Like every other parent in the history of kid-kind, I struggle to get my son to eat veggies sometimes but I persevere and it’s rare for him to totally refuse them. I have developed a range of techniques to help with the problem. I call it my vegetable toolkit. Does that sound weird? Anyway, I’m aware that every child is different and that each one has buttons to press that are special and unique but these are my top ten techniques for getting my offspring to enjoy (and I use the word loosely) his vegetables…
It goes something like this; “Eat up every last scrap of that courgette or there will be no yoghurt/pudding/chocolate.” (Delete as appropriate. Warning: this method results in grumbling and occasional tears.) With this method it is vital to stick to your guns. No veggies, no sweet. End of. When the little person is tired, I have been known to negotiate down to half.
No discussion required. (Praise be!) This is a highly desirable option, though it isn’t always possible. Anything that makes vegetables look like something else or which hides them effectively is culinary treasure. Root veg mash? Perfect. Tiny diced celery/carrots/peppers in the bolognese sauce? Ideal. If only someone would invent a machine that could make veg invisible altogether… just for little people under the age of say… 8?
When he was tiny I had no trouble feeding my boy veggies. Any kind of train, car, motorbike or aeroplane noises were enough to make him giggle and eat up. Also counting – he loved to count the spoonfuls. We would start at ten and count down to one. (Great for his numeracy skills too!) These days, broccoli is, slightly macabre though it sounds, a row of people at the barbers waiting to have their heads shaved…
It always gives me a perversely powerful feeling to know I have created a meal in which the vegetables cannot be avoided. Soup, for instance, or stews or curries or pasta sauces where the veggies are in every mouthful. A hungry child and a plateful of food that isn’t clearly separable into different elements is a winning combination. It’s too much trouble to make a real fuss…
This is only effective if used sparingly; “You know, you are getting to be such a big, grown up boy – you haven’t complained once about those carrots and you are eating them up really well. I’m proud of you!” (Warning: this often results in the opening of undesirable negotiations, e.g. “Will I get ‘x’ as a reward for being so good with eating my veggies?”)
Some veggies are really quite grown up and need a bit of palate development before being put in front of a little person. I have found that if some veggies are deliberately withheld from my son’s plate, (e.g. asparagus/fennel/artichoke) he becomes increasingly curious about them, willing to try them, and, eventually determined to be given his share. Score!
Finger food is just another form of play and I have found that if it is permissable to eat certain veggies with fingers, they suddenly become much more appealing. Parsnip chips and corn on the cob work well here. Also broccoli. (See 3. above.)
I know this sounds a bit bizarre but I find that my son responds really well to discussions about what is in his food and what it does for his body. Yes, we’ve all heard about carrots helping you see in the dark but I’m talking more about the iron in spinach that makes your blood and muscles strong or the purifying powers of onions – he’s only six but he is fascinated. Making food sound like super-fuel is a great way of getting ‘buy-in’.
“I bet I can eat all my salad before you do…” “I bet you can’t finish that cabbage before I finish my mange tout…” “First one to clear their plate gets to choose dessert…” You get the idea. (Only you have to let the little people win sometimes.)
No child worthy of the name would complain about vegetables that taste delicious. That’s kind of the problem. Some veggies just aren’t all that delicious – don’t shout at me, I’m only being honest. So what we need are recipes that maximise the deliciousness of vegetables. I have a few. My veggie lasagne for instance. There are never any complaints about that, in fact when I made it last time, my son came back for seconds…
So there you are – my top ten ways to get children to eat vegetables. Did I miss any vital ones? If you have suggestions, I’d love to add to my toolkit!