Fifteen tips for getting children to eat more fruit and veg
Is your child a little bit keener on Cadbury’s than cabbage? Do you wonder what tricks you can pull to awaken a love of fruit and veg in your child? If so, this is the article for you!
Natasha Gavin is the founder of I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum!, an educational group that works with Monicahealthmag.com, schools and nurseries on a mission to help parents to get children to eat their 5-a-day by increasing voluntary and proactive consumption of fruit and vegetables among children, rather than resorting to coercion or constant bribery. Hallelujah!
If you’d like to see their effects first-hand, we recommend popping along to Pitter Patter Richmond next month as they are hosting a fun Rainbow Workshop for children aged 2-5. Using a combination of music, fun and theatre along with touch and taste, Rainbow Workshops help children to discover why fruit and vegetables are so good for their bodies, and leave them wanting to eat more.
In the meantime, we are thrilled to welcome Natasha as a new guest writer on Twickermum. In her opening article she shares her fifteen top tips for getting children of any age to enjoy more fruit and veg.
Fifteen Top Tips for getting your children to eat more fruit and vegetables
by Natasha Gavin
Getting children to eat what is good for them can be really hard work. Some children will eat everything, some will chew for hours, some will turn their noses up at the ‘wrong’ colour of vegetable. There is no magic solution to this challenge. Below are a few ideas which I hope will help make your efforts, and the process, more fruitful (forgive the pun) and more enjoyable.
Some will work for you and your children, some won’t, and some you will have already tried. But we just can’t give up, because what we feed our children now will affect their health as adults, parents and grandparents.
Tip 1: Get the children to grow their own
Soil, water, anticipation, pride – all will help your children to feel positive about stuff that comes from the ground! After 12 years of low-maintenance allotmenteering with impatient young boys, I would recommend the following: strawberries, raspberries, plums, mangetout, courgettes, green beans, beetroots. All of those are usually prolific producers, with very little TLC.
And in a back garden (where you can water often and keep slugs/snails at bay): tomatoes and salad leaves. Radishes are great but can get very fiery if left too long and go woody, so often not that popular with children. And don’t forget SUNFLOWERS: plant them early enough, and they will amaze children with their tree like stems by the end of the summer, and you might get a few sunflower seeds to harvest!
Tip 2: Pick fruit and veg with them
On the allotment, in the back garden, on the window ledge, at a pick-your- own farm. They won’t be able to resist sneaking a few into their mouths (make sure they are hungry before you start harvesting!), and everything will taste much better straight off the bush/tree/ plant. The flavours really ARE that much more intense. Even unripe strawberries can taste delicious.
Tip 3: Have fun with food
Make playing with the fruit and vegetables fun for ‘veg-phobic’ kids. Get them to pick sprouts off the tall stems they grow on, get them to pod the peas or broad beans and shoot them into a bowl, make snake tongues out of carrot peelings, play relay races with courgettes, paint your lips with red fruit. Lucy Thomas from www.MangeToutkids.com has lots of ideas that are accessible through www.tasteforlifenursery.com It might feel silly at first, but it achieves incredible results- I have seen them with my own eyes.
Tip 4: Explain WHY they should eat their greens (and oranges, and reds, and purples..)
This is what I believe in passionately. Kids always want to know WHY this, WHY that. So try explaining how the broccoli is good for their tummy, and raisins provide iron which they need for healthy blood. Have some nuggets at your fingertips that will amuse them, and convince them that you are telling the truth. Here are a few:
- Beans make you fart because they are high in fibre which gets the food moving through your body
- Avocados are used in face packs for ladies because they are so high in vitamin E – which repairs your skin
- The staining colour of beetroot means it can be used to calculate the speed you process/metabolise food: mashed potato with beetroot laced through it will be visible in your pink poo (it’s called the transition test!)
- Carrots are great for your eyes but too many carrots will make your skin orange (honestly)
- Pineapples are good for sore throats as they are anti-inflammatory
- Pumpkin seeds are full of healthy fats which can improve your memory.
Each fruit and veg brings a specific health benefit, or several, that you can latch on to make your point. You can read more in The Food Doctor for babies and children by Vicki Edgson. And encourage them to achieve a RAINBOW DIET. Eating different coloured fruit and veg each day will mean their body gets most of the nutrients it needs. (Mother nature is so clever, eh?)
Tip 5: Compromise
Try not to adopt an ‘all or nothing’ approach. Suggest porridge with hot chocolate drinking powder sprinkled on top, lightly steamed broccoli with lots of grated cheddar on top, or natural yoghurt with Smarties! Sometimes you might get further, less painfully, if you meet them half way.
Tip 6: Call recipes funny names and try out wacky combinations
I found an incredible book: The great big veg challenge by Charlotte Hume. Charlotte presents her three top recipes for each veg in the alphabet- according to scores by her fussy eater son. Cauliflower popcorn is a firm favourite in our house. Tiny florets are tossed in olive oil, a tiny bit of salt, paprika, and breadcrumbs, and are then roasted in the oven on a flat tray. Another of Charlotte’s recipes is stir fried shredded brussel sprouts with garlic, bacon and ginger. I was really surprised at how much even I liked them! Beetroot and chocolate cake, courgette muffins (if necessary, don’t tell the children the ingredients until after they have eaten them!).
