Whether it’s promising sweets after a meal, or not allowing fussy eaters to leave the table until their brussel sprouts are finished, bribing kids to eat vegetables doesn’t work. You can’t build good, lifelong eating habits using a short term fix.
So rather than making vegetables into the enemy, or positioning them as an obligation to be fulfilled before the fun part of the meal, why not try a more flexible, creative approach.
If you’ve ever had to drag a screaming child through a supermarket aisle where all the sugary junk food has been placed directly at their eye level (and what parent hasn’t) then you’ll know how effective good marketing can be. Kids will be drawn to anything that has a colourful wrapper and a cute cartoon character on it. If that cute character also has a TV series and a catchy theme song, well, you can forget about saying no without a tantrum.
These are the tactics big companies have been using to market junk food to kids since long before we were in nappies ourselves. It’s time we reclaimed them and used them to promote healthy food instead.
The fact is, sugary junk food has no character at all, whereas vegetables are literally bursting with colour, life and energy. They even have names that sound like people names. There’s Aspara Gus, Sue Kini, Tom Ato and Ru Barb.
Some of them even have names that sound like superheroes (Rocket Lettuce) while others sound like famous celebrities: Tina Turnip, Elvis Parsley, Okra Winfrey and Sir Paul McCarrotney, to name but a few (believe me, I could go on all day).
My point is, it’s not enough just to put vegetables on the plate and expect our kids to do the rest. We have to feed their imaginations too.
My way of doing that for my infant son Harry was to create The Vegetable Plot, a roots music band for kids, families and foodies. Our album is now playing in cars, kitchens and schools across the country and we’ve become a nationally touring show. But you don’t need to be a songwriter to bring some creative ideas to the dinner table.
LISTEN: Meg Mason joins the This Glorious Mess to talk about her struggle with family dinners.
Here are a few really simple tips to help you on your mission today:
1) Keep it raw: Most kids won’t even look at a carrot or a snow pea that’s been cooked, but they’ll happily munch a raw one.
2) Grow your own: Nothing will excite the curiosity and imagination of your children like watching a seed they planted turn into a piece of food.
3) Eat it yourself: There’s no point putting veggies on to your child’s plate if you don’t also heap them on to yours. Kids tastes are shaped by the food culture they grow up in, and that culture starts at your dinner table and in your kitchen.
4) Make sneaky soups and stews: Soups and stews are the perfect cover for some sneaky veggie smuggling. With some vegetables, it seems to be the look of them, rather than the taste, that puts kids off.
5) Listen to The Vegetable Plot: The Vegetable Plot CD has been on high rotation in our house and car for over a year. My son still loves it and asks for it every day. I catch him singing the songs to himself while he eats his vegetables. Other Mums and Dads have told us it’s the same for them. They can’t walk through the fresh food section of the supermarket without getting the songs popping in their heads and thinking of the different personalities of each veggie character.
So stop the bribery, it doesn’t work. Instead, get creative and feed your kids good food by first feeding their imaginations. You’ll be amazed at what they’re capable of.
Luke Escombe is the front man for award-winning children’s band, The Vegetable Plot, a kind of Wiggles for the hipster generation, and they’ve just released a fun new animated music video, Spanish Onion which you can see here.