We all know vegetables are important but getting them into kids’ tummies can be a challenge. Whether it’s picking out the beans or a complete refusal to eat any variety, kids can have a reputation for not always liking their veggies. This is completely normal!
Here are some ways you can try to get more vegetables into your child’s diet:
Pack in those veggies when you’re pregnant and breastfeeding
Learning to like foods begins before your baby is born. A healthy and varied diet during your pregnancy can influence your baby’s taste which can give them a head start to healthy eating.
Research has shown flavours from a mother’s diet during pregnancy are transmitted to the amniotic fluid and swallowed by the foetus. So, the types of food you eat during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding may help program your baby’s flavour preferences and provide opportunities for positive habits in later life.
Begin flavour training at around six months
Babies are born with a taste for sweet and salty foods. Because of this, you need to teach your baby to like bitter and sour foods like certain vegetables, and it can take some time getting used to.
From around six months, an exciting window for flavour training begins where babies are open to trying anything. Using this window to introduce a wide variety of tastes can help shape flavour preferences.
It is best to keep it simple – introduce new vegetables one at a time so they can learn to appreciate the individual flavours. Avoid masking these flavours with something sweet like apple puree. Try to offer a new ‘taste’ every 1-2 days in all different forms – pureed, mashed, grated, chopped and finger foods. Sweet-tasting vegetables, like carrots and sweet potatoes, might be accepted more than bitter-tasting vegetables like broccoli and Brussel sprouts but that’s OK.
Vary your vegetables
Introduce a wide variety of vegetables spanning the whole colour and flavour spectrum. Continuing to offer different vegetables in different ways helps improve acceptability, even if it gets frustrating for mum and dad!
There are many things about foods that babies and toddlers might not like first up. It could be the colour, texture or flavour. Consider how it’s served, cut or arranged. Try to combine the vegetable with another vegetable or sauce to soften the flavour. Tone down strong flavours with sauces and dips. Think how you like your food and consider it when preparing your child’s food.
Most importantly, make it fun and let children play with their food to explore all the colours, flavours smells and textures.
To hide or not to hide
Veggies mixed and mashed in dishes are great, but it can be done without the secrecy! It’s important for children to see veggies they’re eating, and they need to build trust with foods and become familiar with them.
If we hide them, we are not helping our children to learn to love veggies, plus the children will sense our hesitation or fear.
Repetition is key
If your baby doesn’t like it the first time, offer again and again. Often new foods will need to be presented ten to 15 times in a positive context to improve familiarity and encourage your child to accept new foods. It doesn’t mean they don’t like them!
Learning to eat for children can be a bit scary. Imagine you have only been drinking milk and then suddenly you have to deal with solid things in your mouth. Babies and toddlers are being cautious with new foods by not accepting them straight away. Put simply, children like what they know and they eat what they like. Don’t be put off by funny faces, your baby is just getting used to something new.
Be patient and don’t feel discouraged or frustrated if your child does not eat a particular vegetable. Consider it a normal part of how babies and children learn to eat. Continue to offer previous refused foods again and again, throughout infancy and toddlerhood.
Be a veggie role model
Be a positive role model at all stages and ages and show babies just how delicious those veggies are!
The evidence says parents who eat more vegetables have children who eat more of these foods themselves. Children learn through watching other people. They see how you select food, physically eat and enjoy food. When you’re eating the same food as them, they’ll know the food is safe and they’ll be more willing to try it.
Be conscious and don’t let any negative attitudes to food be seen by your child, keep them to yourself.
In sum, don’t despair if you or your child is struggling. The good news is that learning through seeing and tasting increases familiarity with vegetables, and eventually they learn to like it, and flourish in the process.