My three-year-old daughter Ayla has been brought up vegetarian and although she’s been fantastic with food from day one, she’s now becoming increasingly picky at mealtimes.
Her likes and dislikes change on a weekly basis and getting vegetables into her diet is becoming more of a challenge.
So in an attempt to incorporate more veg into her everyday meals, I experiment with different colours and textures, and have picked up the below tips and tricks that I want to share with you to help make veggies more exciting for our children.
BLEND THEM IN
One of the easiest ways to include more veg in our children’s diets is to blend or mix them into their favourite sauces. Gennaro’s 5 Veg Pasta sauce is the perfect example of a staple kids’ food being turned into a vitamin-packed meal. Chunkier vegetables that might normally get picked out, such as carrots, greens and potatoes are fantastic incorporated into pancakes and breads – try these lovely little sweet potato muffins or some gorgeous squash pancakes.
Legumes such as beans and chickpeas are a great and inexpensive veggie staple, packed with proteins and easy to incorporate into family meals. I like making houmous, butter bean pastes and dips using beetroot that are easy for kids to dip into with bread or veggie sticks like cucumbers and carrots.
A classic, failsafe meal that’s simple and satisfying for both kids and adults is baked beans on toast. Try this humble home-cooked beans recipe.
PURÉE THEM UP
Puréed fruit and vegetables are something that we introduce our children to from a very young age. In fact, this is usually the first food experience they have. Now that my daughter is a little older, I’ve found that these purées can be incorporated into some of her everyday favourites. Jamie’s leftover squash pancakes are perfect for this, or you could try this healthy corn and cheese version. Greens like spinach and courgette can be used this way too, and you could always add sweet potato for extra flavour.
Smoothies are another great way of getting vitamin-packed ingredients such as kale, spinach and carrots into the little ones. As long as you blend the veg well, children won’t even realise what’s in the mix. If you’d rather go for fruitier versions, check out some of Jools’ favourite varieties. Serve 150ml of smoothie per child with a handful of ice.
Having a very strong-willed little girl, I’ve come to realise that letting her choose what she wants to eat and put on her plate encourages her to be more adventurous. Getting a plate with different compartments allows you to separate foods and let your kids try three or four different options at mealtimes. If the plates are fun and colourful, that’s an added bonus!
If you’ve got the time and patience, there are some great ways of arranging food on children’s plates that are guaranteed to have them asking for more! Take a look at Jacob’s Food Diaries, Samantha Lee, and Ida Frosk for some awesome inspiration.
THE POWER OF CHOICE
Another approach I use is to give Ayla a level of control over what gets put on her plate. Often as parents, we tend to select our children’s meals ourselves, allowing them no choice in the matter. There are limits of course, but I’m talking about creating your own pizza toppings or building a salad or pasta bowl. By empowering kids and giving them a choice, we give them responsibility from an early age.
Last but not least, it all starts with parents – we should set a good example for how our children eat and view food. I try to involve Ayla as much possible, by bringing her along to shops and farmers’ markets – she even has a little woven basket, which she gets to fill with a selection of fresh food – and we play games where she learns the different names of fruits and vegetables. These outings take a little bit longer (as you can imagine!) but help teach her where her food comes from – hopefully they will have a lasting impression.