All parents know that if their fussy child doesn’t want to eat something, they will put up a real tantrum to avoid it.
Vegetables are one of the most common food groups that children avoid, and it can be hard to know how to work them into food without kids knowing (or without it taking you all night to prepare dinner).
But it is vital that they eat the recommended daily amount. In 2018, only 18% of UK children aged 5 to 15 ate five standard portions of fruit and vegetables per day, according to a health survey by the HSE, with most only managing three portions.
Why do children need vegetables?
Vegetables are a relatively easy way for your child to get an intake of energy, vitamins, minerals, fibre and water. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is essential in a balanced diet and can even reduce the risk of some illnesses in later life, such as cancer and heart disease.
You will have heard the phrase ‘5-a-day’—for children, one portion of fruit or vegetables is the amount they can fit in the palm of their hand, as a rough guide. The UK’s guidelines were developed based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations in the prevention of chronic diseases.
So, if you have run out of ideas, we have some tips below which could see your child eating vegetables in no time!
Blitz it into sauces
Everybody loves a Spaghetti Bolognese-style dinner (even if it can be a bit messy). Tomato sauces are simple enough to make from scratch, but you can also use a pre-made option and add blitzed broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, pepper or carrots into the sauce.
Just boil or steam the veg, then blend until fine and undetectable. They won’t be able to see the vegetables, and the tomato and other flavourings such as garlic will also mean they can’t easily taste them either.
The same applies if you’re making something like a chilli con carne or mac and cheese.
Soups are one of the best and easiest ways to get vegetables into diets, even for adults! Use a slow cooker, soup maker or even just an ordinary saucepan to cook all of the vegetables before blending into a smooth soup. Serve with bread or crackers.
If there is a particular flavour of soup they already like, such as tomato or cream, try to make that the dominant taste so it is even more undetectable.
Add to a smoothie
Kids are usually more accepting of fruit than vegetables—the natural sweetness can play a part. If this is the case for you, make a smoothie from scratch but add extras such as spinach, beetroot or courgette. Think of things that will blend right down and be undetectable.
However, if your child isn’t bothered about texture, adding things like grated carrot or cauliflower is also an option. Smoothies are even a great way to use up any leftover vegetables which are past their best!
Just remember to use a maximum of two or three kinds of fruit in a smoothie for children, due to the natural sugars. Don’t overload with veg until they adapt to the taste, either.
Make burgers and meatballs
Vegetables which can be pureed or chopped right down are great to add to mince as a binding agent. Think chopped mushrooms, onions and peppers, as well as pureeing carrots or sweet potatoes. Cooking pulses such as chickpeas or lentils before grounding them down is also good for something a bit different.
Bind with an egg and shape before serving. Try the meatballs with the tomato sauce idea above and you’re well on your way to getting your kid enough goodness.
...Or make something sweet!
Mashing vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, or avocado means it can be added to a batter mix, and also means you don’t need to add as much extra moisture such as oils. You can even use a blender to break down broccoli or spinach before adding to the mix.
There’s plenty of recipes out there for healthy versions of sweet bakes, such as beetroot brownies or vegetable and banana bread if you’re not confident with experimenting. Something like these Carrot & Courgette muffins is a perfect start.
Be playful with their food
If your child is only just being introduced to vegetables and hasn’t grown to recognise and hate them yet, make dinner times fun.
Carrot sticks aren’t carrots, don’t you know—they’re X-ray vision batons. Broccoli florets can be mini trees, and most foods can be arranged to make a face or animal on their plate. Sugarsnap peas can be popped open to reveal sweet, podded peas hidden inside.
You can even cut carrot, cucumber and peppers into batons along with pitta bread strips and create a mini serving platter with their favourite sauces or dips.
As long as the food is eaten, it’s okay for them to have some fun.
Ensure they try everything
Just because they don’t like things you have given them so far doesn’t mean they will hate all vegetables. Peas are nice and sweet if you stick to smaller, frozen versions. Sweetcorn is great both on and off the cob. Turnips and swede are nice mashed, and parsnips are great when turned into chips or roasted with a bit of honey.
They may even like the vegetables we don’t tend to buy all of the time, such as spring greens, cabbage, squash or aubergine. Finding something they love will at least make one or two dinners every week a bit easier for you to prepare.
Remember to lead by example
If you wouldn’t want these new experimental vegetables to be wasted, cook them for yourself and allow them to try a bit of your dinner one night to see their reaction. Remember that children ultimately learn from their caregivers; if they see you eating something regularly, or something new, they will eventually want to try and copy.
Don’t make a big deal about forcing vegetables on them, either. They need to know it's just another food group, and turning it into a chore won’t help.
For longer-term results, if your child is quite fussy when it comes to food, try to work out why. Is it a texture issue, or do they avoid anything sweet/sour/a certain colour? If so, it may be easier to work around these issues and find things that they do like, while slowly introducing the kinds of things they’re not so certain about.