I learnt early on that controlling what my kids eat is probably the most frustrating thing in the world! I’ve also learnt that pressuring them, bribing them or getting angry at them to have another bite, doesn’t do anyone any favours. I have 2 children, the eldest eats reasonably well, I have no issues with him eating his plant foods. The youngest is a different story and I have spent many hours worrying about his lack of nutrient-rich whole foods in his diet. Did I do something wrong? Did I pressure him too much? Does he have sensory issues? Does he have poor gut health? The most important thing I had/must realise is, that I cannot control what he eats.
We provide, they decide
Parent provides healthy food in appropriate amounts; child decides if and how much they eat.
The reason I find this difficult is because I know that a boy between the age of 4 to 8, according to the Australian dietary guidelines, should be consuming 4 ½ serves of vegetables per day.
What’s in a serve?
- ½ cup cooked green or orange vegetables (for example, broccoli, spinach, carrots, or pumpkin)
- ½ cup cooked, dried or canned beans, peas, or lentils
- 1 cup green leafy or raw salad vegetables
- ½ cup sweet corn
- ½ medium potato or other starchy vegetables
- 1 medium tomato (Eat for Health)
Insert mum guilt here! My picky eater is not hitting this target! Some weeks I have more time and can prepare more meals with veggies in disguise to get a little closer to this target, but not always. Mums, we cannot beat ourselves up over it. What we can do, is take comfort in knowing that many of us are going through this exact scenario, it’s very common for children to go through periods of picky eating. Some weeks we have more energy to try new things and recipes, some weeks, they win – cheese on toast it is!
Remove the pressure
I think it’s important to know that we shouldn’t let the pressure build up and make us feel guilt and shame. Perhaps a chat with your child’s practitioner will help with the worry. Sharing and discussing your concerns so that it doesn’t all fall on your shoulders can help.
Removing the pressure will also help with the general mood at the dinner table, so long as you are giving them plenty of exposure to veggies, ultimately, they will decide.
If you’d like to try out a couple of fun exercises with your little one (without the pressure!), there are plenty of resources online. This placemat encourages kids to explore and learn to like rejected foods in a fun way. They don’t have to eat the foods if they don’t want to, but they are made to feel like a scientist and receive exposure to foods by smelling, touching, observing and hopefully tasting. We tried this placemat when my son was 5, and it was this exercise that helped my picky eater try spinach for the first time, and now he will often have a few leaves with his dinner.
As well as grating veggies into mince for the classic spaghetti Bolognese, lasagne, pasta bake, and meat balls, another great disguise is using left over roast veggies blended into pizza sauce.
We love these 2-ingredient dough scrolls in our house! I blend roast veggies such as pumpkin, beetroot, capsicum and carrot with tomato paste, top with sausage or bacon, add on the cheese and they really can’t taste the difference.
More ideas to get a little closer to target
- Zucchini chocolate muffins
- Chickpea cookies
- Savoury muffins
- Baked beans
- Shepherd’s pie
- Grated carrot in bliss balls
- Cauliflower in macaroni and cheese
- Add lentils/grated veggies to mince
- Smoothies, dips and soups
- Blended veggies in ice-blocks
- Avocado chocolate mousse
- Pasta made from lentils with a tomato-based sauce
- Dehydrated veggies
As much as I wish I could wave a magic wand and make my son suddenly love everything I put in front of him, it’s not going to happen. I try and set a good example myself, give him plenty of exposure to veggies and hide them where I can. Hopefully one day, when he is a strapping young man in his 20s as healthy as can be, I will look back on these times and wonder why I even worried so much!