Around the age of 3 to 6 kids start to get quite fuzzy about what they will eat. Some will eat only peanut butter sandwiches, some only want baked beans, others demand candy. In this difficult period when food adventurousness declines rapidly, how do you get your kids to eat their greens and veggies and stay healthy? Many parents turn to supplements, but we can all agree that fresh is best, so here are some tips on how to keep your kids happily eating a wide range of fruit and veggies.
1. REDUCE CHOICES
The first thing you need to do to encourage better eating in small children is to reduce their choices only to foods that you want them to eat. Throw out any snacks or junk that you know they might whine for or ones that are addictive. Present a simple choice of two things for 3-year-olds, three or more for 6-year-olds. Give them the illusion that they came up with the choices all on their own (which is really what the battle is all about), but you secretly win the battle for good eating!
2. DISGUISE IT
The greatest tool in the desperate parents mealtime arsenal is the ability to make food into something its not! Bake cakes with spinach in them, muffins with broccoli, use peas in your pancakes, blend carrots into a banana smoothie. Hide blended mushrooms in a tomato spaghetti sauce. Keep it bland, or sweet, and you can’t fail.
3. MAKE IT FUN
Who doesn’t want to eat the head off a gingerbread man? What about a veggie sausage man? Or a tribal veggie man made with cherry tomatoes for eyes and pea sprouts for hair and a multigrain bread face? Try skewers: alternate ‘good’ foods you want them to eat with ‘yummy’ foods they like – banana, carrot, pineapple, tofu, steamed broccoli, sweet potato, zucchini dipped in sweet soy.
Some people swear by tomato ketchup, some by sweet soy sauce, others by something creamy. Find out what dressing or sauce your reluctant veggie eater likes and let them use it. If it ends up being something a little too sweet and bad for their teeth, try making your own. A never-fail recipe of boiled palm sugar, vinegar and tomato is a sweet and simple dipping sauce without the added nasties of some bottled varieties.
5. BACK TO BABY FOODS
If your young one is resistant to the above ploys you might consider returning to baby foods. Blend or mash everything and let them be babies for a little while longer. If you become really desperate you can always buy a good organic brand for emergencies.
Don’t act shocked, we all do it! Sometimes you just need use bribery to convince a child to taste something new that you know they will like. Older children can understand the bargain of doing a little of what mummy or daddy want in return for something that they covet. This is where the hidden cookies come in handy.
The bottom line is no child will starve themselves when food is available. Learn to discern the difference between dramatic displays of distaste and refusal to eat from actual weak, glassy eyed starvation and you see this is true. Food wars with small children are really all about testing the boundaries of what they can get away with. So be consistent and but not ruthless.