When I was a kid, my grandmother had a foolproof method of ensuring I ate my vegetables and pretty much anything else she wanted. She would simply launch herself on top of me and pin me down as she force-fed me until my screaming/crying died down. It sounds cruel to those of us parenting in 2018, I know, but that was Turkish-style child-minding in the 1980.
“What’s this green thing? I don’t want green things!”
Today, with two little ones of my own, I know only too well the struggle of getting kids to eat a varied diet.
“Muuum, there’s too much spicy in here!”
(That's my four-year-old.)
“Zucchini makes me want to die… why would you do this to us?”
(That’s my overly dramatic nine-year-old.)
Child protection laws (understandably) prevent me trying the same approach as my grandmother, but over time I, too, have settled on my own methods to shoehorn as much veg, spice and flavour into their meals as possible.
Now, most food experts I’ve interviewed over the years are adamant that feeding your kids a healthy, flavour-filled diet comes down to three major rules:
- Consistency (i.e. continuing to serve up dishes you know are going to be rejected until your child’s spirit breaks)
- Patience (working to build up flavour profiles over time so that you start with the merest suggestion of dill, for example, and slowly work it up until the dish resembles a forest)
- Imagination (kid doesn’t like cauliflower on its own? Why not serve up a creamy cauliflower soup instead or a cheesy cauliflower bake?)
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is - but the benefits aren’t anything to be sneezed at. While we know children require plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets to grow healthy, happy and strong, the science behind adding spices to their dishes hasn’t been as well-documented – until now. Nutmeg (just the perfect thing to add to a glass of warm milk with a little honey) is known to aid sleep, while cinnamon (great with rice dishes) is said to boost energy levels and elevate mood. Ginger – a strong antioxidant - aids digestion, and cayenne can help boost immune systems and guard against cold and flu. Not only that, but using more herbs and spices to flavour food also reduces the amount of salt you need to use. Win, win and win.
These tips aside, in our house we’ve also discovered it’s helpful to always have avocados, Greek-style yogurt and lemons in the fridge at all times, as these three ingredients appear to cover a multitude of dietary sins (as far as my girls are concerned). For example, my daughters’ favourite dinner option is what they call ‘green pasta’, a simple dish where I mash a soft avocado, stir in a tin of tuna, some pasta and the juice of half a lemon. Just before I serve it up, I add a wide range of finely grated vegetables, such as zucchini, carrot and steamed broccoli I’ve chopped finely, so that it’s almost broccoli mist. The avocado hides it all and they can’t get enough of the stuff.
We’ve also discovered it’s helpful to always have avocados, Greek-style yogurt and lemons in the fridge at all times, as these three ingredients appear to cover a multitude of dietary sins (as far as my girls are concerned).
Greek-style yogurt is a multi-tasker, not only working to cover vegetables – particularly in Turkish dishes such as dolma (vine leaves or vegetables stuffed with rice, mince, dill, parsley and tomato), but allowing you to control spice levels in dishes. When the girls first began eating curry, they found everything too spicy – a problem that could be alleviated with a healthy spoonful or two of the white stuff. Over time, we have gradually reduced the amount of yogurt we put in the dishes, so that they can now eat spicy foods without breaking out into a sweat – or tantrum. As for the lemon? A quick squirt on any vegetable seems to make it immediately palatable to my girls. Why, I’ll never know.
There’s no denying trying to get your kids to eat well can be frustrating, but take it from the lady who spent every mealtime being crash-tackled – they will eventually grow out of it. I promise.
Tzatziki has always been a constant in my world. Sometimes I throw one together to go with a quick weeknight meal. Other times, I take my time to strain the yoghurt for a richer, creamier version of this beloved Greek dip. And other times, I like to change things around, like I have today. Tzatziki is wonderful on its own, but with the addition of avocado it really goes up a notch. Cooling. Creamy. Sensual. This would work well with some pita bread and pork souvlaki.