Teaching kids to love their vegetables is a lot like teaching them to play a new sport. It takes plenty of patience, practice, and perseverance. That's why we like to call it food coaching.
Think of your kids as your team of little learners. Set clear rules, be consistent and be sure to reward them with lots of praise when they hit goals and try a new vegie for the first time.
Remember that it’s perfectly normal for children to have a bad game, or even a bad season. Try not to engage in a power struggle or offer alternatives when children refuse their vegetables and avoid using unhealthy foods as a bribe to encourage children to eat well. This sets up a yum versus yuck mindset and makes the healthy food look like a mountain to climb in order to get to the treats on the other side.
Aim to consistently offer healthy meals and snacks with lots of vegies and help children to understand why it is important to eat well. Healthy foods are good for growing bodies; which means strong bones and muscles, loads of energy, sharp reflexes, healthy skin and eyes and so much more.
Make sure you play by the same rules and set a good example. Your team looks up to you!
Here are our top tips for training your superstars:
1. Get them involved
Encourage children to help with food selection and preparation. This could include grabbing the vegetables when food shopping, packing their own Crunch&Sip or helping put meals together by peeling, chopping, or grating. The more kids get involved, the more likely they are to try the food on offer.
2. Allow them to choose
When children feel like they have some choice about what goes into their mouth, they are more likely to try something new. Allow children to choose what goes on their plate by letting them serve themselves. Place all the vegies in the middle of the table for taco night or cut up a fresh produce pick plate to graze on during a movie, and watch your kids reach for the good stuff.
3. Encourage but don’t force
Be persistent without making it a battle. Never force children to eat the food on their plates. Instead, outline meal time expectations and make sure you are consistent. If dinner is refused, wrap it up and place it in the fridge for later. When hunger strikes, just reheat and reserve. This sends a clear message that main meals are not negotiable and food is not to be wasted.
4. Don’t limit them
Offer all kinds of vegies, not just the ones you like. Often parents forget their children might have different preferences to them. Allow your team to be adventurous eaters and try lots of variety, and don’t forget to change the way you serve vegies too. How will your star player know they love raw mushrooms if they never get to try them?
5. Ask for feedback
Chat to your kids about the vegies they are not so keen on. Ask them what it is they don’t like, sometimes it’s a simple fix. Try one vegetable five ways (raw, steamed, mashed, roasted or grated) to help kids find the way they like it. A raw carrot might feel too crunchy for little teeth; instead try some soft grated carrot in a sandwich. Offer lots of encouragement and celebrate the small wins, trying anything new is a big deal for little people.
6. Set them up to succeed
Remember to throw in some vegies your kids enjoy when asking them to try something new. This way there are familiar foods to fall back on if they don’t feel like being adventurous at the time. Providing a positive space where children feel good about sharing a meal will mean they are more likely to branch out and try new foods.
7. In, on, and around
In order to get some runs on the board, we know it can be tempting to hide vegies in the food you make. In the long run this doesn’t set kids up to learn to love their vegies. If they don’t get to taste freshly steamed broccoli, slow roasted pumpkin or cherry tomatoes straight from the punnet then they miss out on all the yummy flavours, and they won’t realise they actually like some things. Grating vegies into the Bolognese or mixing them through muffins is like a bonus round, but the main game is all about making vegies the star of the show!
Remember to let your child tell you when they are ready to call it a game. Leaving food is fine, especially if they have tried a little bit of everything on offer.
Stay positive - some games you win, some you lose. Keep encouraging your team to put their best foot forward and watch them grow into vegie munching superstars!