This is a question that comes up again and again with my clients, who are determined to make changes in their families diets to include more plants, however often their children are not quite so enthusiastic!
So how can we get our children to not only eat more fruit and veggies but to actually develop a passion for them so that they chose whole foods over processed foods?
I'll share my top tips with you and would love to hear what you do to encourage your children to eat healthier.
- Grow your own. Sounds so simple doesn't it? yet allowing children the responsibility of choosing, planting then caring for their very own veggies in the garden really does make a big difference. Easy growers are tomatoes, beetroots, lettuces, cucumbers, courgettes, peas, all types of herbs and strawberries which can all be grown in pots or little individual planters in the garden. This year we have grown edible flowers, partly for me to use as decoration for my salads and cakes but my children have been really curious about each one and have enjoyed tasting them. Easy to grow are violas, calendulas, marigolds and borage. They look so pretty and inviting - most children would find them irresistible.
- As well as growing your own, do talk to your children about the nutritional benefit of each plant they are growing. Don't overwhelm them with hundreds of facts but simple things that they can remember such as "carrots are important for healthy eye sight', 'cucumbers are great for thirsty bodies in the summer' and 'dandelion leaves give our livers a good clean out.'
- Choose new recipes together, read through recipe books and look online letting your children read and look at the pictures and see what inspires them. Allow them to prepare the food as much as you're happy to, supervising of course and encouraging them to prepare, wash, peel and cut up the veggies. I have some great kid-friendly knives that are effective in cutting up all veggies without any risk of accidents in the kitchen. You can find similar knives on amazon.
- Children + kitchens = mess! accept it and embrace it. Mess can always get cleared up, yet they are gaining so much from just being there with you, getting creative and developing a real love for food. Let them taste, smell and touch all the ingredients, even tastes that you think they may not like such as mustard or chilli. Young palates are incredibly curious. If they want to try something, let them. The worse thing a parent can say to a child is 'you won't like it'. This really instills in to young brains that food isn't worth exploring and dampens down their curiosity about food.
- Introduce foods in unexpected ways. For example try serving a fresh crunchy salad with sweet berries on top, or crudités with a chocolate flavoured cream cheese dip. And a favourite of mine is to slice up lots of root vegetables and bake in the oven till crispy and serve with a dip such as hummus or guac.
- Be sneaky and hide vegetables in their favourites dishes for those really adverse to easily identifiable veggies. For example blend lots of veggies and add to tomato sauces, making a big batch to use on several dishes throughout the week, such as over rice or pasta, as a base to stews, soups, smothered over pizza bases or in tortilla wraps adding cheese and olives for easy pizzas and quesadillas. Explore recipes that use vegetables in cake recipes, such as courgettes, beetroot and classic carrot cake.
- Another sneaky tip is to add lots of greens in to a smoothie. Spinach or kale is really tasteless once blended with a couple of dates, cacao powder, banana and coconut water or plant milk. Healthy chocolate milkshakes!
- In the summer blend fruit with coconut milk add lemon or lime zest and freeze in to lolly moulds for a refreshing zingy not-to-mention antioxidant-rich treat.
- Together talk about what's in season and look out for what is growing in nature throughout the year. This instills a love of the natural world and gets them curious and excited when they find seasonal plants, you could all go foraging together. For example spotting and smelling wild garlic in the woods in February and blackberry picking at the end of the summer.
- And finally try and relax. If they try something, and don't like like, try not to be disheartened and don't give up - young palates change and develop and you will often find children acquiring a taste for foods they disliked initially. Keep offering a variety of foods and try not to make a big deal if they refuse. Similarly and equally, try not to make a big deal if they like something new. A 'well done' is enough rather than a huge outpouring of praise. Food is life and is a continuing adventure. It is every child's right to explore foods free from the judgement of adults.