While we all know kids need a nutritious diet, figuring out how to encourage your child to eat vegetables is a whole other story.
But don’t worry, you’re certainly not alone in this situation. It’s a challenge parents have faced for generations and whether kids like it or not, vegetables are the cornerstone of a nutritious diet.
You don’t need to be thinking about the foods you have to avoid, but rather focus on the foods that you want them to eat more of
The goal should be re-framing the relationship your child has with vegetables and turning them into food your child enjoys.
Dietitian Lyndi Cohen, has some helpful tips for kickstarting this process as well as some simple recipes that will encourage your kids to eat vegetables.
Fruit and vegetable nutrition facts for kids
A great place to start is by learning exactly how many servings of vegetables your child needs per day to get the proper nutrients to thrive.
While this will largely depend on their age and gender, according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, kids should eat 2-5 ½ serves of vegetables every day.
But how much is a serving of vegetables? A standard serve is about 75 grams (100-350 kilojoules). However, this will look different depending on the type of vegetable you’re measuring.
As a starting point, the following foods are all considered to be one standard serving:
- ½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables
- ½ cup cooked dried or canned beans, peas or lentils
- 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
- ½ cup sweet corn
- ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables
- 1 medium tomato
Making vegetables fun for kids
So now that we know what to aim for, how do we make it happen? Lyndi explains how helping your little one establish a healthy relationship with vegetables now will serve them well into the future.
This goes beyond cooking and eating. It extends to how you talk about food with your child. Lyndi advises parents to keep an eye on their own food-related behaviours and to practice modelling positive food language in front of their children.
“You don’t need to be thinking about the foods you have to avoid, but rather focus on the foods that you want them to eat more of. You’re naturally going to come to the healthier conclusion,” Lyndi says.
Shifting your language to focus on what vegetables do for your kids – like helping them to think or play better – might make life a little easier for the both of you.
This simple change may get kids interested in nutrition and relieve some of the pressure parents often feel around mealtimes.
Trial and error
It may be frustrating when you’ve spent time and money preparing a nutritious meal for your kids only for them to refuse to eat it. Lyndi wants you to know that while this may be disheartening, taking it personally and forcing your child to eat may reinforce the negative associations with vegetables.
Instead, accept it and try again. Perseverance and experimentation are key. Lyndi encourages parents to get creative, like playing around with presentation or coming up with a story to spark their child’s imagination.
Whether you’re referring to broccoli as tiny trees or making your child a green monster juice smoothie, she explains how ultimately healthier eating should be fun.
“It shouldn't be bland and it shouldn't be boring,” Lyndi says.
Recipes to get kids to eat vegetables
When it comes to making vegetables enjoyable for your kids, having some structure to how your family eats may help.
Lyndi encourages parents to implement some form of loose meal plan into their weekly routine. Not only might this make vegetable-based meals the new norm, but it may save you time, money and cut down on food waste.
“Monday as meat-free Monday may help you narrow your searches for vegetarian options. Tuesday, you could do DIY healthy pizzas or tacos. Something that kids can build their own, helping them get more vegetables in. Wednesday could be a new recipe night,” Lyndi says.
Incorporate colour and play by arranging ingredients into a face, animal, rainbow or vehicle. And when all else fails, there are endless ways to sneak some vegetables into their meals without them even noticing.
From hiding vegetables in recipes like fritters, smoothies, muffins, pies and pasta, they’ll get all the nutrients they need and be none the wiser.
Keep calm and carry on
Encouraging your child to eat vegetables may seem like a daunting task. But with a bit of creativity, it may be an opportunity to expand their diet.
It’s OK if your little one doesn’t like a certain vegetable, the important thing is to experiment and keep trying. Raw, grated, sliced, stir-fried, steamed, boiled or baked – the possibilities are endless.
By switching up your approach, you may be surprised to discover how much kids can love vegetables.
- 8 ways to get your picky eater to try new foods
- Dietitian-approved foods and healthy snacks for kids
- Create a healthy lunchbox program
Lyndi Cohen is a media Nutritionist and Dietitian and member of the healthylife Advisory Board who regularly appears on Aussie TV screens and in magazines with the goal of helping people be healthy without dieting. She is all about cutting through the sea of wellness misinformation with common sense and scientific data.
Reviewed by healthylife Advisory Board August 2021.