An aversion to vegetables seems to plague all children as soon as they are old enough to put up a fuss at the kitchen table.
Peas, spinach and broccoli will go untouched if parents don’t step in and ensure their child gets these vitamin-rich foods. Some parents might be tempted to just let their children eat what they want, but these early years are the foundation of lifelong habits. And vegetables are important for a healthy lifestyle.
So rather that forcing or coercing children to eat their greens, here are nine tips that can help convince kids they really want to eat that cauliflower.
1. Avoid stress
Above all, eating should be fun. “The child must look forward to sitting down to meals,” says Ute Alexy of the Institute For Nutrition And Food Science in Germany’s Bonn University.
Stress does not belong at the kitchen table. Very important are regular meal times in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. “This will link the food to positive feelings,” Alexy says.
Pressuring, bribing and reprimanding children for not wanting to eat their vegetables is counter-productive.
2. Keep your cool
Parents should avoid making a big deal when it comes to vegetables. “Stay relaxed and don’t make it a big deal, or else it will become a game,” explained author and food journalist Inga Pfannebecker. “Kids find it more cool when they can get attention when they don’t eat their food.”
Some parents promise their kids a dessert or offer other “prizes”. “The more you fall into this trap, the worse it will get,” says the dietician.
3. Taste it, don’t force it
It’s normal for children to have phases where their eating habits are a bit one-sided. Their taste needs to grow into different flavour directions.
It’s important that children at least try everything on the table, even if it is just a tiny amount. “If it doesn’t taste good to them, they don’t need to eat any more of it. But they need to try it again the next time to help expand their palate,” says Pfannebecker.
Children will sometimes need up to 15 taste tests before accepting something new. “Don’t give up too early and always offer them the vegetables again and again,” she suggests.
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4. Presentation matters
Finger food, cooked, fried or pureed vegetables can be prepared in many different ways. It’s possible that a cooked carrot doesn’t taste good to a child, whereas a raw carrot does.
“Raw fruits and vegetables should be given to children in small, cut up pieces, as they’ll eat considerably more of it then,” Alexy suggests.
Kids also like dipping sauces. Hummus, sour cream or finely grated parmesan taste great with raw cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots. But be careful as children can easily choke on hard, raw foods.
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5. Combine flavours
A good method for getting children to try new vegetables is to mix already accepted vegetables with new ones. “New vegetables should be combined with familiar and favourite foods,” Alexy suggests.
Parents can even add a bit of ketchup if needed. Pfannebecker says “there should always be at least something that the child enjoys eating.”
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6. Sell vegetables with fantasy
“Use the same tricks as advertisements,” Pfannebecker recommends. Parents can serve “princess peas” and “magical carrots”.
Playfully presenting vegetables makes it exciting. Use a cookie cutter to cut up cucumbers. “Simply just change the presentation,” the author says.
7. Let them participate
“Kids should have a small say in what they eat,” says Alexy. Participating sparks their interest. It can be by planting tomatoes on the patio or in a garden, or even when shopping.
“Ask your child what their favourite colour is and let them find a vegetable of that colour.”
If a child is allowed to help with the cooking, they have a better idea of what they’ll see on their plate later – helping their joy in food grow.
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8. Sneak them in
Hiding vegetables in meals is not a cure-all. “But it is a good way to increase the amount of vegetables,” says Pfannebecker.
A classic example is tomato sauce. Sauces are a great way to hide pureed vegetables. Many children also do well with soup.
Another trick Pfannebecker recommends are small pancakes or potato cakes with peas, better named “frog pancakes”.
9. Set an example
All of these tips help, but the best is when parents and older siblings act as role models.
“Don’t constantly emphasize how healthy vegetables are. That is too abstract for kids,” Pfannenbecker says.
It’s better to make it clear that vegetables simply belong to a meal. “If eating vegetables is a given for your family, it will also be natural for the child.” – dpa/Olivia Konieczny