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Make Fruit and Vegetables More Exciting for Children
A bit of Child Psychology
I don't know what it is about healthy food that really turns a child off. It could be the lack of sugar, e numbers and artificial colors that appeal most. To a child I guess that looks far more exciting than a stick of celery. But if you give them the taste for high sugar content cakes and sweets, they will get hooked.
The association between tasting good and looking pretty and colorful sticks in their brain. As does the high they get from all the energy (which doesn't last long, and they come down with a thud).
You certainly cannot avoid treating your children though. I know that from personal experience. The constant battle of weaning my baby onto healthy sugar free solids I cooked from scratch was out done by family and friends giving him chocolate buttons and ice cream every time I'd visit.
As a first time Mother, I wanted to get it 'right'. No weaning on rusks which may give him a 'sweet tooth'. But the truth was, it really didn't matter. Kids will make up their own minds. It has to taste good, but it also has to look good.
My son is now 9 years old so I have seen the changes at the dinner table over the years. I have also been a childminder in the past and have learned the habits of other small children (and their parents).
The term 'Kidology' is appropriate when it comes to encouraging them to eat the things you want to eat. Some fruit and veg will be eaten in true form (i.e, not cooked in a meal), but you can't expect the child to always be interested. You have to make it interesting and you have to be interested...
So, what do I mean by saying you have to be interested? Well, any parent will relate to this scenario:
You decide to do some clearing out of all your child's old toys. Baby toys, books, anything which has been in the toy box for months on end, but hasn't been played with ever. But as you're clearing it out, suddenly your child shows an interest. They now start playing with all the stuff you've pulled out ready to be put in the charity bag. You explain it's going to another child who may want it, but there's no chance of parting with it now.
Why? Because to your child it looks like you're playing with it. Someone else is paying attention to all those toys and games. Plus, while you're there, they want you to play along with them! What do you do? Clear out the toy box when your child isn't around!
When it comes to getting your child to eat their greens, it can be an impossible task. Cabbage is left on the side of the plate, lunchboxes come back with fruit still in them and vegetable casserole is a no no. If you're busy, on a budget or want to bring up your child to eat what they are given, the tantrums get very tiresome.
How to change it
A child's taste will alter as they grow, so bear that in mind. If they don't like broccolli now, they might in 6 months time.
As I said before though, the food needs to look appealing before anyone will try it. That goes for adults too. For children, this could be the first time they will try what you are giving them, so make it exciting, and try a bit of 'kidology'.
Fruit is wonderful to make interesting, and you don't even have to do much to it. It is naturally sweet and naturally colorful.
Take your child along to the supermarket and get them involved in the choosing of the fruit. Pick a wide selection (it's also educational for them), then when you get home involve them when you prepare.
Put grapes, chopped banana, melon chunks, sliced kiwi, blueberries, anything on a plate or bowl which you will eat together. Even set up a 'picnic' in your front room. Eat bits as you go along just to show you are interested in this yummy fruit. The chances are your child will be intrigued too. Hand them bits to try. Be informal and relaxed rather than strict and forceful. If they don't like a fruit, try them with a different one.
You have a selection and that gives them a choice. They feel in control and you have got them to eat fruit. It's a win win situation.
Now onto the vegetables. You can try this technique with raw carrot, celery, cucumber or tomatoes (although they are technically fruit). Cut them up into interesting shapes and arrange them on a plate. Dip celery sticks into peanut butter and carrot into toffee low fat yogurt. Get the kids together for a teddy bear picnic if they are little and make it fun.
You can put other foods on the plate so that it isn't just vegetables. Children will appreciate the variety and you're are giving them a balanced meal or snack. Squares of cheese, bread sticks and cracker bread are healthy compliments.
Now for grown up meals
When it comes to having a family meal or going out to dinner, it isn't always practical to cut up raw veg or spend a lot of time over trying it all out. When you want something simple but don't want to cook separate meals, something has got to give.
If you are cooking a Sunday roast, the chances are the meat and mashed potatoes will get eaten, but everything else will be left. You can cover the sprouts in as much gravy as you like, but your kids just won't touch them.
So, make it taste good. Boiled parsnips and soggy cauliflower don't taste nice, so make you vegetables look appealing.
Cauliflower and broccoli cheese
This is great for children and you can have it on the side or as a lunch dish. Lightly steam or boil cauliflower and broccoli florets until they are tender, but not overcooked.
Make up a cheese sauce by whisking together a spoon of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of cornflour (mixed to make a roux) with about half a pint of milk over a high heat until it thickens. Add grated cheese to taste. Put together in an oven proof dish with more grated cheese sprinkled on top and bake until browned slightly.
