When it comes to my son and food, the question I ask myself most is whether he is getting enough fresh fruit & vegetables?! Am I being creative enough with our dinners? More often than not the answer is no and I feel guilty for a while and then try and come up with new recipes & ideas.
I imagine many parents are in a similar situation. Convincing children to eat vegetables can be a huge challenge and some days you have to pick your battles, right??!
I've come up with a few tried and tested methods that seem to work well for us and I thought I'd share these for any parents at a loss as to what they can do.
Please bear in mind that with all the foods mentioned below it's best to offer smaller portions until you know your child likes these things.
1. Lead by example
This may seem a bit too simple and you might be thinking "yes but... I have tried that". It's a case of keeping on going.
I get frustrated I eat endless veggies and healthy snacks but my son still picks out tiny bits of onion in his pasta and chooses chocolate over an apple!!
Like anything I think persistence pays off and many children will want to try what you have because kids all have FOMO. An example for me was when I went to Sainsbury at the weekend to get a few healthier snacks for myself. I picked up a bananito dried banana with dark chocolate and sure enough my son wanted it. I barely got one bite... The same thing has happened countless times but if I had actually offered him this food in the shop he would definitely have said no and asked for some haribo instead!!
If in doubt, smoothies for breakfast... This has served us well as a phrase. You can never get stuck for breakfast inspiration with a smoothie. I started off by only adding the fruits I knew my son liked and gradually began adding a small handful of spinach or a chunk of courgette. These are things you can barely taste when combined with some banana, blueberries, oat milk or yoghurt. Now my son asks for a "green" smoothie. I used to give it to him in a coloured cup or glass so he couldn't see the green!! You can get up to 3 portions of fruit/veg into a smoothie and it's pretty satisfying knowing you've sent them off to school with a healthy start.
3. Porridge & Pancakes
Ever since my son was little and started weaning I used to mash half a banana into his porrdige or a grated apple.
I've continued to do this both with his porridge and pancakes.
If you're feeling more adventurous you could also add things like flaxseed, chia seeds etc and especially in the pancakes, you can't taste them at all. I've gone as far as grating courgette into his porridge and that seemed to go down okay. The secret is definitely in the grating as it makes the fruit/veg very discreet and combined with the other flavours. Add a little maple syrup or honey on top and they are pretty much invisible.
This has always been a winner for us, although we don't tend to vary the type of soup very often. It's generally carrot and lentil with a bit of onion and celery and a veggie stock cube.
I blend the soup for my son as he would not eat it otherwise. We have soup at least once a week and it's a nice light dinner that can also do for lunch the following day. It's quick to prepare and can be left on the hob to simmer without requiring much attention.
5. Shepherd's Pie
I make a veggie shepherds pie regularly. I'm not saying this is a favourite meal for my son. If you ask him, his favourite food is a hot dog in a bun, but this is a way I can add more vegetables to his diet.
I grate carrot, courgette and add whole tomatoes into this recipe. It's a Jamie Oliver shepherd's pie. The other thing I do when I make mashed potato is add other vegetables to the mash. Sometimes I add carrot, sweet potato, parsnip or turnip. This makes it easier for him to eat these vegetables and less likely they''ll go to waste on the side of his plate. I don't know a child who refuses mashed potato!!
6. Why not "try it"?
Something I've always lived by is that you have to try everything once.
I've encouraged my son to try everything but I never force him to finish a plate of food if he doesn't like it. I ask him to eat until he feels full, rather than forcing him to clear his plate. Forcing children to eat everything on a plate stops them from recognising when they are full, which isn't a very positive thing and has been linked with obesity.
It's more important to me that he is open to trying things. I believe if my children are open minded it will result in them liking more things eventually. I sometimes think that kids refuse to try things because they are afraid they'll have to finish it all even if they don't like it.
I am really pleased that "having a little taste" has worked for us and we can pretty much offer our son anything as a bite or a taste and he will taste it. I'm not saying he will eat it all after the first bite but he will almost always taste it.
I'd love to know what other parents do to encourage their children to eat more fruit and especially vegetables?