Mealtimes – the most stressful time of the day for many households. Difficulties range from a sulking toddler with their jaw clenched shut to spitting, food throwing and tantrum-induced vomiting. And that’s when presented with food they loved last week…
It is easy to resort to blending vegetables into sauces so that they go undetected (and indeed this is an effective way of ensuring your little one gets plenty of goodness), but it is also important to give children the chance to see these different foods on the table and provide the opportunity to familiarize themselves.
Repeated exposure is key to accepting new foods; many studies have indicated children need to try something at least ten times before developing a liking for it. Below are a few common vegetables that can often prove problematic when introducing to little foodies, with a couple of tips for incorporating them into meals.
“Ooooooh look at these little trees…yummmmy…don’t you want to try a tiny tree?”…cue a very unimpressed toddler thinking they might shove a handful of leaves into your face next time you’re in the garden. A common tactic is to overcook and smash broccoli, but this can increase the strong smell that puts toddlers off. Plus, it doesn’t look very appetizing!
Instead – lightly steam or roast with a little seasoning. I often serve alongside hummus or guacamole for dipping – be patient as this can take your child multiple attempts starting with simply licking the dip off the broccoli until they are brave enough to take a little bite.
The earthy flavour can be overwhelming for little foodies but the colour is intriguing for them. Try roasting to bring out the natural sweetness – it really makes a huge difference compared to boiling or steaming. I finely chop and stir through rice to make a colourful accompaniment or combine with beans to make burgers.
As a child I went through a phase of dragging my fork through my entire plate in fear that my parents had buried a pea under some bland looking pile of rice or mashed potato (they had done this once unsuccessfully) … Try making a simple pea puree (just boil in stock and blitz) and serve as a condiment, with sweet potato wedges for example.
Get your little foodie used to the colour, smell and taste of peas this way and you can gradually increase the chunkiness of the puree texture until eventually serving peas as an accompaniment. This also works well for other veg that children are prone to picking out such as sweetcorn and beans.
All hail the Kale! This super nutritious veggie has become synonymous with healthy eating but it can be a difficult one to get your toddler tucking into. This is often because of the texture. If your little foodie will pick out even the most finely shredded kale in any dish, try baking torn leaves in the oven to make kale crisps. Season with anything you like – garlic or mild paprika work well – and serve alone, with soup or with a favourite dip.
Hated by many adults and children alike! These little power houses are loaded with vitamins and nutrients so they are well worth including on your menu at home. Again the trick is to avoid overcooking which will only increase their pungent aroma.
I like to shred and lightly stir fry with garlic or bacon. You can also slice and roast with a cheesy crumb – try Parmesan if your little foodie can have dairy or blend some nutritional yeast with breadcrumbs and oil if going dairy free.
Remember, the aim is to introduce your toddler to different elements of a food – this doesn’t have to happen all in one go. Getting them used to a particularly strong smell or colour can be enough for one day. You may be surprised at what they voluntarily feast on.
And, don’t give up! Children will often change their mind overnight about what they will accept on a plate – try not to be disheartened if certain foods continue to be rejected. As hard as it is, resist making a fuss or pleading with them to try something…this will just make mealtimes more stressful for both of you!
*This is a guest post written by Natasha Lee, founder of Wild Child Kitchen, a home -delivery service providing nutritious food for toddlers making mealtimes easier for busy London parents. Connect on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and check out my review of the Wild Child Kitchen here.