The first generation to be outlived by their parents, that’s the stark warning from medical communities across the globe; with the Nutrition Support Team at Bumrungrad Hospital also reporting a rise in obesity and related health problems in kids. The issue? The availability of junk food, food-on-demand and a serious lack of nutritious mealtimes, not to mention busy parents who themselves often go for convenience and comfort rather than portion control and balance.
However, getting youngsters to pile up their plates with vitamin- and fiber-rich vegetables isn’t always easy. Here’s 10 tricks to get kids to eat more veggies:
1. Give them variety and abundance
Introduce vegetables to the palates of preschoolers several times to increase their consumption. It makes sense that the more a child is familiar with a particular food, the more likely they adjust and accept this as part of their normal diet. It’s important to vary not only the vegetables widely but also how they are cooked, whether steamed, baked, grilled or mashed. Offer a choice at mealtimes too, with two or three sides on the table, letting youngsters decide for themselves what they prefer.
2. Serve tasty vegetables
Many people remember a dreaded time of having to eat vegetables they didn’t want or like because “they’re good for you”. The fact is that kids aren’t being fussy, their taste buds are different and can pick up on bitter tastes more easily. Roasted sweet potatoes and raw carrot sticks with a healthy dip are going to go down way easier than bitter melon, for example. Do a fun taste test and add an interactive flavor to mealtimes by preparing small bowls of different vegetables so kids can pick out their top five favorites for future reference.
3. Look at your own diet
“Do as I say, not as I do”, is an off-repeated phrase by well-intentioned grown-ups who don’t want their kids to follow any of their own bad habits. The fact is that kids are really easily influenced by what you do too though. The only way to instill a love of vegetables is to put your good intentions where your mouth is and get chowing down on some good healthy greens yourself. Adults can get stuck in a food rut and helping your child eat well can activate a better meal plan for yourself too. Sitting down and eating together as a family is crucial to social development and frames mealtimes as a positive experience too.
4. Bring creativity into the kitchen
Give any child a chance to use their imagination and get involved with hands-on cooking and they thrive. Vegetables don’t have to be an afterthought and letting young chefs pick a recipe and prepare plant-based snacks, side dishes and main meals is a great way to focus-in on taste and variety. Of course, kids of all ages are going to want to sample what they’ve created, which means they’re actively wanting to eat veg.
5. Reward healthy eating
It’s not uncommon for parents to add a reward chart to a wall, with gold stars for completing chores, homework and even reducing screen time. What about adding eating vegetables each day to the list too. Reinforcing the idea that healthy mealtimes need to be thought about, with mindful intent, is best started at a young age, before unhealthy eating behaviors and mindless nourishment set in. Be careful to only hand-out healthy rewards too, otherwise you’re sending out mixed messages.
6.Put education on the menu
What’s amazing about young minds is just how much they absorb information and enjoy learning. Teach kids in the right way about nutrition and they won’t be able to get enough. Use videos online, make up songs and create a quiz about veg and give them interesting facts that make them think about what they’re eating and how this connects with their bodies, growth and development.
7. Make mealtimes fun
Kids inherently want to conform and are always looking at ways to fit in with what’s expected of them. This means that they want to please and be praised, and yet at the same time they need to be nurtured and steered in the right direction so that they develop in the right way. Mealtimes can be a pain-point for stressed-out parents, so inject some fun by making funny-shaped vegetables or get artistic and design a plate picture with broccoli trees and a carrot sun.
8. Be a veg-hiding wizard
When you’re tired and frankly don’t have the time or energy for a creative mealtime set-up, don’t be afraid to go undercover. Hide vegetables such as spinach in blended soups and stews as well as mashed potato and rice dishes, including risotto. You don’t always know every ingredient in a dish when you dine out, so look at your lack of transparency in the same way.
9. Add veg into a favorite dish
Every kid has a favorite dish that, given the choice, they’d probably eat every mealtime. This gives you the perfect opportunity to throw in a handful of diced veg into the mix. Since they’ll be so focused on being served their ultimate meal, they won’t even notice that you’ve added an extra helping of goodness. This works well with kids who have a problem with the look and texture of vegetables.
10. Go veg shopping with kids
With a basket in hand, let kids roam free in the vegetable aisles. They’ll love the brightly colored veggies, which are actually the best for them. Explore Thai varieties and perhaps some crops from other countries, pulling in a sense of culture and adventure into your usual shopping expedition. Mix it up by going to the market, where kids’ senses take in the excitement and hubbub of stallholders and customers. Visit a farmers’ market to sample fresh produce and pick up fresh herbs to grow in a pot at home to show the land-to-table narrative.
Finding new ways to add good, old-fashioned vegetables into the modern diets of children is essential to their nutritional health. Nutritionists at Bumrungrad Hospital work with parents and children to create healthy eating plans to help support development, build the immune system and combat health issues.