• Children are more tempted by the meals they help cook. (Alan Benson)
Only 1 in 20 Australian children eat enough vegetables. But these fun playtime activities can help kids boost their intake and develop a lifelong friendship with veggies.
By
Louise Wedgwood

21 Jan 2016 - 12:22 PM  UPDATED 21 Jan 2016 - 12:53 PM

What exactly does a day's worth of veggies look like for a three-year-old kid? Getting a daily dose of two-and-a-half serves (a serve being half a cup) of vegetables might include baked beans at breakfast (¼ cup), carrot sticks for morning tea (¼ cup), diced cucumber with lunch (¼ cup) and roast vegetables at dinner (½ cup).

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics, from December, 2015, reveals 19 out of 20 children do not eat enough vegetables.

This dismal figure applies across the board, according to Kate DiPrima, spokesperson for Dietitians Association of Australia.

"I think even socioeconomic status makes no difference. It's just a terrible stat," she says.

She points out that our kids are not only missing out on vitamins and minerals, but also the prebiotic fibre to support healthy gut bacteria.

Inside the mind of a picky eater
Why are some kids so finicky about their food?

If you're like most parents, you know your kids could eat more vegetables. And you probably use tricks and beg (in vain) to make them eat greens. Try these fun these playtime activities with kids to help them develop a taste for veggies.

 

Storytime

Australian research presented earlier in 2015 found kids who heard a story about healthy eating started eating one more serve of fruit and vegetables every day. Discovering new veg through books helps children see them as familiar and safe without confronting something 'weird' on their plate.

"You and I know what broccolini is," explains DiPrima. "But they [kids] don't know what it is."

study of more than 1,600 school-aged children found 41 per cent didn't recognise zucchinis and 53 per cent didn't recognise radishes. So it shouldn't surprise us when children don't want to try these foods.

Expanding children's horizons is vital when we consider that eating a variety of vegetables (and nutrients) is even more important than the quantity of veg they eat.

Try these books to help kids make friends with new vegetables:The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin; Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea by Lee Fox; Growing Colours by Bruce McMillan; I Can Eat a Rainbow by Annabel Karmel; and Growing Vegetable Soup and Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert.

 

Gardening

Getting kids to grow their own veg is a great way to pique kids interest. Erica Lovel, who helps children grow food through her Gardening 4 Kids business, says kids love the sense of ownership and achievement they get from growing their own food. 

Lovel's 10-year-old daughter Cassie is a convert: “Because it is so exciting to grow your own veggies and when Mum says they are ready to eat, it’s like wow! And they always taste better than shop veggies.” 

Plus, homegrown food is always in season which makes for nutrient-packed produce.

Some of the easiest veggies for kids to grow are lettuce, snow peas, beans, cherry tomatoes, carrots and radish.

Lettuce and radish give the quickest results.

Young children can easily handle the large seeds of peas, beans and snow peas, and eat straight from the vine.

Expanding children's horizons is vital when we consider that eating a variety of vegetables (and nutrients) is even more important than the quantity of veg they eat.

To cater for all tastes, grow a variety of plants.

"All kids will have different preferences, so always try to grow several different types of veggies and you may be very surprised what your children will try. One of my daughters won’t eat broccoli unless she picks it straight off the plant and eats it raw," says Lovel.

Most veggies need ample sunlight but even with nil outdoor space, you could grow lettuce and rocket on a sunny windowsill inside.

Anyone can grow sprouts in a recycled jar, or put veggie offcuts in a saucer of water and watch them grow tender, edible leaves. Try carrot tops, bok choy bottoms, or spring onion roots (change the water daily).

 

Cooking

When you or I cook something healthy, of course we want to taste it. Research says that little ones are also more tempted by the meals they help cook.

A good way to ease kids into helping you cook is to roast a simple batch of diced vegetables together, suggests Jeff Leong of The Nutrition Guru and The Chef (he's the chef). These can form the base of a variety of meals over the next few days, including salads, frittatas, savoury muffins or soups.

"Children love roasted veggies because roasting brings out their natural sweetness," he says.

Homemade pizzas are another easy meal you can load up with zucchini, mushroom, capsicum and tomato.

Get kids to help blend up green smoothies, with fruit plus spinach, kale or zucchini.

Getting kids to help cook and bake not only gets them interested in the food but helps develop other skills too, says Anneka Manning, SBS Bakeproof columnist and Director of BakeClub.

"Whisking, stirring, rolling, mashing, icing and cutting help get the [cooking] job done, as well as helping the development of fine motor skills," says Manning.

"Experimentation and problem-solving are big when you bake, and kids love the chance to predict what may happen when a bunch of ingredients come together or when they are mixed in a certain way — so there’s a tick for development of cognitive skills."

Choosing simple recipes, like baked pumpkin gnocchi, and not trying to cook together when you're rushed or overly tired makes it less stressful. However, you can always let little helpers wash the veggies without fearing dinner might be ruined.

Baked pumpkin gnocchi combines pumpkin, tomatoes and spinach for a delicious, nutritious meal.

"Try not to hover over them, just let them explore the veggies. They will splash water on the floor, but they’ll also be learning about food and hopefully building a love of cooking," says Leong.

In fact, he says for cooking to be joyful, some chaos is essential. "Let them make mess. If children feel free to experiment and explore, it will be a fun experience and they will learn from it along the way."

 

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