Why is it such a hard sell?
We are born with an inherent preference for sweet foods. We must really try to refrain however from using any sweet foods as reward for consuming the less appealing foods. All this does is give signals that we must endure the veg before being rewarded with something sweet. Not an ideal association to create. The more veg you can expose them to as soon as they move onto solid foods the better as this tends to lead to better consumption later in life. If you’re past this stage don’t worry, there’s still plenty of ways to increase intakes.
Often it’s a texture, not a taste thing, so varying how food is presented can make a big difference. Emilia loves raw carrot but not cooked. Sam will eat frozen spinach mixed into scramble egg but reels in horror if I have the audacity put a spinach leaf in his sandwich. Grated, sticks and shapes can all play a part in whether they try it.
Give them the reigns
Let children explore and prepare them. Are there opportunities for them to choose some when out shopping or get involved in prepping them at home? Stuffed peppers were a great experiment for us, popping out the core, halving them and turning them into a boat with a chicken and cheese filling. Now peppers are a firm favourite (for Sam)! Letting them choose which veg they have with the meal still gives them a sense of control – the decision becomes which one they have, not whether they have any or not.
This can make a big difference. Grated veggies (e.g. courgette, carrot and beetroot) are a good option and then you can let them take handfuls of it themselves. Self-serving from bigger dishes e.g. a tray bake of chicken thighs and roasted veg also gives them control. They may well shove the veg out the way and refuse to put any on their plate but you’re showing they’re part of a meal and whilst maintaining a smile on your face you can always encourage a small taste and much praise for simply trying it. A star chart for trying things also works really well.
Combine with winning ingredients
I find anything involving a batter (like a pancake) or binding ingredients such as egg or cheese makes veg more appealing. Winners include omelette, frittata’s, fritters, pancakes (even green ones!) and my friend suggested a green lasagne the other day. I was a little hesitant especially as it contained kale (aaargh) but actually combined with pasta, and a garlic infused cheese sauce they ate veg they probably didn’t even realise they were eating. Ingredients like eggs and cheese also lend themselves to some child involvement – cracking the eggs, grating the cheese, etc – imagine the fun! You may have other winning foods or ingredients you know they love so offering new veg alongside something familiar really helps.
Dress it up with a dip
Vegetables are more likely to be accepted if you allow for dipping – again they love to feel in control and it probably involves mess so it’s right up their alley too. Tzatziki or hummus work well.
Blitz them up
It can be tempting to blitz any vegetable you see if it means you can disguise it, but we shouldn’t get too carried away with this as learning to enjoy veg in their original format is what we’re aiming for. However, I don’t think any freezer is complete without a batch of whizzed tomato and vegetable sauce that can then be put with anything. Remember roasted veg, herbs and garlic will add to the flavour and as far as veg is concerned, anything goes so a good way to use up leftovers too.
Smoothies are another popular choice – they do count towards their 5 a day – ideally though you want to blend the whole of the fruit or veg so the fibre is retained, not just extract the juice as this has less of the goodness in it.
It’s all in a name
Whilst I can’t stand the assumption that all children want is burgers and chips, often using these words conjures up acceptance in a child’s mind. A chickpea burger for example has good street cred simply because it’s a burger in a bun. Roasted vegetable ‘chips’ remain cool because they’re a chip. Savoury flapjack is another one. Or give your dish a funky name – it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds!
It can take 10-15 times for new tastes to be accepted and taste buds are changing all the time. Keep trying new things when you have the energy to do so. Familiarity has been shown to improve acceptance. There is some great inspiration here. Remember if you’re exposing them to plenty of variety and giving opportunities to simply try them, whilst chirping about how great they taste, you are doing your best. One day they will surprise you!
I hope this helps you and your kids on your quest for 5 a day!