How many times have you been told that children need a healthy diet, including fresh fruit and vegetables? We all know it, but these nutrition experts obviously haven't tried feeding a five year old a yummy vegetable stew! However, it doesn't have to be a battle. Follow these handy hints and you'll have your children begging for brocoli in no time. Well, maybe not begging...
Get them involved
A brilliant way to get children to eat fruit and veg is to get them involved in the whole journey from seed to plate. Not everyone has a garden or the time to go digging but, if you can, plant some vegetables or fruit bushes with your children. They'll really enjoy going out to see if the plants are growing and you can teach them some responsibility, making it clear the plant will only grow if they remember to water it. If this is a bit tricky, why not just take them shopping with you? Let them choose the fruit and vegetables they like the look of.
Next step is to get them involved in the cooking. Young children can wash the fruit and veg or be your "sous chef" and fetch each food as you need it! Older children can, under supervision, chop, peel and cook the food with you. If they feel proud of their creation, they'll want to try it!
Give them a choice
Do you like every single vegetable? No. Then why should your kids have to eat everything you put in front of them? Follow one simple rule: you have to try a new food, but if you've given it a go and you really don't like it, you don't have to have it again. Obviously, the child has to be reasonable and have some fruit and veg they will eat, but you also have to stick to your side of the deal and not force them to eat something they genuinely don't like. Equally, ask them what their favourite fruit and vegetables are and give them a choice. If they've chosen that they would like carrots, they're much more likely to eat them. Also, try to give them some variety. Don't always serve the same boring old frozen peas. People often think children won't like unusual tastes like asparagus or mango but they honestly do, so let them try new things.
Don't make fruit and vegetables a chore
I've heard so many "experts" tell you to reward your child with a star or sticker if they eat all their vegetables. At the other end, many tell you to give a punishment, like no TV or dessert if you don't finish your carrots. Think what message you're giving the child. You're telling them eating fruit and vegetables is so unpleasant it needs some sort of reward or punishment. Children learn from you so if you make fruit and vegetables just like any other food, they will see them that way (at least until they get to school and their friends tell them otherwise!) Make sure there are fruit and vegetables available with every meal and present them as an everyday food that everyone eats and enjoys, not some sort of evil invader on the side of the plate.
Make vegetables exciting
You don't have to just chop and boil vegetables. Why not try the following:
- Make a pasta sauce with either chunky roasted vegetables or pureed vegetables
- Serve burgers with roasted vegetables
- Add salad to sandwiches
- Make a sandwich filling with tuna or chicken, mayonnaise and chopped cucumber, peppers, sweetcorn etc
- Serve chopped vegetables with dips like salsa, humus or BBQ sauce
- Add swede or carrots to mashed potato
Fruity pudding doesn't have to mean fruit salad
You can make fruit a treat! So many puddings are based around fruit so just reduce the cake or biscuit base and up the fruit contact. Try these ideas:
- Liven up your fruit salad with toffee, strawberry or chocolate sauce or syrup
- Make a fruity sundae with ice cream, sauce and layers of fruit
- Make a healthy crumble by stewing fruit in juice with no sugar then crumbling granola cereal over the top in a thin layer and serve with low fat custard
- Chop a banana in half and add ice cream for a banana split
- Melt chocolate and chop fruit to make a fondue
- Crush meringue, whipped cream and a fruit of your choice to make an Eton mess
- Make a healthy cheesecake by crushing low-fat biscuits for a base, adding low-fat soft cheese and topping with lots of chopped fruit
Fit fruit into your routine
As I've already mentioned, lots of parents think eating fruit deserves a reward, or refusing it deserves a punishment. My tip is don't make it a big deal. Make eating fruit an everyday thing by fitting it into your child's daily routine.
- Add fruit to cereal at breakfast time. Favourites are chopped banana, dried fruit mix, raisins and chopped berries. Buy some healthy "base cereals" like shredded or puffed wheat and let the child choose their base and which fruit to add. Tell them they're being creative and "inventing" their own cereal. You could even get them to give it a name and turn it into a game. I used to love doing this when I was younger and didn't realise it was a sly way to get me eating a healthy breakfast.
- Give them fruity snacks. People say snacking is bad but it's been proven to boost your metabolism and if your child doesn't ever get too hungry they're less likely to overeat at meal times. Chopped fruit with a dipping sauce is a good idea.
- Add a piece of fruit or packet of dried fruit to their lunchbox for school everyday. If it's always there, it just becomes something they're used to eating and they won't think twice about it. Try to vary what you include so they don't get bored.
I hope you'll find these ideas useful. Just remember one thing, children are fussy eaters. It might not be easy, but don't get angry. Stay calm and relaxed and eventually your child will realise that some fruit and vegetables are actually really tasty!