Whole foods, plant-based – it’s a big change for most of us grown-ups, on the typical Western diet. Let alone for the kids! If you have little ones, we don’t need to remind you of the struggle of getting greens into them. Kids haven’t developed the palate to enjoy more bitter and savoury tastes, and just like us, they’re the target of insane marketing strategies by a relentless food industry.
Unlike us, though, they’re kids. They don’t get the whys and the how’s of nutrition. To them, as to most adults, processed and refined food is so normal, that the idea of it being unnatural and bad for you just doesn’t compute. So how do you get them to eat it? Any parent will tell you, it’s not easy – but here are some top tips to have them eating their veggies in no time. Well… less time, maybe.
1. Get them involved
To get healthy food into kids means getting them involved in the process – having them take an interest in it for themselves, create their own culinary masterpieces that they’ll be too proud of to refuse diving into. It’s about making it an adventure. Bring them shopping, have them choose funny looking veggies, let them chop and stir and prepare. Let them design the meal and cook it with you. Teach them about whole, plant-based foods and ask them how they can make their favourite recipes fit – then try it out with them.
2. Get them really involved
Developing an awareness of where food comes from, and beginning to build that connection to the land and the plants, can be invaluable for kids of all ages. Take them to a farm, let them ask the farmer questions about how produce is grown. Take them to a pick-your-own and let them choose their harvest. Best of all, if you can - get them involved in growing fruits and veggies in your own garden.
3. When they’re hungry – they’ll eat
Now, we’re not suggesting you starve your little ones! But when kids are truly hungry, they’ll eat, it’s in their biology. Make it a habit to put out healthy food – veggies and dips, fruits and so on – when they come home from school, after a sports game or a long adventure.
4. Make it the only option
Have you ever tried to get a 7-year-old to eat an apple when there’s Cheetos in the cupboard? Serve a plateful of veggies when they saw you buy pizza and KD? That’s a battle no parent wants on their hands! Clear out your house of ALL the junk – and that goes for your secret biscuit stash too, mama! Tinned or instant pasta, frozen food, ready meals, chicken nuggets… everything. If healthy is the only option, your kids will take it eventually – and learn that it’s not so bad!
5. Get creative
When I was a kid, my mum would draw princesses and castles with celery sticks, grapes and carrot rounds and we LOVED IT. Getting creative in the kitchen keeps kids engaged and excited. You can do things like cook potatoes with beets to make pink mashed potatoes, or make green, purple or yellow food colouring from spinach, blueberries or turmeric. My mom’s stripy yellow and green mash was a Halloween classic! The Green Moustache has a great blog full of kid-approved recipes to try out.
6. Make a game out of it
Make a game out of trying a new fruit or vegetable, or a new cooking method, every week. You can make scorecards, rate each on their flavour, texture and so on, and let them choose which veggie to go for. Make a joke out of the ‘disgusting’ ones – they won’t like them all, and they need you to understand and accept this.
7. Lead by example
Make a big deal out of trying a vegetable or dish that you, yourself, don’t like – eat it all, and emphasise how proud you are that you ate the whole thing even though it was totally gross. A huge barrier to kids is feeling that their genuine dislikes aren’t acknowledged. Their palates aren’t like ours. Don’t dismiss their opinions, but reward them for their adventurousness. Leading by example also includes keeping your eating habits healthy, too!
8. Don’t hide veggies!
Tempting as it is to sneak in diced veg to a seemingly innocent pasta, kids are smart, and most of them hate feeling patronised. If they catch it, it’s game over – they’ll be even more determined not to eat it. Plus, hiding veggies strengthens that negative association, making them more likely to ‘dislike’ something without even giving it a chance – because why would you hide something great?
9. Never cave!
Not even once. You need to be a wall, a rock, immovable. Even when you’re late for work. Even when your mom is calling and the dog is barking and the house is a tip and the baby is screaming. Even when you’ve been fighting them on this for an hour and it's getting toward bedtime. If you give in, even once, and reward their demands with junk, they will push you again and again. Once they know you’re unbreakable? They won’t bother with the fight.
10. Always remember – this is for them.
Healthy kids, who have grown up to appreciate and love all this beautiful, natural food, and whose palates aren’t adjusted to huge, harmful portions of refined grains, sugars, salt, chemicals and so on, will for the rest of their lives find enjoyment in real food. They will drastically reduce their risk for heart disease, diabetes, addiction, cancers, osteoporosis, mental health problems, neurodegenerative diseases… the list goes on and on. And best of all, they will know and understand real satiation. This can set their health up for their whole lives.
What are your top tips for getting veggies into the kids? Let us know in the comments!