I think I was pretty lucky growing up my only bad memory of being forced to eat something I didn’t want to was of silverbeet with a white sauce. It was a rare occasion when mum decided I had to have it. I can still remember the feeling of wanting to vomit. To this day I still don’t like silverbeet! I think most people have a food that was insisted on that still traumatizes them as an adult!
So how do we teach our kids to eat their vegetables and try new things without scaring them for life? I can share what has worked for our family. This is mostly aimed at children you can verbally negotiate with not your toddlers although I will mention this briefly too.
I’ll put them into points so you can easily remember them or note down:
One bite policy…anything your kids don’t like require them to have one bite each time you serve it. For example one piece of mushroom, one brocoli floret, one slice of carrot. I’m a big believer in this as I know myself that if I was required to take one bite I could handle that…I could mentally overcome that challenge… but ask me to eat a whole serving of silverbeet and my stomach would churn and brain swell.
Make sure your kids are hungry come dinner time. Don’t over feed them at afternoon tea, one small snack to tide them over may be all they need. My boys can eat a couple of pieces of toast after school without effecting their dinner appetite but anymore than that and come dinner they aren’t hungry for very much.
SOMETIMES THEY HAVE TO EAT THEIR VEGES
When it comes to vegetables in general, not the ones they hate just the ones they would be happy to swap out for fries then I do sometimes make them eat them. Generally when we sit down to eat I’ll encourage them to eat veges first before filling up on meat or their favourite thing on the plate. I also remind them to mix the veges with the thing on the plate they like.
DON’T OFFER ALTERNATIVES
Your child isn’t going to starve if they miss a few meals. Eventually hunger will make even less desirable things look attractive. If they don’t want what you are cooking for the family then don’t prepare them separate food (except for allergies of course). I do sometimes offer the boys a choice of raw or cooked carrot as they would prefer to munch on a raw carrot before dinner than eat a cooked one. Probably healthier that way anyways.
ALWAYS LET THEM CHOOSE IF THEY WANT TO EAT
I read about a large family who would put out the least favourite thing first and once they had eaten that they got the next thing. They didn’t have to eat anything it was their choice but they didn’t get the next thing until that one was eaten. I have used this once or twice when we have had something like a bacon and egg salad for tea. Just remember to serve up an achievable portion for a child, relative to how used to eating that sort of thing they are. Initially this may mean one lettuce leaf and two slices of tomato. I now find I can serve the boys a big plate of salad with the yummy goodies on top and they are happy to eat the whole thing as they have become accustomed to it as I have increased it over time. We have also had boys who wouldn’t eat mushrooms or beetroot now love it as one bite at at time over many meals they have grown to enjoy it.
We have a general policy if you can’t eat most of the good food on your plate then you don’t have room for dessert. If you can’t try the one bite then that is okay but no dessert. Dessert is a very good motivator for many children. Just make sure what you are asking them to achieve is realistic and not too much. Start with baby steps. Be tough and follow through or you are wasting your time and losing their respect.
KEEP OFFERING THE GOODS
Don’t stop offering just because they don’t like it first time. This is especially true for babies and toddlers. Put a selection of food out for them and they will surprise you eating things they wouldn’t touch not long ago. Don’t be surprised if they change their minds on things they used to like also though. At this age I find with my 1 year old that it is very important I don’t let him snack too much on less healthy food or he isn’t interested when the good stuff comes along.
DON’T BUY FOODS YOU DON’T WANT THEM OR YOURSELF EATING
This may seem very obvious but how many people buy stashes of goodies for the cupboard when they are trying to lose weight. If its not something you should be consuming don’t bring it into the house. I have to remind myself of this regularly especially when things are on special. We buy biscuits as our treat for after dinner having a couple each night or occasionally ice cream. I stay away from buying lollies, chocolate and fizzy drinks. Juice is another thing which you may be best to avoid buying unless you are controlled enough to only drink occasionally as it is loaded with fruit sugar. A piece of fruit is a much more balanced snack.
MAKE TASTY MEALS
The best way to get vegetables into your children without a battle is by cooking tasty meals that contain lots of them. Some of our favourites are mince (50% meat / 50% vegetables – grated carrot, zuchinni, apple, tinned tomatoes, spinach, grated pumpkin and anything else you have on hand), quiche (loaded with vegetables, cheese and bacon) and more recently I have found some great one pot recipes loaded with vegetables which I’ll share in another post. I think most kids would enjoy these kinds of things.
I hope one or two of these ideas might be helpful for your family! I use them all and my 3 older boys eat almost everything and enjoy it. The toddler is still very much a work in progress…