Getting your kids to eat anything green, new or obviously healthy is a battle all of us face. Even nutritionists. We promise you! If this sounds like a scenario in your house, we have some tips for navigating the issue of picky eaters.
It can seem really overwhelming when you want to change your family's diet. But no one said you have to change all their meals in one go. You could start just by adding more veggies to their lunch meals. Either concentrate on quantity of veggies or the types they will try - is best not to try and kill two birds with one stone.
Another tip we give is to focus on one meal at a time. Breakfast is often easiest for a couple of reasons;
First, your kids are fresh from a sleep so tiredness won't play as big a role as dinner after school or kindy or daycare.
Secondly, breakfast is often the biggest culprit of less nutritious options. Just start by removing sugar-filled cereals and replace with whole grains like oats (topped with fruit of their choice and yogurt) or buckwheat and fruit. Then go from there. Some kids may enjoy eggs for breakfast or even Danijela’s delicious Banana Oat Pancakes.
Once you've conquered breakfast, start looking at lunch and dinner.
2. Get them involved
Kids are naturally curious creatures. They are usually far more likely to eat something if they've had some input into its creation. Whether this is:
Preparing the veggie garden and planting the seeds
Monitoring the growth and pulling the veges from the garden
Helping with meal prep. A spiraliser is key in exciting kids about cutting veggies :)
Give them their own shopping list when you go supermarket shopping, even with 3-4 items that they are responsible for selecting. Getting things like zucchini, asparagus or mushrooms are good for gathering themselves.
Sit down with your kids one weekend morning and plan the dinners for the week and ask them what lunchbox items they would like. Get them to look at pictures - especially if they are under five - and then go out together and buy the ingredients for that meal.
One of our clients with three small boys has cut out pictures of meals that the family eats frequently, laminated them and put magnets on the back. They put the meal they are eating that day on the fridge so they know it is coming. From a personal point...how devastating is it when you make a meal and its met with ‘oh nooooo, not this!’ :)
3. Let them have a say
Expecting kids to eat every single thing when we ourselves have foods we don’t like is not realistic. Another tip we have is to let the child pick some “no go” food items. Together, come up with a list of four things they are allowed to choose not to eat. Not whole meals, but individual foods.
Once you have those items, you agree not to force them to eat them and they agree to at least try everything not on that list. Releasing this small amount of control feels monumental to little kids. But really, what’s four vegetables in the scheme of things!
Unless your kids are cheeky enough to say; root vegetables, brassica vegetables, nightshades and legumes, lets hope it’ll never ever to that :)
4. Check for any sensory issues
Some kids won't like a food due to the texture. Particularly preschoolers. If they aren't comfortable chewing and swallowing they won't enjoy the process. Therefore they won't associate that food with an enjoyable experience.
Just be mindful and try preparing a food in several ways before you completely discount it.
Some kids love stir fry when the veggies are still crunchy, but hate pureed soups. Some will only eat roasted vegetables, or one eat raw cold ones. Frozen, raw, cooked, pureed, roasted - its all fine!
5. Your words mean everything!
Call brocolli ‘little trees’, make rainbows with different coloured capsiums, fake excitement about brussel sprouts (or drizzle a little honey on them), your kids always listen to you and be watching how you interact with food. There is no way they will eat silverbeet when they hear a parent utter ‘urgh gross, silverbeet.’
Lastly, this is going to take awhile. None of us got to the point of eating and enjoying vegetables without some practice. Remember also that for a lot of us, the eating of 'healthy' foods also comes with the caveat that we understand they are good for us.
Kids don't have this yet. They don't associate foods with how their bodies function unless we make a point of telling them. We need to tell them. Not to make foods "good" or "bad" foods, but to empower them to eat what makes them feel happy and strong.
“_____ makes me swing on the monkey bars”
“Eating _____ makes me strong like ____”
“Eating breakfast means I have energy to play with my friends”
Say it enough, and they’ll soon believe it :)
Start this dialogue. It won't be quick or easy, but it will be worth it.
One last point to make. Please don’t stress about kids birthday parties. It's less than 5% of their total diets. If your child has allergies or food intolerances, make an alternative for them and take it along, but don’t make a big deal about it. When children are young, the social interactions and games are often the focus point anyway. Just observe how they react at the party. Most often, they will have one or two things and then go back to playing. Kids will self regulate their appetites and you may find them less hungry after a birthday party anyway.
Good luck and we are always keen to hear what works, what doesn’t and how we can be of help!
The team at Feel Fresh Nutrition