People often ask me how I get my kids to eat so much fruit and vegetables. I do think being vegan makes it easier, fruit and veg are the main things we eat so it’s hard for them to not eat them. But even being vegan, sometimes kids can avoid eating fruit and veg.
Luckily Oran will eat any food I give him so far, which I partly put down to baby led weaning. Rian was the same when he was a baby, but went through a bit of a fussy stage as a toddler. He loved carbohydrate foods like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread and didn’t always eat as many vegetables as I’d like him to. These were some ways that helped to get him to eat a more balanced diet. Thankfully he eats much more of a variety nowadays and loves his fruit and veg.
I’m no expert, these are just things that worked for me. They might not work for every child but I hope they can help someone.
Make them interesting
Try cooking veg in lots of different ways. Roasting or baking veg can make them sweeter and caramelised with loads of flavour. Lightly steaming or stir frying so they’re still crunchy is a more interesting texture and will taste better than if they’re boiled for a long time. Try adding spices like cumin, garlic or ginger when cooking to give them more flavour and make them more appealing to kids. My kids have always loved spices, even a little chilli, ever since they started solid food at six months. They love vegetables in a really flavourful curry or stew.
Make it accessible for them
Keep a bowl of fruit on the table for kids to grab as a snack. If they see it then they might want it, but if it’s away in a cupboard or the fridge it might never get used. Fruit tastes best when kept at room temperature anyway. It’s naturally colourful to look appealing to us, and my kids love all the colours. We have several bowls of fruit out at a time and Rian will often grab an apple, ask for me to open a banana for him, or ask me to make fresh fruit juice or a smoothie. We keep grapes and cherry tomatoes on the kitchen counter where he can’t reach since they could be a choking hazard, but he can see them and ask me to “chop” them (slice them in half to reduce the risk of choking) so he can eat them.
I keep berries in the fridge to keep them fresh but I put some out in bowls when the kids are waiting for meals and they soon get eaten!
I’ve also seen lots of people using a cupcake tray or other container to put kids’ snacks in for the day. It’s a great way to get them to eat a wider variety of food, they’re more likely to eat it if it’s where they can get to it, and it stops them asking for a snack every five minutes! Having the different compartments also encourages me to give them more of a variety of snacks instead of the same thing all the time.
If they don’t like a fruit or vegetable at first, don’t stop trying. Don’t think that they won’t ever like it, and definitely don’t say out loud that they don’t like it, or they might get the idea that they don’t. If my kids don’t eat something, then I don’t worry about it, but just keep offering some of it time and time again, and eventually they hopefully will try it. If they try it several times, then hopefully they will start to like it. I also never say that I don’t like a food in front of them, in case they decide they don’t either. Someone once told Rian a food was “yucky” and he wouldn’t eat it for a few weeks, so be careful what you say!
Don’t let them fill up on less nutritious food
It might seem obvious, but most of us are probably guilty of letting our children eat sweets before meals or giving them less nutritious food if they don’t eat their dinner. I find it makes a huge difference to Rian’s appetite if I let him fill up on less healthy snacks. If he has had only healthy snacks then he’ll eat his meals. If he has had sweets and crisps, then no chance. If he refuses to eat his meals, then I don’t make a big deal of it. I simply put the food in the fridge and wait until the next meal. Even if he asks for crisps or something, I try not to let him have them. If he is hungry at the next meal then he’ll eat his food. He hasn’t let himself starve yet!
Dips and sauces
My kids love dunking food in dips. Even Oran has started to do it now at 10 months! Houmous is a big favourite, as well as salsa and guacamole. Homemade is healthiest but store bought isn’t too bad if it encourages them to eat vegetables! I chop up a load of veg, their favourite being carrot sticks, but also pepper sticks, halved cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, etc. and let them dip them. If Rian wants some ketchup or sweet chilli sauce with his sweet potato wedges then I don’t mind him having a little as long as he eats his veg. Apple wedges dunked in peanut butter is another favourite in our house.
Hidden veg sauces
I know it is best if kids will eat their vegetables without being tricked into it. But if they are going through a particularly fussy stage then hidden veg sauces can be a great way to get them to eat more vegetables without even knowing it! You can blend up veg into pasta sauce, pizza sauce, even curries. A lot of toddlers seem to love carbs, and no matter how fussy Rian was feeling he would always eat pasta and sauce! If you want to get them used to vegetables, you can start off by blending the sauce until smooth, and gradually every time you make it make it slightly more chunky until they are actually eating bites of vegetables in the sauce. If they’ll eat soup then that’s also a great way to get loads of veg in.
Whenever Rian was being fussy about food, he would still always drink a smoothie. I find it hard to eat enough fruit myself, so smoothies are so handy. I think fruit must be one of the most natural and healthy foods we can eat, and it’s great for us to get some raw food. Sure it would be best to eat the whole fruit instead of blending it up, but I figure having a smoothie is better than having little or no fruit at all. We make a lot of smoothies with banana or mango for sweetness so that Rian will like it. Then add berries, nuts or nut butter, seeds, oats, plant milks, plant yoghurts, or even a big handful of spinach to add loads of goodness. Rian doesn’t notice if there’s spinach in his smoothie and loves the colour. If we’re having a bit of a junk food day, or even if he’s sick, it’s so reassuring to know that he got some fruit in
So those are my tips. If anyone has any more, please let me know in the comments!