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Eight ways to make your child a veggie lover, according to a child nutrition expert.

Getting children to eat their greens (and reds, oranges, blues, purples and browns) on a daily basis is a constant battle for the majority of parents I see in my practice and at workshops.

My advice is to keep calm and carry on because long-term studies prove that the vegetables your child eats now make an enormous difference to their health for the rest of their lives.

Here are some of my top tips to inspire little veggie lovers:

1. Create a rainbow plate.

Most little ones I see in my practice eat the same veggies each day. Whilst all vegetables are beneficial, the ultimate goal is to eat veggies from all the different colour groups to get the maximum benefit.  We eat with our eyes first, so it makes sense to engage your child visually when encouraging them to eat more variety.  Keep fresh and frozen produce on hand and get your child to create their own rainbow plate, filled with veggies from all the colour groups.

LISTEN: Holly’s son is eating vegetables thanks to a magical spinach pie. Post continues after audio.

2. Try one new veggie a week.

I usually find a strong connection between children who eat the same vegetables over and over and their parents who do the same.  By expanding your own repertoire of vegetables you give your child an opportunity to see and taste a variety.  You can also expand their range by including different vegetable groups.  Try salad veggies, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and brussels sprouts, and starchy vegetables like pumpkin or sweet potato.  While there’s nothing wrong with focusing on their favourite vegetables, it’s best not to forget there’s a huge selection out there, which given the chance, children may actually enjoy.

3. Include beans and legumes.

Lentil soup
A wholesome lentil soup is an excellent source of nutrients. Image supplied.

These are our most nutritious plant foods, high in proteins, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, fibre, minerals and phytochemicals.  Beans are an excellent way to ensure optimum protein intake in vegetarians, prevent constipation and keep away diseases such as colon cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol.  Hummus, lentil soup, bean stews and chickpea falafels are a fantastic way to introduce legumes to your child. To prevent bloating with “wind”, soak dried beans overnight in water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and then rinse before cooking, For canned varieties, look for BPA-free cans wherever possible and rinse well.  Try kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas and lentils.

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4. Add sea vegetables.

Seaweed, thanks to its high calcium content, strengthens bones and teeth.  It’s also high in iron, has antimicrobial properties and is a good source of essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre which helps prevent constipation.

Nori, rich in vitamins A, B1, B2 and C as well as iodine also contains protein. Use it for sushi, shred it over salad or create veggie-filled seaweed wraps filled with julienned carrots, cucumber, shredded chicken (or protein of choice) and avocado.  Despite the nutritious benefits of seaweed, it is possible for it to contain heavy metals.  Hijiki, for example, contains high levels of arsenic and should be avoided.  If your child likes the seaweed snack packs that are commonly found in supermarkets, seek out varieties, which are free from additives such as MSG or added sugar.

Moderation is key, so don’t offer your child seaweed on a daily basis, either.

Mandy Sacher the Wholesome Child
When it comes to vegetables Mandy Sacher says it's all about patience and making the process fun. Image via Instagram.

5. Don’t forget herbs and spices.


Basil
is packed with essential oils which are known to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.  Use in tomato-based pasta sauces, sprinkle on pizza and mix into rissoles.

Mint soothes upset stomachs and improves digestion.  Chill mint tea with a dash of raw honey or add fresh mint leaves and orange slices to water and serve in place of juice.

Oregano is often used to treat respiratory tract disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and urinary tract disorders.  Add to chicken, lamb or beef dishes.

Parsley is rich in many vital vitamins and keeps the immune system strong, tones the bones and heals the nervous system.  It also helps to flush excess fluid from the body and support kidney function.  Add to smoothies, chicken soup and pasta sauces.

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Spices - as well as adding flavour, spices such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are packed with nutrients too.  Add turmeric and ginger to chicken soup, sprinkle turmeric on cauliflower and add cinnamon to pumpkin and butternut squash.

Cauliflower bites
Spices are an easy way to turn cauliflower bites into flavour bombs. Image supplied.

6. Shop for vegetables together.

Encourage your children to touch, smell and engage with their food.  Let them help with grocery shopping and encourage them to pick up new vegetables from the shelves and place them in the trolley themselves - this begins the engagement with the new food.

7. Cook vegetables together.

Get little ones involved in the kitchen. Children love to eat what they have helped to prepare and it’s important for them to be exposed to vegetables in their raw state and understand how the texture and look of a vegetable changes when it’s cooked.  Let them help by peeling carrots and potatoes (using kid-friendly graters), cutting lettuce with a plastic knife or adding grated zucchini into the muffin batter.

Cauliflower pizza
Cauliflower pizza is a fun way to get kids involved in the kitchen. Image supplied.

8. Create a veggie patch.

Children love planting seeds, watching them grow, and eventually harvesting what they have planted. It’s the best way to help them make the association between earth to plate, and to engage their curiosity about different varieties of vegetables. If outdoor space is limited, start off with herbs such as basil or oregano, or better yet get involved with a community garden.

Don’t be disappointed if they don’t eat the new vegetable or food the first time it’s offered - stay positive and freeze what’s not eaten and offer it again - repetition is key here.

Mandy Sacher is a paediatric nutritionist, mum and author of the Wholesome Child Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook. You can learn more about Mandy's Group Workshops here or connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.

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