Having a toddler means there will be power struggles day in and day out. So a main focus of my work with feeding babies through to kids and teens is to take the power struggle out of food.
I always ask parents how they’ d feel if someone hid something in their food. I know I’d be upset! I like to empower kids with choices of what they eat.
Here are a few tips when it comes to kids and vegetables:
· Parents choose what is served for dinner, then kids choose what they eat from the foods offered. Let’s say the meal is chicken, rice and broccoli. The kids can eat as much of they want of any of those foods. If they are not choosing the broccoli that’s okay. Really. Keep offering vegetables with every meal, but remove the pressure of having to eat them. If the rest of the family eats their veggies and there’s no pressure, your kids might surprise you and choose a broccoli. If they choose a broccoli they shouldn’t be pressured to eat it. Just allow them to do whatever it is they need to do – the focus for parents is removing any kind of pressure. For example they need to try a bite, if they try it they have to finish it, everyone else is having it so that means you need to as well, etc.
· Involve kids. Let them help choose the vegetable(s) that goes with dinner that night. Let them choose something new to try at the grocery store this week. Let them help prepare the vegetables for dinner that night. Kids love to grate, cut, wash, pull out of the fridge, etc. Depending on their age and ability.
· Don’t hide any vegetables. Making a pureed soup? That’s great, but still tell your kids what’s in the soup. Everyone, including kids can have preferences. They may or may not like certain vegetables and that is within their right. I’m sure most parents can remember being forced to eat something themselves as a kid that they didn’t like. Let’s stop repeating that behavior for our kids.
· Grow a garden. Having your kids choose and plant a vegetable garden can peak their interest and actually help increase their vegetable intake. If they have seen the food grow over time and have actually helped with the process they often want to try the end result. Remember container gardening works for this or going to a community garden or a you pick.
· Try different forms. Try offering cooked, raw, roasted, grated, cubed, etc. Providing different forms for the vegetable to be eaten in can be a real hit. Try putting vegetables in smoothies and baked goods but always tell them the vegetables are in there.
· Be a role model. When kids see everyone else in the family eating, and enjoying vegetables and the pressure is removed from having to eat them they often will try. Be sure to include vegetables with every meal and snack. Making an omelet for breakfast? Throw in some veggies. Load up that sandwich at lunch with veggies and have some veggies and homous for a snack. Try having a salad on the side with dinner and incorporating a rainbow of colour with your veggies in the meal.
· Presentation matters. Try serving meals with the makings in different bowls in the centre of the table. Everyone can pick and choose what they want. Try using little containers to put cut up veggies in with hummus for a snack at school or on the road. You don’t have to make vegetables look like various characters and elaborate pictures like you see on pintrest but presenting them with a little thought can go a long way with your kids. Some families find that using catchy names with their kids gets their kids to want to try them ie/ trees instead of broccoli, etc. Also, the more colour the more appeal it has – for everyone.
As with everything with your kids it’s about building trust. Removing the power from eating or not eating vegetables is so important. Don’t deceive them about vegetables being in a dish. If it is a pureed soup and it has different vegetables in it and your kids enjoy it, they may not even realize that they like certain vegetables or that they are eating certain vegetables if they aren’t in the know. In fact, it can even backfire ie/ they won’t eat those veggies again just to spite, or they don’t eat those veggies because they didn’t know that they like them.
In the end as long as you are giving them the option to try to eat the vegetables in their own time it will happen. Don’t lose patience, and don’t lose hope. If they try it and don’t like it it’s fine to spit it out. Just teach them a polite way, but that can encourage them to try more. It takes 15-20 times of trying a food to decide that you actually like it so it might take a lot of spitting it out before they know whether they like it or not.
Biggest advice for parents- don’t worry! It won’t be like this forever. When people are really concerned I end up working with them as a family to look at different ways pressure can appear and power struggles happen. We go through their diet so that I can reassure them that they are getting the nutrients they need or point them to other ways to get the nutrients as they are going through the process of learning about eating vegetables. Kids have a different eating pattern than adults and this is normal.
By taking the pressure of having to eat vegetables and making them something to be enjoyed many parents are surprised by the results this has on their family.
Concerned that your kids aren’t getting what they need because they don’t eat vegetables? Wondering how to empower your kids to eat more vegetables? Contact Jill, Nurture The Future’s Registered Dietitian at firstname.lastname@example.org