Fussy eater

Eat your veggies!

Getting children to eat their vegetables can be a daily battle for many parents.  Whether they are picky, stubborn or just prefer ‘other’ foods, children have quite a reputation for disliking their vegetables.  

Veggies are important for health and each day children should be eating between 3 to 5 serves of fresh vegetables such as beans, broccoli, bok choy, celery, cucumber, cauliflower, carrots, capsicum, onion, pumpkin, leeks, sweet potato, spinach, tomatoes, asparagus, cabbage, salad leaves and kale.  Variety is also extremely important.

1 serving = half a cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of salad vegetables

The majority of children that I see in clinic are eating less than one serve of vegetables per day and this is impacting their health. 

Vegetables are a healthy source of carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which are all necessary for energy, growth and development, cognition and concentration and gut health.

I believe it is important to educate your children on what vegetables are, why we need to eat them, and involve them in selecting and cooking veggies, however, sometimes disguising veggies in their meals is also a necessity. 

Don’t expect your children to sit down to a plate of plain steamed greens, you are going to need to be creative and fun. But the good news is it is not difficult and the children can help!

Here are some ideas to boost vegetables in your child’s diet:

Breakfast

  • Add some baby spinach or frozen chopped zucchini into their favourite smoothie.  Start with a small amount and increase a little each time. 
  • Chop up veggies like cherry tomatoes, celery, mushroom and capsicum and get the kids to add them into an omelette, older kids can also crack and mix the eggs.  
  • Bake healthy muffins, try combinations such as grated carrot and walnut or grated beetroot and cacao.
  • Dip asparagus, cucumber, capsicum, broccoli and carrot sticks into a soft boiled egg instead of toast. 
  • Make fritters out of left over dinner vegetables such as potato, sweet potato and zucchini.  Grate, mash or chop roughly and combine with an egg and a little flour then lightly pan fry. 
  • Add left over veggies to quiche or frittata for easy breakfasts on the go.

Lunch and dinner

  • Add onion, celery, capsicum, sweet potato and carrot to your favourite Bolognese recipe.  Blend for a smoother texture if your children search out the veggies. 
  • Prepare tacos or naked tacos (without the tortilla or taco shell) with a selection of healthy salad bowls such as shredded lettuce, home-made salsa, avocado, grated carrot, chopped cucumber and some legumes too. Everyone helps themselves and creates their own flavour combination. 
  • Add a layer of spinach into your lasagne and a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes.  This creates a lighter lasagne too. 
  • Instead of steaming try roasting veg with a splash of olive oil, salt pepper and some dried herbs.  Brussel sprouts, leeks, sweet potato, tomatoes, fennel, radish, cauliflower, celery, baby cos lettuce and broccoli taste amazing roasted.  
  • Add finely chop vegetables, such as carrot, pumpkin and zucchini, into meatballs, burger patties and sausage rolls.
  • Make oven baked chips from zucchini, kale, sweet potato, swede, celeriac, beetroot and carrot. 
  • Add leafy greens such as kale, silver beet, broccolini or bok choy into soup, curry, stir fry or casserole.
  • Add a garden salad to the table each dinner time. 
  • Have a meat free dinner at least once per week and get creative with the veg. Try roasting a whole cauliflower.
  • Use dips, sauce or mayo to encourage vegetable consumption, heathy versions of course.
  • Add butter or extra virgin olive oil to cooked vegetables, such as green beans, carrots, broccoli and corn, or to potato mash.  The good fats increase absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and they taste great.

Get kids involved

Kids enjoy independence so get them involved in the decision making and the cooking.  This can really boost their interest in eating veggies and trying new foods.

  • Eat family style, offer healthy options and allow children to serve themselves.  
  • Eat as a family whenever possible, even if it is only one meal a day, or a week.
  • Be a good role model, eat your veggies and don’t complain
  • Never scold children if they don’t want to eat or don’t like foods.  Use positive encouragement when they try something.
  • Involve children in meal planning.  They are more likely to eat meals they like and they choose; you can increase the veggies or change it up to ensure it is healthy 
  • Always serve healthy foods, even if they don’t eat them it is important for children to understand what a healthy meal looks like.
  • Talk about new foods, don’t force your children to try them
  • When you are not in a hurry take them shopping or to the farmers market and talk about the veggies you aren’t familiar with.  Pick something new to try.
  • If your children don’t like something, ask why.  Is it the texture, flavour, look, or how it is cooked?  Try the vegetable a different way and see if it is more palatable. 
  • Get them involved in cooking, chopping, stirring, setting the table and cleaning up after meals. 

Still struggling

If you are struggling with a fussy eater, there is often an underlying reason for this behaviour.  These can include:

  • Poor gut health including Candida, intestinal worms, IBS, reflux or constipation 
  • Allergies and intolerances 
  • Nutrient deficiencies 
  • Developmental stages 
  • The environment – stress can impact appetite and gut health 
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism 

If it is more than just stubbornness or a phase, it is worth making an appointment as we can investigate the underlying cause of your child’s fussy eating, take steps to improve their health and get them eating their veggies.   

Is it “just a phase” or something more?

Most importantly be a good role model.  Kids with healthy parents are more likely to be healthy and have a healthy diet so set a good example and eat your veggies too. 

Jean Jarrett is a naturopath and nutritionist at Elemental Health in St. Ives.  She works with children and families to help them improve their health and wellbeing in a way that suits their lifestyle.  If you would like to discuss your health or book an appointment contact jean on 0424 407 560 or info@jeanjarrettnaturopath.com.au