In my practice I am constantly asked how to get your children eating more vegetables. If your children are refusing vegetables then these are the questions that come into my mind:
Is their microbiome imbalanced?
Generally in an ideal world if your child has had a healthy start to life, been breastfed and had no medications or antibiotics they will have relatively healthy gut microbiome and in this case we are able to trust their intuition in that moment on what their body is craving. Have you ever noticed that your child will crave brocolli for example and eat a whole pot of it then not again for another week? This is something we can't fully understand through science but it is an indicator of your child knowing what he/she needs nutrient wise.
Conversely if your child has not been breastfed or has been subject to antibiotics, heavy panadol, steroids or other medications they could have an imbalance in their microbiome.
An indication that the microbiome is imbalanced might present with colic, reflux, skin conditions (eczema) or asthma, constipation (going more than 1-2 days without a bowel movement), diarrhea or persistent loose stools, cravings for sugary foods or carbohydrates
All of this is actually no problem and can be sorted out with a good naturopathic gut protocol and probiotic therapy.
Are they given enough variety?
A child needs to be offered a new food more than 10 times in order to accept that food and be offered it another 10 times before they will decide they like it. Therefore as parents we need to be persist and creative in the way we provide these foods to your children.
For this reason I love 'snack plates' ~ snack plates are an amazing way introduce new foods, in and around other foods they love. My children would have a couple of snack plates daily. The fundamentals of a snack plate is
a protein ~ I use a boiled egg, chemical free smoked salmon, nitrate free ham, a big dollop of homous or nut butter or a handful of raw or activated nuts (macadamias, almonds, cashews) or cooked meat from the evening before
raw vegetables ~ cucumbers, celery, carrots, capsicum, grated beetroot, leftover roast vegetables from the evening before if they are lying around, snow peas, steamed brocolli, cherry tomatoes
for the children that like a more mediteranean taste you could try ~ pickles, olives, sundried tomatoes, goats cheese
a fruit ~ chopped apple, orange, grapes, berries (for colour and vibrancy)
The fundamentals of the snack plate are:
it should be colourful to invoke the senses and the hunger
it should include mostly foods they love and some new foods to explore too
a mixture of raw and cooked foods
a balance of protein and carbohydrates from vegetables
What is a reasonable expectation?
It is possible that it is just a passing phase and it will be over as quickly as it started it is important to manage your own expectations on the amount you are presenting them with. I find its always best to offer smaller amounts and re-fill the bowl or plate rather than load up their plate and make them feel overwhelmed or turned off their food.
Generally a child should be eating 2.5 of their fists so check in on what you are offering your kids in terms of portion size to make sure its realistic what you are asking them to eat. You will also need to take into account their energy expenditure and when their last meal was.
Children should be eating 2.5 serves of vegetables per day which means they actually need to be offered a variety of vegetables every meal. This can feel overwhelming as a parent sometimes but I have some easy quick tips on how to increase your childs daily vegetable intake below
- breakfast smoothies ~ Im a massive fan of a breakfast smoothie which includes all the nutrients for the day but is easy to prepare and my kids LOVE them
- SUPERFOOD SHAKE THE KIDS WILL LOVE
- 1 banana or 1 cup organic frozen berries
- 1 cup almond, dairy or coconut milk
- 1 cup spinach or silverbeet
- 1/2 tablespoon of MANA blend (superfood powder)
- 2 tablespoons of 100% whey protein powder (bare blends is my favourite)
- 1-2 ice cubes of bone broth
- 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil
- if you need to add 1 teaspoon of maple syrup to sweeten Ill leave that to you
- this is also a GREAT opportunity to throw in all the supplements, probiotics, fish oils etc etc so the taste is disguised
- scrambled eggs with nitrate free ham, tomato + spinach ( or use whichever green vegetables they love, this can be brocolli, snow peas, green peas)
- pesto ~ pesto is a superfood and is super easy to make, 1 teaspoon of pesto is super nutrient protein and fat dense and is a beautiful way to include vegetables in your childs repertoire
- snack plates (as above)
- juices ~ cold pressed juices are a beautiful way of including more vegetables in the diet, carrot beetroot and apple or even just carrot and apple if you need to start slow.
- offering vegetables at times of the day when you know they will be super hungry is also helpful. I pack a big tub of homous and chopped up vegetables for our after swimming snack when the boys are ravenous and they would eat their 2.5 serves just on the way home from swimming. After school or after sport is also a good time to offer up vegetables
IS THERE A POWER STRUGGLE AROUND THE FOOD OR THE PARENT?
Its important to also note if you are in a power struggle around food. It is SO important to remain neutral as much as possible around food and your little ones. However with three very strong willed boys I have certainly endured some serious and ferocious power struggles around food (and everything else) and these are the helpful tips I have found to neutralise the power struggles
- involve them in the preparation of the foods ~ mixing, serving up, setting the table depending on how appropriate
- letting them serve themselves ~ placing the meals on one big plate in the middle of the table and letting them serve themselves and choose the foods they feel like they want more of
- have some healthy dipping sauces ~ we make a home made tomato sauce with no sugar and fresh tomatoes which give the meals some variety, we also love tamari, seaweed flakes, homous and whole egg mayonnaise
- play music ~ I always play their favourite music at the dinner table, because I find it relaxes the mood (my mood mainly) and has them enjoying rather than feeling the pressure to eat
- make sure you are all sitting at the table together ~ so it feels like an opportunity to connect as well as eat ~ lots of beautiful conversations are shared around this time
- name the vegetable and where it comes from ~ if age appropriate you can engage in silly fun games that have them focussing on their food in a fun way rather than being forced to eat, and generally as a result of talking about that vegetable they will pick it up and eat it
If you are concerned about your childs eating habits, microbiome or variety feel free to email me for a consultation email@example.com