In the coming months, pediatric dietitian Susie Burrell will share 10 little lifestyle lessons for healthy kids and happy family meals with GI News readers.
Lifestyle Lesson 1: Children are unlikely to like vegetables first time around
What it is about vegetables? They are the most commonly reported foods that children do not like? The lesson about veggies is essentially is it any wonder? Kids are smart, they get the message when Mum and Dad get anxious and make a fuss about food. How many times do we tell children that they must eat all their ice-cream? Like never. And yet, we do it all the time with vegetables. The key is get smart and cut the fuss.
Most of the parents I see don't realise that you need to offer children new foods at least 7–10 times before they will consider accepting it! How often did you offer your veggie refuser carrots or broccoli before concluding that he or she didn’t like them? Probably a couple of times if you are like the Moms and Dads I chat to.
Remember, when your child vociferously proclaims he or she doesn’t ‘like’ veggies, it is not usually that they don’t like them, it’s more likely that they would much prefer something else, which in many cases turns into milk, fruit or toast as most parents don’t want their kids to go to bed hungry. And every time you cave in and produce that something else, you have put the ‘what to eat’ power into your child's hands, and boy do they know how to use it to get what they want!
You don’t have to become a sneaky chef hiding veggies in other foods like invisible friends. In fact, it’s not a solution at all to my mind because although you might be getting veggies into your kids, you aren’t getting your kids to think about veggies in a positive way at all. Here are a few tips that can help if you have a serial veggie refuser on your hands.
First, it doesn’t matter that they don’t eat an entire rainbow of different coloured vegetables (despite all the promotion). All that matters is that there are one or two varieties they are happy to eat, raw or cooked, each and every day. So, if your child is very happy to eat some frozen peas lightly blanched and some raw carrot or capsicum each day, be happy with that.
Secondly, never substitute your child’s half plate portion of fresh salad or vegetables with other foods. Offering your child other options sends the message that it is OK for your kids not to eat the vegetables and if they make enough fuss they won’t have to.
And make the vegetables taste good. Soggy overcooked broccoli is not particularly appealing to me, let alone a 2 year old who has probably eaten plenty of food already during the day. There’s nothing wrong with adding flavour (we expect it!). So give those veggies a bit of zing with honey or cheese sauces, roast them or make delicious salads or pizzas with the kids.
And never ever mention that they are in fact eating vegetables. You may be surprised how unnoticed it goes when you do not make such a fuss about it. And what's more, you'll be surprised at how many different veggies they are suddenly eating.
Susie Burrell (www.susieburrell.com.au) is one of Australia's leading dietitians; her unique training in both nutritional science and psychology helping thousands of adults, children and athletes reach their health and nutrition goals without diets or deprivation. As specialist Weight Management Dietitian at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, she develops and evaluates programs aimed at managing and preventing child and adolescent obesity. In her private practice, she balances her clinical work with her primary love, writing for both print and electronic media. Susie currently has a weekly column in The Daily Telegraph's Simply Food lift out as well as columns in Good Health & Medicine, ALPHA and Dolly magazines. She is also a regular guest on FRESH television and The Today Show.