Children aged one to four should ideally be eating five child-size serves of veggies a day and from the ages of four to eight the recommendation jumps to 4.5 adult-size serves a day (a child-size serve doubled). From age nine onwards the goal is five or more serves of veggies daily.
As well as playing an important role in everything from maintaining a healthy immune system, improved gut health and skin health, bone health, eye health and heart health, the high fibre and low calorie content in vegetables help children feel fuller for longer and maintain a healthy weight.
Don’t despair if getting your child to eat their greens is like pulling teeth. Below are my tried and tested tricks for getting even the fussiest of eaters to smash their daily targets and increase variety in no time:
Repeated exposure to veggies from early on, is the best way to avoid fussy eating. Always give your child a chance to experience the true flavour of foods, even when you face initial rejection. Their little tastebuds are forever changing, and what is not eaten today might become their firm favourite in the future.
Be a role model.
It’s important to hide any exasperation, particularly with older children. Try to focus on being the role model at family dinners instead. When your child sees you snacking on baby carrots or having salad day after day, it may not be too long before a little hand reaches in, to swipe some up for themselves.
When my kids were going through a particularly fussy stage with broccoli, one day I decided to climb onto the kitchen table and do a crazy dance every time they took a bite. It worked! They were both laughing so hard they forgot about disliking the taste. A green bean can become a wriggly worm, a piece of cauliflower is a cloud and a carrot is a snowman’s nose. Get creative and your kids will eat.
Here are five of my fail-safe veggie recipes that my kids love and are good for them too. Work within the framework of your child’s favourite foods. There is nothing wrong with bumping up recipes with hidden veggies, as long as you offer the same veggies to your child in their raw state too.
If he loves pancakes or pikelets, make them with pumpkin and sweet potato puree, if he loves pasta make your own pasta sauce and puree peas, onions, garlic and zucchini into it. The bottom line is you can never have too many veggies in a child’s diet. Going over the recommended five serves a day is nothing but beneficial.
For a nutritious and delicious sweet snack, try Mandy Sacher’s bliss ball cake pops:
Fail-safe veggie recipe 1: Veggie packed pasta sauce.
This simple but delicious pasta sauce is loaded with vegetables to boost your child’s vitamin intake. Serve over wholegrain pasta, zucchini noodles, brown rice or a meatball dish for a satisfying, nutrient-boosting meal – perfect for the whole family. You can also use it as a tomato base for pizzas and recipes which call for tomato pasta sauce.
Visit my website here for ingredients, method, serving size and cooking time. Enjoy!
Fail-safe veggie recipe 2: Mac ‘n’ cheese with zucchini, cauliflower and chia seeds.
Disguising vegetables becomes appropriate, when your child is going through a fussy eating stage that makes it almost impossible for them to reach even half of their recommended daily intake.
This mac ‘n’ cheese recipe uses preservative-free cheese, wholegrain pasta and chia seeds plus hidden zucchini and cauliflower (feel free to add more veggies if you dare!) to turn this ever-popular dinner staple into a nutritious and delicious choice.
I often send leftovers to school in the lunch box – and for a fun treat, I place leftovers in mini-muffin holders, adding a sprinkle of extra cheese to create mini mac ‘n’ cheese cupcakes.
Fail-safe veggie recipe 3: Chocolate zucchini muffins.
In my practice, I had a nine-month-old client who would not eat anything other than chocolate. These muffins helped wean her off chocolate mudcakes, while we worked towards improving her overall diet. With older children, it’s always a good idea to involve them in the process.
Let them help you make this recipe and see the surprise on their faces, when they realise zucchini tastes really, really good!
- 1 cup (180g) zucchini, grated
- 1/2 cup (125g) sweet potato, steamed, pureed
- 1 egg
- 2 ripe bananas
- 1/3 cup (50g) coconut sugar
- 1/3 cup (80ml) maple syrup
- 1/3 cup (80ml) coconut oil, melted
- 1 cup (160g) brown rice flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbs cacao powder
- 1 tbs carob powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or powder
- Pinch sea salt
- 1/3 cup (35g) dark chocolate buds (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180*C. Place the zucchini in a clean tea towel and squeeze to remove excess water.
- Place the zucchini, sweet potato, egg, banana, coconut sugar, maple syrup and coconut oil in a food processor and process on high speed.
- Add the rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, cacao powder, carob powder, vanilla powder and sea salt.
- Process on high speed until smooth consistency is reached. Gently fold in the chocolate chips by hand. To make mini muffins, use mini paper inserts and add 1-2 tbs of batter per muffin.
- Cook for 30 - 35 mins or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Fail-safe veggie recipe 4: Supercharged bolognaise.
Fussy eaters won’t be able to detect the vegetables in this bolognaise recipe. Spaghetti bolognaise will always be a childhood favourite. To increase the nutrients we have added spinach, sweet potato and butternut pumpkin, combined with dried apricots and cinnamon to charm even the trickiest taste buds. It’s the perfect dish for the whole family.
For small babies, puree thoroughly and add salt only for the older family members. Experiment with different noodles such as rice spirals, buckwheat soba noodles or wholemeal spelt spaghetti, to keep them wanting more! Recipe, serving size, prep time and ingredients on my website here.
Fail-safe veggie recipe 5: Chicken nuggets with cauliflower.
An excellent alternative to store-bought versions, these chicken nuggets are a firm favourite in my home, with an added nutritional boost from the cauliflower. Try with homemade tomato sauce or for a school-friendly version, replace almond meal with shredded coconut.
- 1 cup (90g) rice breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup (60g) almond meal
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 cup (60g) arrowroot
- 1/2 cup (125g) cauliflower puree
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 500g chicken tenderloins or breast, skinless cut into nugget-sized pieces
- 1-2 tbs coconut oil for frying
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, almond meal and 1/2 tsp salt and mix together.
- In a separate bowl place the arrowroot powder. In a shallow bowl, combine the cauliflower puree and egg and whisk together using a fork.
- Place the chicken nuggets on a large plate and sprinkle with the remaining salt.
- Dip each chunk separately into arrowroot powder then into the egg mix and then finally into the breadcrumbs.
- Press down firmly to ensure each nugget has a thick coating of breadcrumb mix.
- Coat a large frypan with 1-2 tbs coconut oil and place over medium heat.
- Place the nuggets in the pan and make sure they are not touching each other, so there is enough room to turn them over.
- Cook for approx. three to four mins on each side, or until golden brown.
To learn more about Mandy Sacher please visit the Wholesome Child website, or connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through the iTunes store.