Nutrition Australia devotes Nutrition Week each year to the Tryfor5 campaign to try to convince Aussies to eat more fruit and vegetables. This year, for 2018, the focus is on making small changes, big gains.
But how does this apply when feeding young children who are still learning to like veggies? If you’re a parent who is feeling discouraged or out-and-out worried that your kid isn’t eating many (or any) veggies, then I’m talking to you!
The reality is that while most of us know we should be eating veggies, it isn’t always easy to make that happen. Add to the mix a toddler or child who flat out refuses anything green, and parents can feel like their hands are tied.
If you’re after a sure-fire way to feel like you aren’t stacking up, just stick should in a sentence.
I know my kid should be eating veggies, but she throws them back at me.
He shouldbe eating fruit like the other kids at playgroup, but he just doesn’t seem to like it.
Veggies end up being the source of the biggest parent guilt-trip ever. But they don’t need to be.
I’m going to show you how to apply Nutrition Australia’s Tryfor5 small changes, big gains this Nutrition Week to your family’s meal and snack times. No guilt-trip needed. Your mission is simply to choose which, if any, of these small changes might be helpful for you and yours.
1. Simply provide
Rather than worrying over how muchor how manyveggies your child has or hasn’t eaten, instead focus on what you have offered. Despite what society teaches us about parenting, it is not your job to get your kid to eat veggies! Can I repeat that for clarity? It is NOT YOUR JOB to get your child to eat veggies, or any other food for that matter. Have you ever tried to force a child to eat a food they didn’t want to eat? It’s unpleasant for them and you, and NEVER gives the result you’re looking for.
It IS your job to decide what food to PROVIDE at each meal or snack time, and make sure you are including veggies along with other foods. It is your child’s job to decide whether or what food to eat from the food you have provided.
No need for going on and on about how delicious or great a food is, or how much you just know they’ll love it if they try it. Kids can spot your veggie agenda a mile away. Just serve the food. Job done. Tick!
2. Enjoy eating veggies yourself (or be open to learning to)
Some of you right now are saying “Cool, I’ve got this!” The rest of you are not feeling so confident about this one. We all have a food history, and not all of us have grown into adults who LOVE veggies. Maybe you didn’t have much opportunity to learn to like veggies when you were growing up, or they were always served in a way that you didn’t much care for.
What you DO need to know is that it is never too late to learn to like new foods. Learning to like new foods is a lifelong journey!
If you already like and regularly eat veggies, let your kids seeing you eating and enjoying them. If you are still learning to like veggies, tell your kids about it. You might be ready to make it a family mission to buy a new veggie each week and explore it with no pressure for anyone to eat it (unless they want to). Exploring is just fine.
Think about what will make veggies taste good to you and your kids:
You might prefer them crunchy and raw or soft, warm and cooked
They could be more appealing served with a dressing, gravy or sauce
You may enjoy them as an ingredient in another food, rather than on their own e.g. in a savoury muffin or a smoothie
3. Eat together, in all your perfectly imperfect ways
Modern life has made it harder for families to find time to eat together. For many families, the traditional mealtime where everyone sits together and shares the best thing about their day with peaceful music playing in the background and a beautifully set table is the stuff of make-believe.
Forget perfection. That isn’t what is important. But here’s the stuff that is:
Eat with your kids as often as you can. If you NEVER eat together and you want to start, can you see even one or two opportunities each week where this is possible? How can you make this happen more often than it happens now? Could you shift the timing of meals?
One parent (or carer) eating with the kids is better than none.
Insist on sit-down meals and snacks. Sitting down and sharing food together is what counts - at a dining table, kitchen bench or a picnic blanket on the floor.
Eat the same food. Include at least 1 or 2 foods that your child usually eats, and make sure there’s plenty of it.
Include veggies regularly. Don’t just save them for the evening meal.
Value all meals as worthy of sharing together, even take-away dinners. Add extra veggies to “round out” meals if you want to.
4. Offer a rainbow
Colourful veggies have different valuable nutrients. Consider colour and you will automatically be considering variety. Mix up the veggies you offer. Offering the same food day-after-day won’t make your kid learn to like it any faster. No-one wants to be served carrots every night. They’ll just end up getting annoyed!
5. Focus on the long-game
Learning to like food, especially veggies, takes time - a very a LONG time for some kids and some adults. Continue to offer veggies, even if they are rejected. Never give up. Never take a rejected food totally off the menu. There’s no magic “number of times” that you need to offer a food. Your child may learn to like a new food after 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 or 200 offerings. You never know when the magic day will be. TRUST that your child will learn to like new foods, including veggies, when they are ready.
This Nutrition Week 2018, it’s time to stop worrying about veggies. Instead, are you ready to make a mindset change to teaching your kids about veggies?
What is one small change, big gain that will help your child down the road to becoming a veggie-loving grown up?