If you’re a parent, you’ll know all too well the problems of trying to get veggies into your children. There is always one child that just won’t budge and you spend endless time desperately seeking solution after solution.
How do we solve this dilemma faced by so many? There are two opposing strategies that nutritionists debate over: Hide veggies in kids food to ensure they are getting their quota OR teach them how to eat them so they learn how to make healthy choices.
The problem here is that study after study show that Australians in general are not eating enough veggies especially at the crucial time of childhood.
The pro-hiding crowd just want to get through their days without the battlefield, I get that. You don’t want to create anxiety when it comes to food and children. It can manifest in all sorts of troubling ways later in life. The mode of action here is to puree’ the hell out of the vegetables and add to everything - sauces, soups, smoothies, and baked goods.
A small study conducted by Penn State researchers found ‘by adding puréed vegetables to favorite foods, preschool children consumed nearly twice as many vegetables and 11 percent fewer calories over the course of a day’.
NOT HIDING VEGGIES
The opposition say that hiding veggies is only prolonging the problem and believe that it’s misleading. For example, hiding sweet potato and broccoli in a chocolate brownie mix is not giving the message that eating veggies are good, but rather that they will think eating brownies is fine.
Another culprit is our busy lifestyle. What’s vanishing is the culture of sitting together at the table to eat the evening meal, replaced by feeding the kids early while they watch tv and mum/dad eat later. Some research suggests creating a ritual of eating together and children watching us eat veggies at a very early stage will help them to eat a wide variety of food.
A Canadian Study found that getting kids involved with preparation of meals can have a positive on their eating habits. The researchers concluded that ‘higher frequency of helping prepare and cook food at home was associated with higher fruit and vegetable preference and higher self-efficacy for selecting and eating healthy food’.
HOW DID I DO IT?
I have to admit when mine were toddlers, we had our share of issues. Certain vegetables were adored - potatoes and carrots, and some completely detested - broccoli, zucchini and tomatoes.
My dinner table rules were:
1. Provide 4 veggies per meal - 3 loved and a tiny piece (1 teaspoonful) of a new or unliked vegetable
2. Eat the new one first and follow with the ones they enjoyed
3. When and if only all are consumed, they’d get dessert (mind you that usually consisted of greek yoghurt and frozen berries/banana - feeling sorry for my kids yet?)
4. No arguments. Straight up. These are the rules. Don’t sway or they’ll see a loophole
When I was studying to be a nutritionist, we were told about how taste buds need around 7-8 tastes of a new food to adapt and accept. It needs time and patience but it can work and I found my kids were scoffing down steamed broccoli heads without any seasoning in no time.
In the end we all want the same outcome, healthy, happy kids. The important thing is that they get to eat a variety of food and bring this life lesson into their adult eating habits. When studies show time and time again that many of our health problems stem from an inadequate diet, isn’t our responsibility to help change this in the next generation?
In good health,
BHSc (nutritional medicine)