Q. My child is a fussy eater but I know it’s important for her to eat a balanced diet. How can I get her to eat more veggies?
A. Lots of children are fussy eaters, but if you’re willing to be patient, and maybe a little sneaky, there are ways to get more vegetables in them.
It’s important to realize that children have more sensitive taste buds than adults, and this can contribute to what we perceive to be ‘picky eating.’ Many leafy green vegetables can taste considerably more bitter to children than they do to adults. If your child doesn’t like a food the first time she tries it, that doesn’t mean she’ll never like it. It can take 10 or more exposures to a food before a child begins to like it.
Don’t force your child to eat something he doesn’t like. You don’t want to turn the dinner table into a battlefield. Just continue to serve the spurned vegetable as part of meals and ask that she try it each time. A lot of parents use the ‘one bite to be polite’ rule. If she has a bite and still doesn’t like it, don’t make a big deal out of it. You want to enjoy your meal and have your child grow up enjoying meal times as well. And you know she’s going to have another bite of it at another meal at some point.
You might also want to try serving the reviled vegetable in another manner. Perhaps she doesn’t like raw broccoli (as you know, the flavour of raw vegetables tends to be stronger than cooked). But she might like it steamed or in a casserole with cheese. If you serve raw vegetables, think about offering them with a nutritious and delicious dip, like hummus or tzatziki. They say variety is the spice of life for a reason.
Sometimes the dislike of vegetables is more about texture than flavour. While many people feel it’s important for children to learn to love each vegetable on its own merits, I’m all for hiding veggies, when necessary. Sometimes I even hide them from my boyfriend or even from myself! I find that grating vegetables like carrots and zucchini is a great (pun intended) way to boost the nutrition of things like pasta sauces, fried rice and chili, without the need for obvious chunks of vegetables. Try adding pureéd butternut squash or pumpkin to macaroni and cheese. Or sneak some vegetables into sweet treats that children love. Green smoothies are often popular with children, but if not, you can disguise the greens with berries, or slip beets into a cherry smoothie. When fruit is fresh in the summertime, you can make and freeze smoothies in popsicle moulds for healthy veg-filled snacks to enjoy all year long.
Children are often more inclined to enjoy food they had a hand in preparing. It’s never too soon to have kids in the kitchen. When they’re really little, you can have them sit in their chair or carrier and watch you while you cook. When they get a bit older they can start with simple tasks like helping you choose carrots or mixing things with a wooden spoon. As they get older, they’ll be able to help you with more complicated cooking tasks. Participating in cooking and food preparation, and seeing mum and dad enjoy a variety of nutritious foods themselves, will make your child more inclined to enjoy them himself.
Just be aware that all of this is not going to happen overnight. It will take time for your child to become accepting of new and previously disliked foods. But, with a lot of patience, she will start to eat and enjoy more vegetables.