How I get vegetables into my fussy eater

Tips for parenting a fussy eater.
Tips for parenting a fussy eater. Photo: Getty

My first child never showed a sign of fussiness. She's always eaten her vegetables, tried new foods and calmly asked for a glass of milk if something is a bit spicy. This may have caused some smug parenting to occur but, yes, karma has taken care of me.

I should have known when I was pregnant with my second child that eating vegetables wasn't going to be one of her strengths. I craved the unhealthiest of foods during the pregnancy; I would have happily lived on a diet of takeaway, chocolate bars and ice-cream (ALL the ice-cream) if I could.

My little one is three now, and we've managed to get some vegetables into her over these few years. Here's how:

Embrace the sneakiness

While I used to scoff at the notion of hiding vegetables, I must admit I'm converted to the idea. A hit of vegies now goes into anything possible. Unfortunately, this child can sniff a vegetable approaching within a two-kilometre radius; she'll even turn away a chocolate muffin if she suspects a zucchini has been grated into it. It's worth a try, though, and sometimes it works. We still serve up vegetables in recognisable forms, but if we can get more into her through some sneaky tactics then I'm all for it.

Good old-fashioned bribery

Remember when your parents used to say, "No dessert until you've eaten your vegetables"? Well, it's probably not cool to admit that I've taken this form of bribery and run with it, albeit tailored to my daughter.

See, my child is quite the carnivore. She'd be thrilled if dinner was a plate of meat, accompanied with a few sides of meat, and a little more meat for dessert. So you can guess what she eats first when handed a plate of meat and vegetables, and once the edge is taken off her hunger there's no convincing her that she should eat any more. We've flipped it: we serve her up a plate of vegetables, and tell her she can only have her meat once her vegies are gone. Whatever works, right?

Take wins where you can get them

Anything she does like, we run with it. You like cucumber on your lunch? Great, here's some more! Want to snack on a raw carrot while I'm cooking dinner? Sure, have two! This is really all about trial and error: encouraging her to try things and going with the ideas and flavours that work.

Involve them

I've noticed that the times our daughter eats her vegies without a fuss is usually when she's been involved with some part of their preparation. If she throws one bucket of water onto the vegie patch then she eats them because she thinks she's grown them; if she washes the greens in the sink then she'll eat them because she helped. Getting a young child's help with preparing dinner isn't the fastest idea ever, but then again neither is facing a fuss at the table over eating her vegetables.

Enlist help

When you can't do something yourself, outsource it! We've enlisted the help of our older daughter, who exaggerates her enjoyment of things like silverbeet to try and convince her sister to eat it. She's even resorted to feeding her little sister while pretending the fork is a train (an oldie but a goodie) and the little one is so busy laughing that she forgets how much she doesn't want to eat the vegies. As it turns out, raising healthy kids is all about team work.


And sometimes, just ease off

There are times when enjoying a nice meal together is more important than having a battle. Like on my daughter's third birthday, when I handed over the meal choice to her. "I don't care what we have," she informed me, "but please NO GREENS!"

Yep, sometimes we all just need a break.

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