Raising little foodies: 5 fun ways to get the kids excited about vegetables
Would you like your child to be genuinely excited about vegetables?
Of course you would.
It’s the biggest battle most of us parents face with our little people. Does any of this sound familiar?
- Your six month-old baby pulls a face and spits out the mashed green veggies you lovingly offer
- Your one year-old likes to play a hilarious game with his or her food. It’s called ‘throw it on the floor, and watch mummy or daddy pick it up with a funny look on their face’
- Your two year-old has a meltdown when you offer a variety of colourful foods, and refuses to eat anything but white food
- Your three year-old has decided that they don’t like something on their plate before they’ve even tried it
If you can relate to any of these scenarios, congratulations – you’re a parent.
We can’t make our children eat. It’s our job to offer them healthy and wholesome food, but it’s up to them whether they eat it or not.
Getting kids genuinely excited about trying new vegetables doesn’t have to happen at the meal table. If we move food education away from the table, and expose them to a colourful and exciting world of veggies in a positive and calm environment, it takes all of the pressure away from our little ones (and the stress from us).
To start with, why don’t you try out one of the five ideas below. I know you don’t have time to set up elaborate activities, or need any extra cleaning up on your never-ending to-do list. Relax, these ideas are very simple to incorporate into your day. Hey, think about all the time you’ll save at mealtimes if your kids are actually eating what you cook! Obviously not every time, they are human after all.
Sounds like it’s going to make our jobs as parents much easier when meal times come around, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for more activities to do with my son anyway, particularly on rainy days or that long gap between his afternoon nap and dinner time. What have we got to lose?
Here is a list of easy activities you can do with your babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers.
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- Read books about veggies
Books are a fabulous way to introduce a change or transition to our kids in a non-confrontational way. Whether you’re about to start potty training your toddler, or there’s a new baby coming into the family, or when your child is about to start Kindergarten…books help to start a bit of a conversation with them, and they also give us some ideas about how we can make the transition easy.
Introducing new food to our kids is no different.
It’s a learning process, and can be very overwhelming to little ones. If we think about eating as something we can casually educate our kids about, rather than just expecting they’ll eat everything we put in front of them, it can make the whole experience much more enjoyable for everyone.
A book that we recently discovered is called ‘What’s growing?’ It’s written by dietician and mum of four, Kate Wengier. Kate founded the family-run company called Foost, with the tagline being ‘Eat Colourful’. It’s run by a team of dieticians, mums and educators with a passion for food and healthy eating. Foost’s aim is to:
“By sharing simple strategies, delicious recipes and fun activities, we create healthier and more relaxed food culture in your home, school, workplace or community”
This book, ‘What’s Growing?’ is the perfect example of this positive approach to food. Each glossy page prompts the question: what’s growing? The child is encouraged to lift the flap to reveal a different vegetable. The cute illustrations also show how each vegetable grows. You could read this book to your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler —they will all get pleasure out of it. The message by the end of the 26 page book is that eating colourful vegetables will help the child to grow. At the back of the book you’ll find a simple recipe you can make with your kids, and then a list of some of the activities you can do with them to encourage them to be more colourful and adventurous eaters. Some of these ideas are in my list here, and you’ll find several more in the book.
So, what did my three year-old Little Foodie think of ‘What’s growing?’
Well, I think I expose my son to a wide variety of vegetables, most of which he loves or will at least try. Guess what? He didn’t recognise every vegetable in the book. He missed eggplant and asparagus.
This got me thinking, and I realised something.
We rarely eat either of these vegetables. One reason is that my husband doesn’t like eggplants, which is mostly a textural thing. For the asparagus, I guess I run out of ideas about how to cook it. I like to griddle it and add garlic and butter, but that’s about the extent of my repertoire regarding that vegetable. Naturally I’m going to get bored of preparing it as well as eating it.
Anyway, this got me all excited and inspired to get more of both of these veggies into our lives. So, I’m going to use eggplant and asparagus in a couple of the activities here so you can see how to expose your kids to new ones, too.
Think about it, what veggie aren’t you that keen on or simply don’t know what to do with? It’s interesting how our own preferences can influence what food our kids eat, and basically, they’re not even going to know about them if they’re never, or rarely, offered them.
- Let them play with veggies
Did you realise that we use all of our senses when we eat something? Go and check out my post about letting kids get messy here. With the help of The Kids Place and Sarah Melbourne, I put together a list of all kinds of fun sensory and messy activity ideas that are really simple, and everything you need to recreate them can be found in the kitchen.
My son and I followed the last idea in the list: “Next time you go grocery shopping, spread a tablecloth across the floor and lay all out all of the fruit and veggies for your little ones to touch, explore, lick, and possibly nibble on”.
I asked questions about eggplant and asparagus like:
What does it feel like? What colour is it? What other fruit or vegetable does it look like? What’s the shape similar to? What does it smell like? What do you think it would smell like?