Use a mixture of colorful vegetables to roast. By cutting them up into chunky pieces and roasting them in garlic and olive oil will bring out the natural sweetness. Cut up red onions, parsnips, courgettes and carrots. Sprinkle with paprika or Cajun spice to give them an edge before roasting.
Also try honey roasting parsnips, by pouring a little honey and olive oil over. My family love them.
One way to make a marrow interesting is to stuff it with cooked rice. You can mix anything you like into your rice. Try vegetable stock, finely chopped red peppers, peas or corned beef.
Baked sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are great for kids, because they are exactly that - sweet! Baking these instead of regular baking potatoes is healthier as they contain slow release carbohydrates. Put your child's favorite filling in. It could be tuna and sweetcorn, coleslaw (even try making it yourself), grated cheese or baked beans.
One thing I like to make is soup made from left over veg. Just boil it all down in a pan of water (just enough to cover), vegetable stock, tomato puree and salt and pepper. Then with a hand blender, blend in down to a smooth thick soup.
My favorite is sweet potato, onion, white potato and carrots. My son's favourite is pumpkin, especially after carving it at halloween! Try anything you like, from spicy parsnip to butternut squash and serve with chunky tiger bread.
Adding fruit and vegetables to food
Sometimes putting fruit or vegetables in other food somewhat disguises it a little, making it more palatable for your child. Adding fruit and veg to food they would normally eat without also ups their intake of 5 a day.
For example, add tinned peaches or fruit to jelly or rice pudding. It may even make it taste better!
Fruit and veg in cakes
I cleverly get my son to eat cakes which contain fruit or vegetables. Try these cakes:
Cream together 125g butter with 150g caster sugar. Measure 190g self raising flour and whisk in half along with 1 egg, 2 very ripe mashed bananas, 60ml of milk and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Fold in the remaining flour and pour into a greased lined loaf tin. Cook at 150 c for 35 minutes.
Mix together in a bowl, 100g sieved wholemeal flour, half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated, 75g soft brown sugar, 75 ml groundnut oil, 1 large egg and 50g finely chopped walnuts. If your child doesn't like nuts then swap for sultanas.
Bake in a greased loaf tin for about 45 minutes at 150 c.
Prepare the topping by whisking together 50g soft cheese, 25g soft butter and 50g sieved icing sugar. Layer on top of cooled cake and decorate with walnuts if you wish.
You can also make muffins with your children, and add mashed strawberries, raspberries or whole blueberries.
Make their lunchboxes healthy
When your child takes a packed lunch to school or nursery, you want to make it healthy. It can be hard to put the right things in. You worry about waste and expense, but with trial and error try adding these:
- Raisins or yogurt coated raisins
- Dried cranberries
- Carrot sticks
- Strawberries sprinkled with granulated sweetener
- Pineapple chunks
- Cucumber sticks
You can add salad stuff to their sandwiches or pasta, such as olives, avocado, tomatoes, cucumber or sweetcorn.
Try making smoothies
Fruit smoothies are fun, especially if your child still won't entertain that banana in his lunchbox. You can whiz them up and give them at breakfast, as a snack or as a drink for lunch.
Just go easy on how often you make them. Too much fruit at once may bring on a mighty stomach ache!
If you have a smoothie maker then great. If not, use a blender. Blend up milk, crushed ice, bananas and strawberries with a little apple juice to sweeten. Or crushed ice, blackberries and raspberries, or orange and mango. Be creative.
If you have a juicer, then make use of it with a variety of recipes. Mix fruit together with veggies, such as carrot and kiwi. The list is endless...
Grow your own!
Another way to really get the kids involved is to grow your own. Make a patch in the garden or use window sills or window boxes. If they have grown it themselves, they just might eat it!
Plant potatoes in grow bags. Keep adding compost and keep them warm and watered. You may have some baby salad potatoes in a few months.
Try radishes, cucumber or root vegetables. They can be planted out once the seedlings have sprouted and the ground is frost free. Ensure you child shows responsibility for their patch and encourage them.
Herbs are easy to grow either indoors or out. Or try growing cress. Hollow out an egg shell and draw or stick on a face. Put the cress seeds inside, keep watered and watch you egg head sprout green hair!
It's never easy to please your children and keep peace of mind, but it can be done. It may sound like hard work but it will pay off in the long run.
My child once hated cabbage and even potato, but after perseverance, he now eats them.
The trick is to be patient, keep going back and trying again and change the way you serve it. But whatever you do, don't give up. They may decide peas are the only veg they like, but at least it's something!