In the first of our #Mumspiration series, in which we’ll bring you inspired solutions to everyday problems, Rachel suggests 20 rock solid tips to help you address the all too common issue of kids not eating their veg…
We’ve all been there… after (yet another) tough day you’ve put aside your own exhaustion once again to lovingly prepare a nutritious meal for your offspring. You carefully balance portions of protein and complex carbohydrates thoughtfully onto their favourite plates, only for them to stealthily extract every vegetable and dispose of it on the floor (which you discover a week later). Is all hope lost? No way! Check out these tips and recipes that will have you weeping for joy at the dinner table before you can say ‘Pass the multivitamins’.
1. Serve raw vegetable crudites before the main meal. Not a huge amount, just a few choice slivers and rounds, served attractively in a little cup of their choice, whilst they are still starving and waiting for the main event. Carrot, pepper, cucumber, tomatoes – even raw mushrooms, broccoli, and cauliflower thinly sliced! Serve with a range of dips. My daughter loves chomping on raw veg as we prepare dinner, but when it’s cooked she often loses interest. Kids are weird, go figure.
2. Get to know family food bloggers. In the UK there’s Lou from Eat Your Veg (loads of ideas for veg hating kids) the Crumbs sisters (these gals feel your pain and have many solutions). And of course, there’s my family food blog, Well Worn Whisk. Or US bloggers to look out for include The Pioneer Woman (I want to be her BFF and visit her ranch) and Smitten Kitchen (great mix of sophisticated and family friendly fodder). All of these women produce endless ideas for great family dinners.
2. Grate vegetables into fritters and pasta. Check out Eat Your Veg’s Courgette and feta fritters. Or try the Crumbs sisters’ Carrot fritters recipe on their awesome YouTube channel. Try grating courgette to form the base of a creamy carbonara.
3. Completely ignore the fact that they’ve left their vegetables. I know, I know, this is SO hard to do. Because you want to throttle them, force feed them, shout at them, cry at them (delete as appropriate). But don’t. Don’t draw attention to what they haven’t eaten. Instead, praise them for what they have. Don’t give in and stop serving that dish. Try again next week. NEVER GIVE UP.
4. Try making simple vegetable soups. For some reason kids love smooth veggie soups. The Pioneer Woman has a great Broccoli cheese soup recipe. Or how about this simple Carrot and coriander soup which I adapted from a netmums recipe? It’s SO simple and SO good you won’t believe it. Kids love it. This tomato soup by Smitten Kitchen is served in a mug with cheesy toast atop.
5. Talk about how vegetables have magic powers to heal our bodies. When they’ve fallen and grazed their knee, tell them, once calm, that their amazing body will heal itself – but remember they must eat lots of veggies to make that happen! You’d be surprised how often my son has brought this up at the dinner table when he’s eating a vegetable, which he occasionally deigns to do.
6. Cover everything in cheese sauce. OK, so this won’t work for all vegetables or all children. But I find they generally like a cheese sauce, and if it’s a veg that they will tolerate, then a cheese sauce is going to help it go down, right? My quick microwave cheese sauce is easier than opening a packet and works with lasagne, macaroni cheese, everything. If your kids go for cheese sauce, try my non-roux based mac and cheese with spinach and mushrooms too – a playdate favourite in our house.
7. Buy a small selection of (specifically) family cook books. Try The CRUMBS Family Cookbook, or look at Top Bananas! which is the one they did with Mumsnet a while back. Also I love The Netmums Cookery Book. These books feel your pain and address your issues directly.
8. Get familiar with food sections of your favourite parenting websites. Netmums have a large family food section packed with easy, kid-friendly recipes. Mumsnet has a similar food section – use the forums on these sites for ideas too – remember, we’re in this together!
9. Dice vegetables up really small and cook into pies and ragus. This is the method probably most commonly used. Hey, it works! Here’s my Hidden veg shepherd’s pie, my vegged up Lamb ragu and, last but not least, a Hidden veg pasta sauce from Annabel Karmel.
10. Let the kids cook! I’m not suggesting they deep fry some squid and chop habenero chillies using a mezzaluna. My daughter stands on a chair beside me most nights as I cook, I have my hand over hers and she slices up vegetables using a real, sharp knife. It helps cultivate an interest in cooking and they always eat more when they’ve been involved in making it. I recommend wine whilst this happens to encourage an air of nonchalance as they drop your thus far uniform veg chopping approach to go freestyle.
11. Make chips! Potatoes are vegetables too! Here are my chunky homemade chips, great with a fried egg. Hey, did you know courgettes make great baked chips? Or try these sweet potato wedges – here served with dhal, but great with houmous actually…
12. Houmous – always with the houmous! Try making Lou from Eat Your Veg’s Red pepper houmous and serving with aforementioned crudites for a lunch that will (if eaten by kids) invoke the most parental smugness you have ever experienced in your whole life.
13. Pesto is the best-o! Pesto is like a gift from God. Making your own is easy. Even this crazy sounding Kale, walnut and parmesan pesto. Listen, my little nephew, who only likes porridge, sausages and plain pasta ate a bowl of pasta tossed in this nutritious concoction when I babysat him once. If you’re not convinced, try Crumbs’ Pea pesto.
14. Whizz avocado up in dressings, dips and smoothies. Technically a fruit, but so what. Loved by one of my kids, hated by t’other. Avocados are too healthy to ignore, so try whizzing up with a little Greek yoghurt and maybe feta and some herbs as a dip. Whizz with banana and yoghurt for a breakfast smoothie. Also lovely as a dressing.
15. Get inspo from Pinterest! I get SO many great ideas from Pinterest, and I change them up to make them my own. OK, so I’m a food blogger and that’s what I do. But you should try it too. If you’re bored with your cooking, your kids will be too.
16. Try this life-changing veg-based creamy sauce from Pinch of Yum. You can basically treat it as a bechamel sauce, but it is actually a very healthy and creamy sauce made from cauliflower. The best bit? They’ll never know! Mwah ha ha!
17. Let them get hungry – don’t over snack them! It’s old fashioned common sense time: kids need to be hungry to eat well. Work to this: 3 solid meals a day with a small but healthy snack at least 1 hour before dinner, like an apple, flapjack or nuts. If you’d snacked all day you wouldn’t be hungry for dinner either!
19. If all else fails, make cake! These courgette and carrot cupcakes from Eat Your Veg are great way to get a little goodness into treat time.
20. Relax. And try to set a good example. Finally, try not to freak too much, even if they don’t eat much veg at all. If you relax, set a good example, and most importantly never stop serving vegetables for dinner (EVER!) then they will come round eventually. Not to everything maybe, but something will give. OK, so it might be at the ripe old age of 15, but hey, at least they got to 15!
How do you get your kids to eat their veg? Is your top tip not on the list? Get involved, tell us how you convince your kids to eat well. Remember, the best comment this month wins Jamie Oliver’s brand new cook book!