Fruit and vegetables are important sources of nutrition for children; however children are notorious for their dislike of anything “healthy”.
Most parents know that their children should eat more vegetables, but mealtimes can become a struggle when they try to introduce new vegetables to their children. 10% of British children refuse to eat any vegetables at all. However, it is possible to get children to eat (and enjoy) vegetables and a wider range of fruits.
Parents are advised to try a few different strategies, because things that work for one child may not work for all children.
Why Children need to Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed full of natural goodness which cannot be simulated by artificial produce. Depending on which fruits and vegetables are chosen, they will offer up an array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which are vital for good health. Each essential vitamin and mineral plays its own part in ensuring that the body works properly.
Failing to meet the targets for each choice can lead to deficiencies and health problems. Alternatively, children who only consume high sugar, high calorie foodstuffs are likely to develop obesity, diabetes, tooth decay and fatigue.
Understanding Food Phobias
Most children are born with an inherent phobia of new foods. Biologists believe that this trait developed to protect our ancestors from eating things that could be harmful for them. Sweet tasting items tend to offer higher energy values (more calories) and therefore early humans had a predisposition to enjoy these items when food was scarce.
Understanding why your child “hates” new foods can help you to think about how to bring new foods to the table. Introduce small portions of a new food and create positive reinforcement around the enjoyment that this new food can bring. Don’t tell your child off for disliking a new flavour, because they may begin to associate negativity with the food that you are trying to promote.
Baby See, Baby Do
Young children have a tendency to imitate the things that they see around them. If they are in an environment where other people express a dislike for vegetables, then they are also likely to develop a similar dislike. For example, if a child sees their mother picking tomatoes out of her sandwich, the child will most likely also want to avoid tomatoes too. In order to encourage your children to like the foods that you are giving to them, then you will need to make sure that you are very careful about the way that you react when you are eating your own dinners.
Children are more likely to enjoy something if they feel like they have been involved.
Once children are old enough, encourage them to become involved in the preparation process. Little tasks like shelling peas may help to encourage your children to eat and enjoy the peas as part of the meal.
If you have a garden at your home, you can also ask them to help you to grow food to eat. The anticipation which is built by watering and tending to a vegetable whilst it grows and ripens can help children to become more open to trying the produce when it is ready.
Making food presentation more fun can give children the onus to try out new things. Arrange their dinner into miniature artworks for them to enjoy. You can even ask them to arrange the artworks for themselves during the preparation process.
We are often told that we “shouldn’t play with our food”, but attitudes are now shifting to allow there to be more “fun” around food”.
A lot of children prefer raw vegetables to cooked vegetables, because the texture and crunching trigger different sensory stimuli.
Offer raw vegetables and dips as a way of getting your children to eat more vegetables. There is also a certain novelty factor that children enjoy about being able to eat with their hands. Children enjoy scooping up as much dip as possible, so gradually introduce new vegetables like celery, which allow children to get loads of dip with one scoop. Once you know that your children like the raw forms of vegetables, you can start to introduce the cooked varieties.
If the worst comes to the worst, you can try to hide vegetables in the meals that you make. Start with vegetable sauces that are so pureed that it is impossible to tell what is in it. You can gradually bulk up meals to include bigger and bigger pieces of vegetables until your children just start to accept the ingredients.
Although this strategy can work for very fussy eaters, it may not help children to get over their psychological fears over time. Children who “discover” hidden vegetables may also feel like they have been betrayed by their parents.