What is a picky eater?
Getting kids to eat their vegetables can be a huge challenge and stress for parents. Some kids devour anything that is put in front of them but many kids go through a phase of refusing fruit and most vegetables when they are young. Some children grow out of this by the time they are out of the toddler years but more and more children continue to struggle with eating fruit and vegetables for most of their childhood. In more severe cases, this can continue further into the teen years and adulthood. 1 in 3 children become picky eaters, which can cause a lot of stress for parents. Should I bribe my child to get them to eat their vegetables?
Many parents worry about their kids not getting enough vegetables in their diet. They understand the important role they play in overall health. They just don’t know what to do because they have tried all of the tricks in the book and are at their wits-end. Some parents just wait patiently in the hope their child will come round to vegetables, while others resort to hiding and sneaking veg into dishes. Some bribe and beg, others coax and cajole. And mostly, they find that none of these well-meaning and good intentioned tactics work!
How do I get my children to eat more vegetables in their diet?
As hard as it might be to believe when you are in the middle of a mealtime meltdown, it is possible to get children to eat a variety of fruit and vegetables. The key is in knowing how best to approach it and having proven techniques and tools to help you navigate meal times.
Here are some of my top tips for getting your kids to eat their veg, in a stress-free way and at their own pace:
Get your children involved in meal preparation to encourage them to eat a varied diet. Let kids help you plan, shop for and prepare the vegetables at dinner time. Start with a recipe you know that your child likes and let them explore the ingredients. Talk about the vegetables, ask your child to describe them- maybe discover a few facts about one or two of the vegetables. You can find some helpful facts to get you started here. I know this might seem like a very simple idea but it actually forms a very important part of helping a child build a healthy relationship with food. My personal experience has taught me that a child who is more involved in the kitchen and gets to help with preparing and cooking a meal is much more likely to try it and be enthusiastic about it.
Don’t bribe, coax or beg your children to eat their food- it doesn’t work!
Have you ever heard yourself saying “Just one more mouthful please” or “If you eat this, you will
get dessert” or “if you don’t eat up, there will be no after-dinner treat” ? We have probably said one or all of these things at some point. You may win the battle this meal time but it is not a strategy that will last.
Treats as a reward for good eating behaviour encourages bad associations with food. Offering a child a treat for eating their vegetables is teaching them that vegetables are a punishment and a treat is the ultimate reward. This strategy does not encourage healthy eating habits, can cause long term negative associations with the current offending foods and can be stressful for both parent and child. When trying to get your child to eat more vegetables or when introducing new foods, serve it alongside a food that your child likes so you know that they are getting enough to eat.
Exposure, exposure, exposure! It could take 20 – 30 exposures to a new food before a child is comfortable eating it. Establishing healthy eating habits can take time for some children- stick with it and be consistent in your approach. You will get there in the end.
Lead by example. As parents, we play an important role in shaping our children’s eating habits and their relationship with food. Although there are other factors that can determine eating behaviours in children, parental influence is a large contributing factor. One of the first things I will ask a parent of a picky eater to do is to consider how they react to foods they don’t like and to be aware that children are closely observing those reactions. Provide a wide variety of vegetables to children when they are young. If they refuse them, just keep exposing them to those foods. It might take a bit of time and patience but they will be more willing to try new foods if they see their parents and siblings with those same foods on their plates.
Introduce your children to making smoothies.
A great first step in getting kids to include more vegetables into their diet, or vegetables they struggle to eat from their plate is to get them to make smoothies with you. Exposing them to vegetables in this way, combining them with fruit and yoghurt is a fun and stress-free way for them to experience these foods. Smoothies are also an excellent way of getting vitamins, minerals, fibre and healthy fats into their little diets.