For the sake of entertainment, I usually keep this blog deliberately light and fun, figuring that healthy food is best delivered with good times. But today I’m going to be serious. No truly, not a single joke, not a single bad pun. Why? Well over on the Facebook page I’ve had a recent influx of pleas for help from parents desperately bound and beaten by food wars with their children. I help where I can, but thought it timely to write a post on strategies to help solve your mealtime dramas. I’ll cover some basics and finish up with a real world example of how to apply it all.
OK! Let’s start with some basic vegie-smuggling thoughts and strategies…
1. It is possible to get your children excited about eating vegetables.
2. You have to tempt them with delicious smells, sights and flavours.
3. The techniques you need to do it are simple.
4. Commitment is needed from the parents – change isn’t always easy.
5. BUT! You’ll be so pleased that you made the effort once you’ve created a new habit of happy mealtimes.
Let’s look in detail…
1. Believe that you can make the change in your family.
I’ll be the example. Two horribly fussy kids. One ate only pasta, fruit & cheese, the other only meat & potatoes. Both now happily eat (nearly) anything. It’s possible. You can do it. And then you can start a fabulous blog and write gorgeous cookbooks.
2. You are going to tempt and lure your kids.
With food that smells great while it’s cooking, looks great when they sit down and is SO delicious when they take a bite that they won’t want to reject it.
3. Simple kitchen techniques can turn it all around.
Prepare ingredients wisely and introduce them to your family slowly.
I encourage you to do whatever you need to do to introduce new vegetables in a positive way. While I’m not a fan of hiding cooked and mashed vegies (too many wasted nutrients), if this is the only way they will be currently tolerated, then this is the place to start. My preference is to smuggle vegies by grating them or chopping them finely. Peel things like zucchinis first if your kids have a vehement hatred of green bits. Gradually the kids will become more tolerant and you will have to do less and less to hide stuff. The end goal of course, is to have children (and husbands) who happily accept everything.
Smuggle & don’t smuggle.
My recipes contain a combination of visible and invisible vegetables. Dinners serve a dual purpose – sneak in enough invisible vegies to solve the immediate nutrition concerns, and also present visible vegies to get the kids understanding that healthy food is part of the everyday.
Often food is a power play. Kids will pick out the visible stuff and think they’ve won the war. That’s fine, because the rest of the dinner they’re eating is also full of healthy stuff, so really you’ve won (keep your smugness to yourself). Getting a picky kid to happily sit and eat a chunk of cauliflower will take time. While you’re waiting for that miracle, you can relax knowing that their nutritional needs are being met.
4. Tackling change with your kids is tricky and requires patience and commitment from the parents.
Your child is not going to go from eating plain pasta to lentil soup overnight.
But you can serve their pasta with a dish of roast capsicum sauce to dip into. Soon, you might be able to serve the sauce on top. Then you can add some grated carrot. Gradually you’ll be able to work your way outwards, incorporating more and more ingredients and flavours.
It’s essential to keep your menus interesting (and new).
Please don’t serve the same thing every week. When parents say, “they only eat…”, it means that they’ve been browbeaten into only serving those things because they can’t deal with the dramas of trying to serve anything else.
The early days of introducing new foods can be tough. You need to persevere and get to the point where the kids are used to variety and unfamiliar food items. Get them used to leaving their food comfort zone and avoid the “I don’t eat that” food battle.
Don’t be put off by the tough times.
Not every new meal will have your children dancing with joy. Sometimes they will refuse food and they will have to go hungry. This is unpleasant. But hold firm – I never cook a second meal for my kids. If they’ve genuinely tried something (not trying is NEVER an option – our deal is TWO big bites) and they don’t like it, they can have some bread and butter or a banana. They won’t starve. It just means that they’ll be hungrier (and hopefully more open-minded) tomorrow. Hang in there, you will crack them.
5. And it’s worth cracking them.
I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to sit having a happy mealtime with your children, watching them munch away on something adventurous. It’s a battle worth fighting, because you are giving them a gift – a love of good food and healthy eating habits that will last them a lifetime.
So here’s our real world scenario from Zoe…
“Hi, my 3 year old son is a very fussy eater, the only things he eats are – pasta, schnitzel, nutella, cream cheese, butter sandwiches, it’s been like this for nearly a year, how do I change it.”
Start with what he does eat and work outwards.
He likes pasta. So try this orange sauce – serve it on the side the first time if necessary. Move onto a bolognaise. If he likes the bolognaise, try it in toasties and pop it into baked potatoes. Then move onto cannelloni or lasagne.
He likes cream cheese. So make these salmon pikelets (leave the green stuff out first time) and coat them with a generous slather of cream cheese as a lure.
He likes bread. So try these oat & banana pancakes, or these cheese puffs, or this okonomiyaki, or this frittata. You’re trying to break his narrow-minded approach and get him eating a wider variety of stuff. Then push further and further.
He likes schnitzel. So try this healthy schnitzel in a wrap. Add a bit of vegie dip.
And the nutella? Well, I’m really sorry, but that has to go. Remember, from now on, the parents are dictating the menu. Nutella offers you very little nutrition and keeps his palate trained to sweet stuff. Kids are still allowed to love treats and eat chocolate, but not everyday.
Once he’s making progress and eating a wider range of healthy stuff, surprise him with this beetroot & chocolate brownie. No one says food can’t be fun.
So I hope that helps. Remember, if you’re having ongoing concerns about your child’s health, please see your doctor. I’m a mum, not a nutritionist and can’t give any sort of medical advice.
And with a disclaimer given, I will just whisper from one parent to another, that Vegie Smuggling works, and you should try it. And it’s not just me; you can read testimonials here, about what other parents have to say.
Back to poo jokes next week, promise.