Hiding vegetables in soup or a bolognaise sauces is a fab short term option, but not a long term solution. On the other hand, there is no need to tell them the contents of a delicious meal or cake too early, if the mere name of what is in there is going to put them off, right?
Tip 7: Take them on a fruit & veg adventure – empower them with choice
Visit a local ethnic veg market, a farmers’ market or look out for unusual veg and fruit in the supermarket. Let each of your children chose one, and then have fun finding recipes to cook it. (Charlotte’s book will come in very handy here).
Tip 8: Make the oldest sibling your ‘partner in crime’
Bribe them or sweet talk them into leading by example to help convince younger siblings to eat good stuff, and to set a great example by responding positively to new dishes or veg that you present them all with at the dinner table. There is nothing worse than an older child exclaiming: “Oh this doesn’t look very nice (or worse) mum” as you are trying to convince a fussy toddler to try something new.
Tip 9: Take difficult meals out of the kitchen
Eat in a tent, have a picnic, in a shed etc. Consider letting your children eat in front of the tv as a treat, if they promise to eat all the green veg? (I know it’s a slippery slope, but I try to keep these kinds of solutions for meals I really really want them to eat.)
Tip 10: Reward small steps
Be happy with children just ‘trying something’ and keep offering it. Even if it takes 5-10 times. I never believed this method truly worked, and just accepted that as long as my boys ate a varied diet, it didn’t really matter that I pandered to their dislike of mushrooms, or courgettes. But then I put the theory to the test, with just a couple of raw spinach leaves on my three year old’s plate every meal time. Eventually I noticed the leaves had disappeared without me asking Tom to just ‘try them’. After checking on the floor, I concluded that he had just picked them up and eaten them. So now I put a couple of salad leaves on Tom’s plate whenever his older brother is getting a big boy portion.
I haven’t cracked ‘salad’ completely, but we are making progress… perhaps consider using a reward chart and plan a treat at the end of a fruit and veg discovery week?
Tip 11: Have school dinners!
Proven to be better for you nutritionally than even the best packed lunches, school meals offer your children diversity that they almost certainly wouldn’t experience otherwise (unless you make a habit of cooking Chinese, Welsh, Indian, Mexican etc – I certainly don’t). They will try dishes (and fruit and vegetables) that you might rarely or never make at home, which broadens their palates and makes them more likely to try new things at home.
I never use tinned tuna (mainly because I never think to use the tin at the back of the cupboard!) but have discovered that my eldest son Michael adores tuna fajitas at school. And my toddler discovered hummus, noodles and spring rolls at playgroup. If you have wonderful in-house catering and chefs that care about what their children eat, it is a win-win situation, well worth the £2 odd per day. (I do both actually – packed lunches on two days a week, school dinners on three days. It’s a compromise on many fronts!)
Tip 12: Cut down on taste extremes: like salty and sweet
Very salty foods (like crisps) and very sweet foods (like cakes and chocolate) kill taste buds. Reduce the amount of salt and sugar they eat and they will find natural foods less bland, ‘enjoy’ the taste of fruit and veg more and find meals seasoned with garlic and herbs more palatable. I know everyone is always going about salt, but it’s true. Our diets are far too salty (even bread has loads in it) and little bodies can’t cope with it. Reduce it now, before it makes an impact on their health. High salt intake in children can lead to high blood pressure in young adults.
Tip 13: Keep them HUNGRY
Children who have snacked will NOT be as likely to try new things, or eat things they are not so keen on. You know what it’s like: if you have ever camped, by the time you have set up your tent, blown up the lilo and lit the fire,- the tin of baked beans tastes like heaven on earth.
Tip 14: Distract younger children
If they are young enough, this might work. If I read books to Tom he just opens his mouth like a bird, not really conscious of what is going in. If I ever have a ‘tricky’ meal to get into him, I will just promise to read him his favourite book, or better still, recently purchased Cbeebies magazine. We ‘spot the differences’, and stick the stickers everywhere. Before he has noticed, most of the dinner has gone down (and there is usually some ketchup involved too.) It’s all worth a try.
Encourage your childcare setting or primary school to book an I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum! show or workshop. We need to use a variety of techniques to get our kids to eat more healthy stuff, and I Know Why It’s Yum, Mum! can be part of those initiatives.
Our Primary School show is aimed at Reception children up to Year 6 (it really does have universal appeal) and we run workshops for Yrs 1-6 which build on the nutritional content of the show, and Rainbow Workshops for the little ones (2-5 yrs). We even have our very own set of genuine fruit and veg Top Trumps cards!
We are a not-for-profit social enterprise and our main objective is to get children to remember WHY different fruit and veg (and cereals and seeds) are SO good for them and to actively choose to eat the right stuff in the dinner queue or when offered it at home (whether fresh, frozen or tinned). I am not a food fascist (I LOVE crisps, cakes and burgers) but I am passionate about children’s diets. So I thought that I should channel my energy into trying to make a difference to a few more children, not just my own. Check us out at www.iknowwhyitsyummum.com