As a nutritionist/dietitian, I had high expectations once I had children, of my ability to make sure that they would be eating well. At the same time I did not want to cause a problematic relationship with food for my children, I wanted food to be a positive experience.
My main focus was and is that my children learn to love vegetables. Yes, they eat sweets here and there and sometimes bacon, but what is important is what they eat on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, here in Greece the business of food geared to children is big. I say unfortunately, because most of the products nowadays are highly processed with plenty of sugar, very little fiber and enriched with vitamins in minerals, masquerading as healthy food. In addition, many parents and grandparents (who often take care of the children while the parents are at work) have preconceived notions of what children like or don’t like. One of the food groups that are assumed to be disliked are vegetables and as a result from the start, children grow up with the notion that vegetables and beans are something that is necessary to eat but not necessarily good tasting.
My approach has been different and as a result both my young children will eat about a pound of fruit and vegetables on most days.
Here’s how I do it:
1. Make vegetables taste good
I cannot stress this enough. I don’t like plain flavorless vegetables so why would my kids like them? And here is where Greek cuisine can do miracles. The fact that there are numerous dishes that are exclusively made with vegetables, cooked in olive oil and herbs and served with feta has been so effective for us. Instead of handing some carrot sticks to your kids, try making the vegetables almost decadent by cooking them.
One average serving for a child, will provide between 3-4 servings of vegetables. So kids actually do not need to worry about getting more vegetables the rest of the day.
Get the Greek vegetable recipes here
2. Don’t sneak in the vegetables
There are several books and articles that give you advice on how to sneak in vegetables so that your kids won’t notice them. What message are we sending here? That vegetables are undesirable and therefore they should be somehow hidden from our kids. Not a very effective way to get your kids to like vegetables if they don’t even know what they are eating. Prepare the vegetables with plenty of good fats and flavor and they will be quite tasty.
3. Make hearty salads
A plain lettuce salad will not do the trick when it comes to kids. You need other ingredients that will provide texture, flavor and excitement! Make dressings using olive oil, vinegar and a bit of honey or jam. Add nuts, raisins, cheese and whole wheat croutons for more texture. In the summer, kids love a traditional Greek salad with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and feta cheese.
4. Make vegetables the desirable dish rather than the obligatory one
My husband and I often eat a large hearty salad in the evening after the kids are asleep. Once they found out, they wanted that salad too. The salad had become this desirable meal that they were not having, so they wanted it. In other words when we set the example, meaning that we genuinely as adults like vegetables, than the kids will also get that message. By sending the message that vegetables are only good for health and not really something that tastes good or desirable, you are sabotaging all your efforts.
5. Count on vegetables that they like
Ideally, I would like my kids to love all vegetables, but they do have their favorites periodically, so I serve those most often. My one son loves tomato salads, so on some days that may be the only type of vegetable he eats and that’s ok. Introduce or incorporate a variety of vegetables, but don’t worry if they prefer specific vegetables.
6. Let them choose
I often just ask my kids what vegetables they want. It’s as simple as that, we choose and then I’ll prepare it. Avoid interfering or judging their choices, as long as it’s a vegetable (except potatoes), it’s fine.
7. Start early
If you have children who are quite young, making home made purees with vegetables, a bit of olive oil and herbs is a great (and easy) way to get kids accustomed to the taste of vegetables. Processed baby food is often very mild in flavor when it comes to vegetables, while that may sound like a good idea, it isn’t because once children start eating real vegetables, they may reject them because the flavor is stronger.
8. Do not pressure
Some days kids just don’t want to eat vegetables or whatever other food you have offered them, adults are the same way. Give them a break, let it go and know that nothing bad will happen if they don’t eat vegetables for one day. Pressuring them to eat vegetables gives them the message that vegetables are a necessary evil, when in fact they are not.
This comes from my colleague and friend Cindy Silver, Registered Dietitian and author of the book Need Help Mom?, a guide for helping busy moms making food fun. Cindy suggests starting a Family club for encouraging children to eat their vegetables. Here’s how to do it:
1. Have a veggie tasting at the dinner table once a week.
2. Make a rule that everyone will taste everything.
3. Taste and raise hands to vote who liked the featured veggie.
4. If there is a tie, bring the same veggie to another tasting in a few weeks and vote again.
5. If more than half the family votes ‘yes’ than add the vegetable to next week’s menu.
Photo by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved