How a nutritionist gets her kids to eat their vegetables

Photo: Susie Burrell and her twins / Instagram
Photo: Susie Burrell and her twins / Instagram  

Without a doubt the most common nutrition-related question I am asked as a paediatric dietitian is about kids and the veggies they do not eat.

Veggies, which includes both raw salad vegetables and cooked veggies are low calorie, nutrient dense foods which not only offer a range of essential key nutrients including Vitamins A and C, folate and magnesium, but they are also a rich source of dietary fibre, which plays a huge role in helping to keep kids full and satisfied.

It is recommended that children under the age of four consume 2 to 3.5 cup serves of veggis each day, and children aged four and above up to 5 serves per day, but data suggests that the average intake for this age group is as low as just 1.2 servings a day in Australia.

This not only means our kids may not be getting the key nutrients they need but they are also more likely to overconsume higher calorie foods and snacks to fill them up, leaving them predisposed to overeating and weight gain over time. We also know that eating habits established in childhood are maintained over time, and as such we need to be helping kids establish a love of nutrient rich veggies early in life.

So, how can you get your kids to eat more veggies without causing World War 3 at mealtime in your home? Here are my best tips for veggie success.

Never talk about it

As parents who want the best for our kids, it can be natural to want to involve them in decisions at home, including food decisions and focusing the conversation on foods we want them to eat. The rarely considered impact of this is that there is a greater focus on the exact behaviour, or in this case not eating veggies, we want to change.

So before you are tempted to conjole, bribe or beg your children to eat their veggies, remember that ignoring the behaviour and instead reward the behaviour you want them to continue, like eating their peas or carrots is more likely to change the behaviour long-term.

This is especially important if there has been a standoff about veggie consumption for some time. You will find that not mentioning it and rather incorporating veggies into your normal daily intake will yield much more positive results.

Normalise eating vegetables

Chances are that as an adult even you can think of foods you would rather eat than some dry, boiled carrot or broccoli. The key to vege success with children is to normalise intake by including them at every meal.

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Often by dinner time children are extremely tired, and often not overly hungry, so it can be challenging to get them to eat much at all.

On the other hand, adding veges to breakie juices and smoothies, adding baby vegetables to lunchboxes, and incorporating them into afternoon snack plates can mean that children may have already consumed 2-3 serves by dinnertime.

Make them taste good

If you had to choose between a boiled vegetable or a vege chip or between a tasty salad with dressing or dry leaves, which would you choose? Making our vegetables taste delicious with dressings, dips and sauces is one of the easiest ways to increase consumption for the entire family.

Think cheese sauce, veges baked in olive oil into chips and yummy child friendly dips such as hommus, peanut butter or cream cheese to flavour up vegetables into yummy meals and snacks.

Similarly adding grated vegetables to popular kids' meals including tacos, chicken nuggets and san choi bau are easy ways to boost their intake without them even realising.

Focus on your veggies

Children ultimately eat what their parents eat, which means if kids see you munching on carrots or cucumbers as healthy snack. Or demolishing salad with dinner they too will model these behaviours.

This means that if your desire is for your children to eat more vegetables, you and your partner better get eating a whole lot more fresh food too.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Keep your expectations realistic

Often I have parents in my clinic who are frustrated their children are not eating salad or one vegetable in particular. On closer review it is then revealed that their children are happily eating a number of other veges and salad varieties. As long as your little ones are including a couple of different varieties of veges or salad in their day, you are off to a good start.

This can be as simple as frozen peas in a cup, or baby tomatoes as a snack, but once they eat a couple of different types all you need to do is include these varieties freely and then build their intake and variety over time. There is evidence to show that simultaneously offering small children a number of different vegetables at one meal can actually help to increase consumption.

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, children who were rated as poor veggie consumers increased their intake when they were offered multiple veggie varieties at a meal as opposed to children who were offered just one veggie at a time.

This means that adding a few different options to the plate or meal, whether they eat them or not, is likely to gradually lead to increased consumption with no fights or screaming.

And that's a win. 

Susie Burrell is one of Australia's leading nutritionists. Find out more at susieburrell.com.au or follow her on Instagram or Facebook.