There is so much talk about picky eaters these days, you would think it was an epidemic.
Are kids really pickier than they were when we were growing up? Bookstore shelves are now full of cookbooks which promote 'hiding' vegetables in your child's food. Is this the answer?
In my opinion, while including extra vegetables in the dishes you make certainly doesn't hurt, teaching your children to become open to trying new things and to enjoy nutritious food, including vegetables, is essential, as you will not be able to sneak food into their meals forever. It is important to note that if you try to trick your child into eating a food that is not in their taste (yet), when they realize what you have done (as they often will) you will have just taught them that you cannot be trusted when it comes to feeding them.
Here are some simple ways to get your kids interested in vegetables:
1. Offer when hungry: When your child is hungry, it is the best time to offer foods that are not their favourites. If they are hungry, they will be more likely to try what is available. Offer your child some raw veggie sticks and something tasty to dip them in, such as hummus, guacamole or a particular sauce or dressing that they like. You may encounter some resistance at first, but don't give up. Repeat exposure is key.
2. Have fun with your food: Kids love to play with their food and I encourage my kids to do this. Kids also love foods they can roll up, so wraps, burritos, sushi rolls and such are great. Put out a variety of fillings and let them pick what they want to put inside. Cutting food into fun shapes is always a big hit as well as any food that involves dipping. Bottom line is, if the food on your child's plate looks appealing to them, they will be more likely to eat it.
3. Give them choices: If you ask your child if they would like some vegetables with their meal, there is a good chance they will say NO. Instead, give them a choice, as kids love to feel like they are making the decisions. Ask your child if they would like carrots or broccoli? At first, you can make one of the options something you know they like, but then branch out from there. It is also a great idea to take them with you to the grocery store or farmers' market and let them pick some of the vegetables out themselves.
4. Make your vegetables taste good: I grew up eating microwaved vegetables, so I know that the way in which a vegetable is prepared can have a huge impact on its taste, texture and visual appeal. Avoid boiling your vegetables, as it is not the most flavourful cooking method and many nutrients are lost in the cooking liquid. This is fine if you are consuming the liquid (soup, for example) but not if you are removing the vegetables to consume separately. I find the tastiest ways to prepare vegetables are either roasting or sautéing them. Adding fresh herbs or garlic is a great way to enhance their flavour. Get creative and experiment with new recipes.
My advice: Remember that what works for one child, is not necessarily going to work for yours. Be persistent with your efforts, but try not to stress about it too much. The important thing is to encourage (not force) healthy eating habits that will carry your child into adulthood.
Read part 2 of this series for more tips and insights.
Aviva Allen is a Kids' Nutritionist specializing in helping parents deal with picky eaters. Click here to find out more about nutritional consultations for picky eaters.