parents

The reason you shouldn't hide veggies in your kids' food.

How do you do it?

Hey. Parents. Yes, you there – the one grating up a giant pile of carrots and capsicums and every other grate-able veggie on the planet, ready to smuggle into the pasta sauce you’re making for your kids.

I’ve seen you add pumpkin puree into muffins and I know that you hide veggies in fruit. I know that you tried to get the kids onto beetroot chips instead of Doritos without alerting them to the difference in substance; I know that you ended up surrendering and handing over whatever it is was the kids were screaming for at that particular moment in time.

You’re doing a good, honourable thing. You’re being a responsible parent by surreptitiously bringing peas into little Billy’s diet somehow – even if the method itself involves degrees of dishonesty, Billy needs those vitamins and nutrients and minerals somehow, and it’s not going to happen by him willingly eating peas.

And of course, Billy deserves a treat if he happily eats everything on the table. Right?

Wrong. Oh-so-very-wrong.

I’m so sorry to tell you, Parents, but apparently you’ve been going about things in the completely incorrect way.

According to Australian researchers, you’re actually doing a bad thing by rewarding kids with food when they do something good. Worst still – you’re actually screwing over your children by hiding their vegetables in their meals. By pureeing and chopping and grating and disguising those vegetables, you’re setting your kids up for a life of doomed eating.

The findings, published in the international ‘Appetite’ journal, reckon that kids won’t get used to veggies if they’re constantly hidden or disguised. The research generally suggests that a kid needs to try a bite of a certain food about eight to ten times before they accept it  – even if they’ve rejected it every other time. That can’t quite happen if they’re not eating pure corn, but corn that’s been blended and made into biscuits somehow.

You’re apparently also sending the wrong message by hiding away those veggies; and worse, you’re developing an emotional connection to junky food as happy food when you use it as a reward.

Try and get your kids involved in the cooking process.

I know. I know this study makes your life instantly harder. All this time, you thought you were doing a decent thing managing to trick your small ones into actually happily eating veggies.

And here it turns out that it’s not good enough – that you’ve somehow got to actually convince kids to sit down at the table and happily munch on those brussel sprouts. So that they appreciate them. And you’ve got to somehow do it without losing your mind from all the negotiation, whining and screaming that’s bound to ensue.

I am no Supernanny that confesses to have vegetable-eating-kiddie-secrets that will have them shovelling capsicum into their mouths. But I do have some suggestions that might just work for you…

1. Get the kids involved in the cooking process

Kids love getting in the kitchen and it makes it so much better for them if they’re involved in the whole process – picking the meal, using the ingredients, putting it all together…

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Next time you want to cook with your kids, make sure you pick out a recipe that has plenty of veggies in it. It might be a stir fry, a salad, tacos (lettuce! tomato! carrot!) or even a pizza (with lots of veggie toppings). Go to the supermarket together, buy everything together and then cook it together. Hopefully, being intricately involved in the process will make the kids more willing to taste the fruits vegetables of their labour.

2. Don’t fight about it

According to research – and just general common sense – negative experiences at the dinner table and forcing kids to finish their food will just mean that they get even pickier and more difficult. You want kids to associate the kitchen table with good experiences, not their equivalent of hell.

So? Require just one bite of the vegetable (remember the eight to ten required over a short-ish period of time) and reward them for it with something that’s non-food-related, like a sticker. And don’t go on about health benefits and such too much – kids don’t really care about nutrients. If you have to say anything, explain that the food will help to make them big and strong.

3. Try something different

Remember the possibilities for veggies. You don’t have to be serving up the same meat-and-three-veg of our childhoods; you can bake, steam, grill, stir-fry whatever vegetables you like, add butter and garlic and spices. You can arrange the raw and cooked vegetables into fun shapes. There are so many options – if your little one won’t eat cooked carrot (I don’t blame them, I don’t like it either) then they might eat the raw, crunchy version with fun dips instead. Kids love dip.

That kids are going to be just fine, regardless of what they eat, and even if your kid is a picky eater now, they won’t be when they grow up.

4. Make sure you set an example

If you want your kids to eat vegetables, but you personally turn your nose up at the sight of anything green? It’s not the most ideal situation. Make sure you serve veggies with meals and let your kids see you eating and enjoying them. It plays a big part in how their eating habits might develop.

5. Just don’t worry about it

There’s a new school of thought being introduced into the kids-and-vegetables debate; the idea that you should just give up and not care too much about their eating habits. That kids are going to be just fine, regardless of what they eat, and even if your kid is a picky eater now, they won’t be when they grow up.

I agree with this to an extent; I would touch barely anything as a kid, but as an adult, I’ll eat pretty much anything. Your kids might grow up and stay picky, but more likely, they’ll see their friends trying a wide variety of things – sushi and salads and dumplings and Thai stir-frys – and they’ll want to try them too, and end up liking them.

If your kids absolutely will not eat anything in green veggie format, and if it’s too much of an exhausting drama to force-feed them, maybe just give it up. Most of the nutrients in those veggies can also be found in other sources, such as meat and fish and beans. Happy days!

Are your kids picky eaters? What tactics do you use?

Tags: kids , motherhood , health-and-wellbeing
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