14 ways to make your kids fall in love with their greens (and reds, yellows, purples…)
It’s true, kids don’t always love their fruit and veg – and ok, I admit, even my own three still have their moments. If we’re honest, a lot of us had our ‘moments’ too, as youngsters. Can I get a little technical on you? It’s all to do with those developing taste buds. Children’s tongues are naturally more receptive to sweet than to savoury. So if a child says “this broccoli tastes ick!”, chances are it does – to them. So believe them. But equally, keep calm and carry on.
So now you’re asking me how to stay zen when it’s the third night in a row that little Johnny has refused his veg? And now his sister is following suit? It’s chaos in the kitchen and all you really wanted was an early night and to catch the latest episode of The Killing. So what’s your strategy? Bribe with dessert (not judging – I’ve been there)? But I can tell you that bribery and threats are a classic example of short-term gain for a lifetime of bargaining strategies. And you don’t want that (let’s face it, we’re all in this for the long haul). Why shouldn’t you bribe with dessert? Well that’s possibly a good place to start. Think of these tips as my love letter to you, and your family.
Neither reward, nor punish with food
I base this on an interesting theory called the ‘over-justification hypothesis’. The premise here is that kids enjoy something less if they realise they’re being rewarded for eating it. One to remember next time you’re tempted to bribe with ice cream..?
Become a marketing guru
While we generally eat with our taste buds, smell and emotion, kids usually eat with their ears, eyes and head. If they don’t like the look or sound of something, they probably won’t eat it. Making sandwiches? Never underestimate the power of a cookie cutter…
Don’t be a plate-up parent
Adopt my buffet-style approach to dinners – by offering a selection of dishes and ingredients and letting your family put together their own main course. Represent all food groups and the rule is that everyone needs to take from at least two dishes. Remember: kids always eat better when they’re invested in their own creation.
Don’t fall into the ‘every last scrap’ trap
By forcing kids to eat ‘every last scrap’ you’re encouraging them to over-eat as well as ignore those vital ‘I’m full’ signals from their brain – not cool! Remember: the idea is that you want your kids to enjoy, not endure their fruit and veg.
Invite foodie friends
You’d be amazed at what your child will eat when they see their best friend tucking into the same with gusto. Peer pressure at its most effective.
Grow your own…
I know that gardening with kids is yet another time constraint. My advice – especially for beginners – is to find that elderly someone in your life who’s ‘a good gardener’ and ask them for help to get you all started – they’ll love it. Plus: grow stuff you know you’ll actually want to eat – and always include strawberries on that list. Come summer you’ll become an instant hero.
…or at least pick your own!
All the taste, none of the hassle – what’s not to love?!
Encourage silly suppers
When your kids are older, create a sense of empowerment by allowing them to decide what you’ll have for dinner once a month. Chocolate and crisps all round? Use it as a (non-judgemental) opportunity to discuss how certain foods make us feel if we indulge in too much of them. Because I give my kids such a free rein on what they eat, they now come to me and say “mummy I think I need some healthy food today…” They’re listening to their bodies. Job done.
Watch the snack attacks
I’m not the world’s biggest fan of our new-found snacking culture. Kids these days seem to be grazing all the time. This also points to our on-going desire to micro-manage our kids’ diets. We hate the thought of them ‘going hungry’ – but kids need to feel hungry (a) so they eat their dinner and (b) so they understand the ebbs and flows of their body’s appetites. I’d be careful that the snacks you give are not too filling or offered too close to mealtimes.
Employ the distraction technique
Shockingly, I’m a great fan of offering (healthy) snacks in front of a kids’ favourite TV show (it’s the ‘hand-to-mouth’ action). How about going retro with cheese and pineapple (cubes) on sticks? Use cut straws as a safer alternative to cocktail sticks – and try apple and cheese too (for a budget-savvy option).
Don’t become the party bag equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition
In other words, don’t create issues around food (or succumb to ‘performance parenting’ and offer books and a balloon instead). Your kids don’t need an alpha mummy on their 8th birthday – they just want the toot (didn’t you once too?) Embrace it.
Change the scenery
Shake up the routine a bit and have a tea party in the playhouse; a breakfast picnic in the garden…
Discover your child’s personality
Interestingly, some research suggests that kids who are particularly sensitive to new surroundings, textures, or even loud noise can be particularly reticent to try new foods. Consider the role your child’s personality has to play when it comes to experimenting with food.
And I’m going to end on my biggest tip of all (and you thought I’d stopped at 13…?)
If you want your kids to really enjoy their 5-a-day, let them see YOU doing the same. I recently read about a study in America to do with getting kids to read more. It found that the children who most enjoyed reading weren’t from the families where parents read to their kids – but from the families with parents who openly enjoyed reading. In other words, do as I do, not as I say. Good eating habits have to be learnt and therefore taught. In other words, if you’re in love with healthy eating, chances are your kids will be too.
Of course the other big factor is cooking with your kids and getting them involved in the kitchen – but that’s another blog for another day!
In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day. I wish you and your kids a life-long love affair with your fruit and veg!
Fiona Faulkner is a mum, broadcaster and author of the book ‘25 Foods your kids hate…and how to get them eating 24‘. She’s working with us on our Take Two campaign to get every child eating at least two portions of fruit and veg during lunchtime at school.