After seeing the results of a survey the other day that revealed 41% of parents have given up trying to get their children to eat five portions of fruit and veggies a day, it got me thinking about how I feed my two girls.
It’s big news at the moment with the ongoing crisis with obesity and the prediction that 70% of the population will be obese by 2034, so small changes to our diets seem to be a great starting point for health and lifelong healthy habits – both ours and our children.
Now, I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old and after thinking about their diet – meals, snacks, treats and drinks – I have to say I’m not 100% sure whether they fulfil the requirement of the ‘5 a day’ principle every single day. Don’t get me wrong, they eat their veggies and fruit, and I try to change meals to make them more interesting, but I’m certainly not obsessing over portion sizes or counting the number of peas that go into their mouths – to be fair, my 1 year old eats one and throws one!
I have to be honest and say I have been lucky with my two girls. I weaned them on a mixture of veg purees and hand-held foods and usually they eat what I make. Usually. But kids can be fickle, and what they liked yesterday will not be liked today (read: “Mum, that’s yucky!”) especially if one of their friends has said something about a certain food.
I always say you have to pick your battles to get through the day the best you can, so it got me thinking about creative ways to increase those veggie and fruit portions without making a big “eat your greens” deal about it all. So here are some methods to help increase fruit and veg intake for kids (it might also help us big kids too at times!)
Add a piece of fruit to the breakfast routine. Too simple? But, it gets a portion of fruit in before 9am. Apples, oranges and bananas all have their own natural wrappers so it cuts down on plastic too (winner!)
Add vegetables to sauces. I do this all the time and it’s super easy. Soften some veggies in a pan – I like onions, mushrooms, celery, carrot, courgettes, broccoli and spinach – and then blend with passata for a quick tomato sauce for pasta or pizza.
Cook with the little ones! I find they’re more likely to eat something if they have helped to make it. Banana bread is a winner in my house: I use a vegan recipe, I know exactly what’s gone into it and the kids love mixing the ingredients together. Same for easy pizza making: wholemeal wraps, some of the tomato sauce mentioned above and have lots of veggies available to decorate!
Add vegetables to everything. I always pack my meals with vegetables. For meals like stews or shepherds pie, there is often a sauce or stock being used so the flavours blend and cook down, making them a part of dinner rather than having just broccoli or carrots on a plate. Also, halve the amount of mash potato for the topping and use cauliflower instead.
Substitute foods for a vegetarian option. There are so many vegetarian options available to us now, that it can be easy to replace some foods and increase the vegetable intake. I got some amazing mushroom sausages from my local supermarket, they’re delicious with the taste and texture of a peppery sausage!
Have a plate of veggie sticks out on a plate. My two would happily snack all day if I let them – crisps, raisins, chocolate buttons are treats they love. But having a plate of veg sticks out means they can grab something without asking (like big girls!) and it’s good for them. My current battle is just getting them used to the hard textures of raw vegetables. I guess it’s a bit tough when you don’t have many teeth!
Call fruit and veggies a different name. I don’t know the reason behind this, but calling blueberries ‘Princess Berries’ meant that my 3 year old now eats them again. Get creative – if it works, it works!
Make smoothies / ice lollies. This is a great way of using fruit and veg – particularly during the summer months. Blend your fave fruits for a smoothie or to make your own ice lollies. You can even add a handful of spinach or kale because it will easily be hidden with the sweetness and vibrancy of the fruit.
Use cookie cutters. Grab a watermelon slice and a star-shaped cutter and make pretty shapes out of the fruit. Kids love them, you can make them look pretty on the plate and shape other fruits to make a little fruit salad.