You can still do this activity with babies and toddlers who don’t talk too much yet. They understand a lot more than we realise, and it’s a great opportunity to expose them to words we use to describe different sensations.
It’s also a lot of fun, and takes the mystery away from what we’re serving them every day. Imagine if someone served you mush and you had no idea what was in it, what it looked like in its original form, and how it was prepared. So, next time you sit your little one down on the floor to play, put some veggies in front of them instead of toys (but obviously supervise them. Oh and give the veggies a good wash afterwards!)
- Cook together
Get the kids into the kitchen at any age. A baby can sit in a chair beside you and watch while you prepare a meal. Explain everything you’re doing (turning it into a song is optional), and let them touch and play with the vegetables. Try not to freak out when they lick all the raw veggies, it won’t hurt them. A toddler and pre-schooler can do so much to help in the kitchen, and they really do love to help and be with you whenever they can.
Here is my son in action using his Foost first knife. These knives are safe enough to use from age two. They’re serrated and can cut food, but won’t cut little helping hands. Once your child gets a bit more experience in the kitchen, they can use the Foost Next Knife from about age six.
What does my three year-old Little Foodie like to help me prepare with his Foost knife?
He uses his knife to help prepare smoothies, pesto, pizzas, fruit salad, omelettes, salads, and so much more. Go and head over to my Instagram page to see what we get up to, and for some simple recipes.
For my nephew’s third birthday, we gave him a Foost chef kit. See how proud this little budding chef is? The pack includes a first knife, chef’s hat and apron, and a vegetable brush. I think it makes a pretty cool gift.
He’d been going through a typical toddler picky stage, so I thought it would encourage him to get enthusiastic about helping his parents in the kitchen, and more importantly, trying new foods. Do you know what? It actually did help! My sister can’t get him out of the kitchen now, and he even uses his knife to cut up the food on his plate at meal times.
My son loves to cut up food, but hasn’t received the etiquette memo about using a knife and fork to eat. He still loves to use his hands, and since he generally eats almost anything, I’m not going to stop him. Honestly, don’t worry if your kids like to eat with their hands. It’s called healthy food exploration, and if it means they’re eating, do like the song that will get stuck in your head at some point in your child’s life, ‘let it goooo, let it go’. Sorry!
Still not sure what your kids could do in the kitchen to help? Here is a handy guide (ages are approximate, as every child is different):
- Pretend play
It’s adorable when your kids get to the age of pretend play. Setting up a make-believe café, tea party, or shop can provide lots of opportunity to talk about veggies in an enjoyable environment. You could set up a greengrocers at home with real veggies or toy ones. Emily from Nature Loving Mama kindly shared these photos of her lovely pretend food play set-up. Go and check out her website to see her love and passion for eco-friendly and fair trade baby and children’s products. She has awesome craft and family activity ideas.
You could even play shops at the playground, using the wood chips to represent vegetables. In the sandpit, you could make vegetable cakes, and chat about each vegetable as it goes into the mix.
If your child is still a little young for pretend play, you could obviously spend some time when you can (whilst keeping your sanity) at the supermarket, market, and cafés. I know, most little ones just loooove those places. This is coming from someone who gets their groceries delivered every week because she often wants to run out of the supermarket screaming when she takes her son shopping. Or arrives home from the local market with not a single item from the shopping list. Unless feeling utterly traumatised and assuming the fetal position is on the list.
You might not have a strong-willed child like mine, though, so head out and show them all of the colourful vegetable displays…or just keep this activity in mind for when they’re older! The last thing we want are negative food experiences.
- Grow some veggies
I honestly don’t have a green thumb, and every plant I’ve had ends up dying. Letting kids grow veggies though is very beneficial. Kids love a job. Getting them to water and care for plants gives them an opportunity to be responsible and independent. Discuss the colours, aromas, and of course don’t forget to encourage the kids to taste them and cook with them.
If you don’t have the space, you might like to look into renting an allotment. Fresh home-grown veggies always taste so much better. Go and check out the inspirational Instagram account of Biggs Family Farm. They’re a gorgeous homeschooling family trying to live off of the land as much as possible.
On a smaller scale, you could simply grow some herbs in pots on the windowsill, like we’ve done here. If we can do it, anyone can!
Wow, if you’ve made it this far, you’re very determined to get your child excited about veggies. Good for you! To summarise the ways you can encourage a healthy love of veggies away from the table:
- Read books like this one
- Play with food, and do an activity from this list
- Get the kids into the kitchen, and use a first knife like this or grab a mini chef’s kit
- Encourage pretend play
- Grow your own food
I think we all want to raise happy and healthy eaters, and I’d love to hear if you have any ideas you can add to this list. Please share with other parents any tips and tricks, and comment below.
Remember to ‘Eat Colourful’!