Here are ten top tips strong pieces of advice!
#1 Back right off
It may sound crazy and counter-intuitive, but the more you tell, encourage, pester and bribe your child to eat their vegetables, the worse it makes it. Yes, you may get a mouthful of peas or a few pieces of carrot into them – mealtime by painful mealtime! – but the overall effect is extremely detrimental. You have much less chance of them ever eating veg of their own accord. Why? 1. You are showing them you really, really want them to eat those darn vegetables which gives them something to fight against (inwardly, if not outwardly). 2. It gives them lots of attention for not eating them – and children crave their parents’ attention! 3. It gives them the message that vegetables must be unpleasant and a chore to eat (I mean, you wouldn’t tell, encourage, pester or bribe them to eat their sweets, would you?).
#2 Expose, expose, Expose
Children can’t come to like and eat a vegetable if it is never put in front of them! Don’t deprive them of the opportunity! Keep presenting them with a wide variety of vegetables over and over again, whether they eat them or not. Children absolutely need the chance to become familiar and comfortable with the sight, smell and feel of a vegetable before they can ever become receptive to the idea of eating it. So as pointless as it may seem, just keep on putting (a small amount) of courgette or swede or whatever other vegetable they turn their nose up at on their plate!
#3 Present vegetables boldly and proudly
If vegetables always come hidden in a sauce or out of a squeezy pouch, we can’t expect children to happily devour a portion of carrots or courgette when they come face to face with them ‘in the flesh’! They need to get used to seeing vegetables as they really are if they are going to get to the stage where they will actually eat them like that. By all means add vegetables to a pasta sauce, soup or smoothie for extra nutrition, but make sure your child always has a serving of raw or cooked vegetables with their meal too!
#4 Catch them when they’re hungry
Give your child a tiny starter of two or three raw veg in a ramekin or dipping sauce bowl just before dinner while you’re still cooking and they’re still playing or watching TV. Just say “Here’s a little starter just in case you fancy it – doesn’t matter if you don’t” (remember, no pressure!) and put it down next to them: cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, pepper sticks, celery sticks, carrot sticks, olives, gherkins, shredded lettuce, shredded cabbage (with soy sauce to dip it in), avocado pieces or even just a handful of still-frozen peas or sweetcorn. This often starts to work because 1. Your child is at their hungriest. 2. The veg isn’t competing with other foods they prefer on their plate. 3. There is minus-zero pressure because they’re not even sitting at the table, the place where there is an expectation to eat!
#5 Keep preferences preferences
If you notice your child wolfs down sweetcorn but eats peas less enthusiastically, or devours broccoli but leaves most of their cauliflower, it is tempting to stop giving them the less preferred one. Don’t! If you do, those preferences will soon solidify into Likes and Don’t Likes and before you know it, you’ll be able to count the veg they’ll eat on one finger. Two if you’re lucky!
#6 Don’t praise them
Every time you say “Well done for eating all your carrots!” or “Good boy for trying a piece of red pepper!” you give your child the message that eating vegetables must be difficult and unenjoyable. (Again, you wouldn’t praise them for eating their sweets, would you?!) Save praise for the things in their life that are tricky or unpleasant, like managing to get dressed all by themselves or learning their spellings! Praise is also just another – albeit more subtle – way of showing them how much you want them to eat their vegetables, which can backfire!
#7 Let them play
As infuriating as it can be, don’t tell your child off for squishing their peas into their mashed potato or building a little pillar with their carrot slices or trying to squeeze the juice out of their tomatoes. Playing with veg is a crucial step for children in learning to like and eat veg. Grin and bear it! It’s worth it.
#8 Don’t ‘big’ vegetables up
When you tell children that spinach will make them “big and strong” or that broccoli looks like “little trees” or that they’re “very brave” for trying an olive or even try to present vegetables as ‘fun’ by making them into a smiley face on top of a pizza, you may as well be screaming “Eat it, eat it, eat it – I just really want you to eat it!” It may work the first time, but beyond that, you’re just giving them something else to react against. By all means talk to them about healthy eating and the part vegetables play in this – but don’t do it at the table!
#9 Eat your own veg
It is important that children see you eating your vegetables. Your behaviour is contagious! Young children learn most of what they learn by watching you. No need to make a thing of it (“Yum, yum, mummy lurrrrvveees green beans” – children can see straight through that!). Just let it work gently by osmosis.
#10 Give it a chance
There are no magic tricks or tips that will turn your child into a veg-o-holic overnight. This advice is as good as it gets! So don’t expect instant results (though some parents do start to see a difference immediately). Just stick to the advice like glue and you will see progress, little by little, glimmer by glimmer. It really can make a big difference.
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