We all know the saying ‘eat your greens or there’ll be no pudding’ – those empty threats we remember from our childhood. And now as parents ourselves, we know how the story usually ends – we’re racked with guilt and children get their sweet treats.
It’s the proverbial challenge that as parents we all seem to face: how do we get our kids to eat the foods we know will nourish them most? It’s a challenge that’s even harder to balance in modern times.
Pickiness seems more pervasive among children, and even as adults, our diets are becoming more complex as we become mindful of food and drink we can’t tolerate or choose not to eat.
Persuading kids to eat things they don’t like is so much more than simply overcoming rebellion or pickiness; it is also about educating them. It’s important for them to understand that many of the foods pushed aside at teatime are important powerhouses of nutrition, including vitamins and minerals that we, as children and adults, need in our diets to maintain health and vitality.
In this blog, I hope to provide inspiration to all parents who share my ongoing battle to get the kids to eat the things they don’t like. Sometimes all it takes is a little patience and a dash of creativity. Before you know it, you’ll have transformed mealtimes from leftover food to clear plates and happy smiling faces.
This one might sound contentious as you start thinking about sugar and calories, so bear with me. We all know that many children have a sweet tooth, and sometimes (yes, just sometimes) it’s worth playing up to this – especially when it comes to those veggies.
My favourite trick is to sweeten with honey or apple sauce. If you’re preparing their least-favourite veg, add a dash of runny honey or apple sauce to sweeten. Honey is widely recognised as a prebiotic, providing a food source for the beneficial bacteria in our gut. It will also add the sweetness that will keep them coming back for more. I especially like to add honey to orange veggies like carrots and butternut squash.
Sometimes it’s the look of the food which is off-putting. Spiralising veg makes the mealtime fun, and the best bit is it’s hardly recognisable when it’s served; think courgette noodles. Perfect for fussy eaters, spiralising allows you to present vegetables in new and interesting ways. And the best part is it’s affordable too, with many keenly priced spiralisers available to buy. If, like me, you’re short of time, try a ready-made option. My favourite? McCain Sweet Potato Smiles – they’re oven ready in 15-17 minutes. Perfect to brighten up mealtimes.
Spice is nice
Some foods can seem quite bland, not just for our children but also to adults, too. To make things more appetising, add herbs and spices. A few of my favourites are mixed herbs, garlic, oregano, rosemary and paprika. A degree of experimentation is required here; it may take a while to get the perfect blend.
Disguise is wise
That one food you can’t seem to get the kids to eat? The best way is to pair their favourite meat or vegetable with the one they’re not too keen on and find a recipe that blends both into a soup or sauce. If you work the vegetable or meat into the recipe, they’ll never know it’s there. Sneaky, but it can work a treat!
A variation on the above – create a dish that they love, for example rice, that also includes some food they don’t like, such as peas and carrots. This way they will start to associate the foods they don’t like with the food they do, without the need for an obvious disguise.
To boil or to roast?
If blandness is a problem, rather than boil or steam veg, try roasting it. Adding light oil will change the flavour. You can also sprinkle on garlic powder or paprika.
Change the texture
Your kids don’t like crunchy apples? Make homemade apple sauce. They aren’t sure about raw tomatoes? Try a salsa. They don’t like the texture of cauliflower? Make it into a soup.