Ten tips for fussy eaters
Don't want mealtimes to become a battle zone? Helen Foster serves up top tips for mums who want their kids to love their veggies
1. Eat veg when breastfeeding and add purée when weaning
Tweaking those tiny taste buds can start from the beginning. Adding small amounts of vegetable purée to milk and rice when weaning makes kids far more likely to eat their veg, according to research from the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds. 'Breast milk also contains flavours, so it's important for mums to eat a variety of vegetables,' says the study's author, Professor Marion Hetherington. She adds, 'We took inspiration from French mothers, as previous studies in this area have shown that they often add vegetable cooking water to their infants' milk to help introduce them to eating veg at weaning.'
2. Order veg boxes
That's the top tip of mum Rachel, who says her kids Violet, 4 and Bertie, 2, 'get hugely excited when the box arrives. They really want to know what's in it.' Rachel talks them through what the veg are and gives them little tastes. Try Riverford boxes, from £10.35.
3. Get them involved
'I started off with the shopping,' says baker and blogger Urvashi Roe of The Botanical Kitchen, mum to Amy, ten and Amber, 12. 'I used to list the different vegetables we needed to buy, then we'd draw and colour them in before going shopping. I'd then give them the list and get them to pick out the vegetables.'
4. Serve water with meals
In one US study, children aged three to five were more likely to reach for sweet-tasting vegetables – such as carrots or red peppers – after drinking water with their meal than if their food was accompanied by a sugary drink.
5. Serve them with dip
Kids are less likely to eat their veg if they have a high sensitivity to bitter foods, but a creamy dip neutralises this. In trials at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education in Philadelphia, bitter-sensitive kids ate 80 per cent more broccoli when it was served with a ranch dip. 'You can also try giving apple sauce, hummus or a yogurt-based dip,' says the study's author, Jennifer Orlet Fisher.
6. Make them fun
'My two were consummate vegetable-dodgers, but veg-eating enforcement goes against my ongoing quest for happy and harmonious meals,' says Julia Deering, author of The Playful Parent (£10.99, HarperCollins), who suggests making mealtimes more fun. 'Cut cucumber into splits and call them "crocodile jaws"; cut up cherry tomatoes at the table and call them "juice squirters". See who can make the noisiest crunch eating their carrot, or pop the most peas from a pod. Being playful encourages an enthusiasm for food.'
7. Get a sticker chart
Research at University College London found that when kids were rewarded with stickers for eating their vegetables, they not only ate more of them, but they also said that they liked them more than a group who only got praised for eating what was on their plate. To make it more interesting, try making their reward stickers vegetable-themed – you'll find packs on Amazon for about £1.99.
8. Ask what Batwoman or Elsa would eat
In trials by Cornell University in the US, when kids were asked to think what someone they admired might pick, five times as many chose healthily than when faced with the same foods without a role model.
9. Treat all food groups equally
'Parents often make dessert conditional on eating a certain amount of savoury food first – especially vegetables. But that says that vegetables don't have enough appeal on their own for kids to want to eat them,' says psychologist Dr Katrin Bain, aka The Tantrum Angel.
A spiralizer is a handy machine that makes noodles out of veg. 'They're really easy for kids to use and they love making spaghetti out of vegetables,' says nutritionist Amelia Freer, author of Eat. Nourish. Glow. (Harper Thorsons, £16.99).