eat their veggies. My eldest son wouldn’t eat tomatoes until he was about 6 or 7. For YEARS, whenever we had salad I would always put a piece of tomato on his plate even though I knew he wouldn’t eat it. Then one day, he announced that he tried tomatoes at school during fruit time and loved them. Now he steals extra tomato slices out of the salad bowl. Be consistent and never give up! It pays off eventually, even if it takes years.
4. Get Kids Involved
This is a new one for me. I’ve never been the kind of mum to let my kids help me in the kitchen. Mess. Stress. Mess. Cooking dinner has always been my alone time to chill and zone out but as the boys have gotten older, I have been a little more open to having them help me in the kitchen. Recently I have started setting them both up on the kitchen table with a chopping board and a child safe knife and let them cut veggies for me. I let them do this for soup, or I let them make the salad for our meal. They absolutely LOVE it! And the best thing is, whilst they are chopping up salad veggies, they end up eating them too! Bonus! Children love to help in the kitchen, they love to be creative and do what you do. Allowing them to get involved will help them to feel more inclined to try the food they have made.
5. Give Them A Choice
Sometimes children are more likely to eat what you want them to eat if you give them a choice. “We are having these three vegetables with dinner tonight, you can pick two to have on your plate.” This is a great way to compromise with your children. They know that you expect them to eat their veggies, but you are not asking them to eat everything. You can also use this same situation in the supermarket when you are food shopping. Ask you children to pick out one new vegetable to try. If they have never tried it before, they could actually end up loving it! If not, they had a choice, they tried it and that is great.
6. Serve Soup As A Starter
This is a great tip that I came across from one of The Kitchen Shed’s Facebook Followers. I think she was talking about how to feed hungry kids on a budget and she said that she would serve soup before dinner. Genius! My boys love soup! They also love that we serve soup with all sorts of different breads and crackers like oat cakes and ryvitas. Children also get excited about the idea of having a ‘starter’ before dinner. Just a small ladle of soup is enough and if you have had the children help you make it, they will have even more of an incentive to eat it.
7. Serve Veggie Sticks & Houmous With Meals & For Snacks
When children are young, they don’t really have the ability to chew up fancy salad leaves. They get a bit stringy and it’s not fun. Try serving veggie sticks and dips instead. My boys would definitely prefer to eat veggie sticks than a bowl of salad. We also serve veggie sticks and dips with lunch when we are together at the weekends or as a snack when the boys home from school. Children are much more likely to eat their vegetables when they are hungry!
8. Hide Veggies
Add veggies into your children’s favourite meals. You all know I am a professional bolognese recipe creator and I hide all sorts of veggies in all of my bolognese recipes. Why? Because my kids LOVE spaghetti bolognese, so I know they are going to eat it. Some of my favourite veggies to hide are:
9. Blend Veggies
If your children are vegetable detectives, hiding the vegetates might not be enough. You may have to blend up your hidden veggies in your sauces using a hand blender. This is actually a really great way to add extra flavour to your meals and get those veggies into your kids. Meatballs are a great meal to use with a blended veggie sauce. This Yellow Pepper Pasta Sauce is one of our favourites, but you can be as adventurous as you like.
10. Keep It Exciting
Food doesn’t have to be boring! Make it fun! If you know your children don’t like boiled veggies, try something new! Roast the veggies, stick them on a kebab stick, make kale chips, cut them in a different way, use a Crinkle Cut Knife or use a Spiralizer to serve vegetable spaghetti. Add flavour! Garlic & butter, a little spice or herbs. My 9 year old has become slightly obsessed with chilli flakes and he puts them on everything. It’s something grown up he loves to do to add flavour to his meal. If your children are still quite young, play a game with their food. They could be dinosaurs eating ‘broccoli trees’ or ‘cauliflower clouds’. Invest in stories that make vegetables fun. These are some of our favourites:
No matter what happens at meal times, keep calm and create a happy, positive atmosphere around food. It is not good for children to feel stressed or overwhelmed when it comes to eating. You know your children, what works for others may not work for them. More often than not, most meal time battles will sort themselves out in time but if you have any major concerns don’t be afraid to reach out to get some extra support from local doctors or health care professionals.