If you’re a parent, we're going to go ahead and assume that getting your kids to eat their greens has become an everyday battle-of-the-wills. More dreaded and time consuming than getting them to do their homework or go to bed, it’s become one of the biggest concerns of 21st century parents. Statistics say only one in five people eat enough vegetables on a daily basis, causing an increase in many vitamin deficiencies and health problems never before experienced as widespread as it is today.
The old fashioned ways of getting children to finish what’s on their plate has become somewhat alien to us. Gone are the days when it wasn't considered a mild form of child abuse to either: a) leave your child sitting at the kitchen table all night long until they finished, or b) send them to bed hungry!
In an attempt to get our little ones to so much as look at a vegetable without a 'bu yao' ready to escape from their little lips, we’re going to explore various methods that help get those vital nutrients into their tummies, and hopefully without them ever suspecting a thing! Here are some clever ways of tricking your little ones into a healthier diet:
1. Start with Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and is a good opportunity to incorporate healthy foods. A big pot of old fashioned oatmeal takes just a few minutes to make and you can set out a ‘topping station’ just like the one you see at your favorite frozen-yoghurt parlor. Toppings can include things like flaked almonds, dried cranberries, mashed strawberries, coconut shavings, passion fruit, etc. There are endless options and the same thing can be done for yoghurt. For a more savory breakfast like toasted healthy whole wheat bread, hard-boiled eggs, avocado slices or chopped tomatoes all make for balanced options.
2. Switch it up to make food exciting
It’s common to fall into a cooking trap by simply having a selection of 10 meals that you rotate on a fortnightly basis. Not only does this get a little boring for every eater involved, it’s also training your kids to only like certain dishes. When planning meals, try to choose a variety of colors, cuisines, tastes and textures; alternate ingredients as often as possible so that your children don't adapt to liking only one kind of taste.
3. Get kids involved in the process
If your children become more involved in choosing or preparing their meals then they’re more likely to want to eat what they've helped to create. Take them to local markets to help shop for the carrots in your winter soup or give them easy tasks in the kitchen to help cook. It will make eating the meal more exciting and will also teach them useful skills for the future.
4. Get vegetables in undetected
Sneak vegetables into family favorite recipes without compromising flavor. For example, replacing half of the boiled potatoes for a head of cauliflower when making mash, adding kale into a strawberry milkshake (no, it doesn't turn it green) or blending mushrooms into your home made carbonara pasta sauce. These not only go completely undetected if done well, but they also add bulk to meals, making them more filling.
Quick additional ways of incorporating veggies into meals:
-Add finely chop vegetables into quiches
-Mix thinly slice parsnip into a baked gratin dish
-Bulk out homemade burgers with kidney beans
-Make an eggplant or sun-dried tomato spread for toast and sandwiches
-Mix shredded carrots into meatballs
-Layer spinach in lasagna
5. Keep to a routine
Try eating at the same time each day as children respond most to familiarity and tradition. Set a routine and reserve mealtimes for eating only. Don't allow your children to play with toys, watch TV or read books at the dinner table. Dinnertime is family time; explain to them the importance of family time and the concept of manners at the dinner table.
6. Start them young
Getting them used to healthy food while they're young will drastically help. Only four percent of new foods are liked and consumed after the age of 2. Offering them a variety of healthy foods right after weaning has been proven to prevent developing picky eating habits. You might think that blended broccoli and cabbage taste disgusting but they don't think that yet. Since their taste buds are still developing at this young age, so now is the easiest time to train them to like the taste of healthy food.