In today’s fast-paced world, where work, school and various commitments dominate our weekdays, feeding our families healthy foods can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially if there is a battle over veggies at the dinner table. Here are some valuable tips and tricks that can save you time, headspace and money on your family’s healthy dinners.
Overcoming the veggie challenge
One of the most common challenges for parents is getting their children to eat vegetables. This isn’t just picky eating, there’s a scientific explanation for it and it’s called “food neophobia.” Food neophobia is a natural development stage where children resist new and unfamiliar foods .
Parents often find this happens most with vegetables, but it can be any aspect of a meal. So, how can you overcome this obstacle? Here are 3 effective strategies to tackle it:
1. Eat together as often as you can
Many busy parents and caregivers prefer to get their kids fed, washed and into bed before they sit down to eat their own healthy meal. However, children learn through role modelling, which might mean they only see you snack if you don’t sit down with them at mealtime. If they don’t see you eating vegetables or healthy meals, they are less likely to want to eat them too. When you sit and eat with your kids, you teach them the foods on your (and their) plates aren’t something to be feared, but a normal thing to eat. This will help them accept these foods into their diet. Eating together may also save you some time each day and give you more time to relax after the kids go to bed.
2. Role model enjoying vegetables: Every. Single. Day.
Only 10% of Australian adults eat the recommended servings of vegetables each day , which means many kids are just not offered vegetables frequently enough. Kids learn through repetition and role modelling. If you eat salad and veggies at lunch and dinner each day, your children are more likely to eat them as well. Including more veggies in your day will have health benefits for you too.
3. Eat the same thing as your kids
If you do sit down with your kids to eat vegetables, the next step is to offer them the same foods as you. Any child, regardless of age, can normally be offered an aspect of your meal – it might need to be cut smaller, cooked a little softer, or use less salt or spices, but the meal can ‘look’ the same. The earlier you start this; the more children will enjoy eating the same things as you.
If you don’t eat the same meals as your kids, it might need a step-by-step approach, which can mean just 1 or 2 foods might be the same, with the idea being that the number slowly increases. Not only does this reduce the cooking and clean-up time, but sharing meals is a huge aspect of many social occasions, and doing so as a family unit can be part of this too.
If you’re dealing with “fussy” eaters, consider starting with the first 2 tips before looking at what meals you can share. Recipes like this Veggie-loaded Spaghetti Bolognese, with finely grated or diced vegetables cleverly integrated, serve as a perfect way to transform a kids’ favourite into a “sneaky” healthy dinner for the entire family.
Above all, always remember patience is your best friend in this journey. The key is role modelling and repetition, as a child can’t learn to love what’s never on their plate.
- Terence M Dovey, Paul A Staples, E Leigh Gibson, Jason C G Halford, 2007, ‘Food neophobia and ‘picky/fussy’ eating in children: a review’, National Library of Medicine. DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2007.09.009.
- The Heart Foundation, 2023. Fruit, vegetables and heart health. Website: https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/bundles/healthy-living-and-eating/fruit-vegetables-and-heart-health#:~:text=Eating%20fruit%20and%20vegetables%20can,amount%20of%20fruit%20and%20vegetables.
Blog produced in conjunction with Queensland Association of School Tuckshops.