We all need to eat our veggies to be healthy. For kids, learning to enjoy a wide variety of vegetables, from all the colours of the rainbow, can set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating and prevent diet-related diseases into adulthood.
Unfortunately, most children don’t eat enough veggies.
In Australia, less than 10 per cent of children aged four to eight years old eat the recommended amount of vegetables (ouch!). With potato being the most consumed vegetable, children are also missing out on a variety of vegetables that provide different nutrients, vitamins and fibre.
We can use tricks to get kids to eat veggies. Hiding them or bribing with ice cream might come to mind… but how can they learn to love them?
When we genuinely enjoy eating vegetables, it makes making healthy food choices a whole lot easier.
To develop healthy eating habits and taste preferences, we need strategies that will help our kids learn to enjoy vegetables, not just eat them because they have to.
So here are my 6 tips to help your child love vegetables:
- Always encourage tasting. We develop taste preferences through tasting. For kids to learn to love veggies, they need to taste them, often many times, many different ways. Always praise your child for having a taste, however small, and don’t worry if they don’t like it or don’t want to eat more of it. Removing the pressure to like a new food or eat more of it can be reassuring for your child, particularly if they feel anxious about the taste or texture. Every time they taste, they are gradually developing their taste preference for that vegetable.
- Offer veggies with liked foods. Studies show that pairing a new flavour with a liked flavour can increase liking for that new flavour. Try adding new veggies to your child’s favourite dishes. You can also offer sauces, condiments or dips that your child loves to accompany vegetables, or encourage them to combine foods on their plate.
- Make them tasty. Steamed veggies might taste delicious to you, but your child may enjoy them more with a little extra flavour. Add a squeeze of lemon juice or a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Offer sweet chilli sauce, soya sauce, tzatziki or hummus. Instead of steaming vegetables, stir-fry or roast them with garlic, pepper, ginger, herbs or a spice blend. A sweet vinaigrette with honey or maple syrup is also great with steamed vegetables, and will help with veggies that are a little bitter.
- Vegetables anytime. Declare vegetables ‘anytime’ food. Let your child know that they can have vegetables anytime they like! If your child is hungry between meals or when the kitchen is closed, let them have vegetables to fill the gap. Kids are also more likely to try new foods when they are really hungry and there are no other options.
- Celebrate vegetables. Don’t hide the veggies, celebrate them and talk them up! Vegetables are amazing, and there is much we can get excited about – the colours, textures, smell, taste, and health benefits. Your enthusiasm for vegetables can quickly become infectious! If your child sees that you value and love vegetables, they will become more curious and inspired about eating them.
- Get the kids involved. Kids love to help in the kitchen. Ask your child to help with shopping, washing, preparing or cooking the veggies. This kind of exposure brings familiarity, so they’ll feel more interested and confident about tasting. Shopping and cooking with you will also teach them important life skills.
The best way to get kids enjoying more vegetables is to keep offering them. Encourage them to taste every time, and don’t worry if they don’t like them all at first – by serving a wide variety and presenting them in different ways, your child will learn to enjoy more and more veggies as part of a healthy diet.
Do your kids like vegetables or do you have struggles getting them to eat veggies? SHARE in the comments below.