“How do you get veggies into your little ones” was a question a friend casually asked me and another Mum recently. Well… I’m not sure if this question inspires the same reaction in all of us BUT I was salivating with excitement and the ideas machine was whirring around so I thought I just MUST write a blog on this one. Not sure my friend was expecting such a comprehensive response but hey, here it is!
Firstly, keep in mind my little 1 is 11 months old BUT I do think these ideas (at least most) can be applied to kids of any age. I’ll also remind you that we did baby-led wheaning with Eliza so we’ve never done purees – that may provide better context. You can catch up on our baby-led weaning by reading this past blog here.
Anyhow, back to todaý’s topic. I thought I’d put together a list of all of my top favourite ways to get veggies into Eliza as some of them may be helpful for you. If you’ve got some great ideas yourself, feel free to post them as comments too! We’re all in this crazy Mum journey together after all.
- MODEL THE BEHAVIOUR: the first rule of thumb is seemingly obvious, BUT do model the behaviour…. eat your own veggies please. Eliza and I eat exactly the same food…. I even eat her snacks so I model exactly what I want her to eat. It does help.
- OFFER VARIETY: little people may be drawn to different things at different times. Eliza used to love broccoli…. now she doesn’t (I have to chop it finely in food). BUT she currently LOVES green beans…. a few weeks ago, she hated them. So offer variety because they may choose different vegetables (and different foods generally) at different meals. Just because something is rejected once, doesn’t mean it will be rejected at the next meal. If you have a few different options offered, chances are, at least 1 will be popular.
- OFFER THINGS IN DIFFERENT WAYS: it took me ages to figure out that carrots steamed and served as finger food weren’t going to cut it…. but carrots in slow cooked casseroles and the likes… absolutely fine. Loved in fact. Similarly, your little one might enjoy roasted zucchini or roasted pumpkin… but not steamed or mashed. Soup is always a winner in our house. I make it super thick so Eliza can spoon feed it to herself OR if I’m doubting she will have it plain I soak bits of bread in it and she then eats it like that.
- EMBRACE THE CURRENT FAVS: If your little one has a current favourite, then be inventive with it and offer it in different ways at different meals to increase their overall veggie intake. If you know its going to be eaten, you may as well offer it right! Again, back to the green bean thing…. I currently offer these cold in her snack box most days and even raw as I’m cooking dinner if I need to distract her a little while I get dinner on. Another favourite at the moment is asparagus. I lightly steam this and serve it cold, dipped in yoghurt or hummus for snacks.
- VEGGIES CAN BE HIDDEN IN LOTS OF THINGS: cucumber and spinach are good in smoothies….. you can include HEAPS of finely chopped veggies in favourites like spaghetti bolognaise or any spaghetti sauce….. grated veggies go well in fritters (with egg, flour and a little cheese) or rissoles (with quality minced meat and an egg to bind) or savoury loaves or a good old zucchini slice…. finely chopped mushrooms / leftover roast veggies work well in omelets… and you can easily swap out veggies you know will be rejected for those you know will be embraced in most recipes…
- PAY ATTENTION TO SIZE: some vegetables may be eaten in dishes but only if they are quite small. For example, mushrooms are fine in pasta or rice dishes in our household BUT they have to be chopped quite small… chunky does not cut it. Be mindful of size when preparing vegetables.
- IF IT ‘WILTS’ ADD IT: this is a little rule I follow whenever I’m doing a curry or casserole or other slow cooked dish like say…. lamb shanks. ALWAYS add lots of stuff that ‘wilts.’ I’m talking baby spinach, finely chopped silverbeet, chopped kale etc. IT mostly does not change the flavour of the dish (well, spinach particularly is mild) but it wilts fast right at the end of the cooking process and adds a heap of nutrients. Babies may not even notice… toddlers probably would admittedly.
- MAKE ‘DIPS’ AND ‘SPREADS’ OUT OF VEGGIES: you could blend some roasted or steamed pumpkin with hummus and offer it on crackers or toast…. make baba ghanoush with eggplant and yoghurt for afternoon tea….. roast sweet potato and blend it with some cream cheese for a spread…. there’s lots of ways to get veggies into dips and spreads. A lot of kids eat just about anything served on a cracker or piece of bread. If you’re into making your own bliss balls ingredients like grated carrot and peanut butter go well in these or raw beetroot and coconut (you need a good blender here and mind the mess with raw beetroot… which I learnt the hard way). Heck these days you can make healthy-ish cupcakes with zucchini or carrot! Just ask Google!
- REMAIN CALM AND DON’T STRESS: if your little 1 rejects it all at a meal…. don’t worry. Plate it up next time and try again. In our household I can offer the same meal week on week and I’ll get a different response… sometimes all of it is eaten with gusto. The next… only elements… the next week, the same meal might be completely rejected. Oh well. I try to keep the baby led weaning principles in my mind and assume Eliza has gotten what she needs for that day already… or she will take it from me before bed (still breastfeeding). I understand this point would be harder with older kids but I still think in some way, we need to keep meal time calm and enjoyable and not a source of stress of anxiety.
- BE CONSISTENT above all else: consistently offer vegetables / healthy food in general so its the norm not the exception. Even if its rejected countless times, continue to put it on the plate. Research tells us that children may need to be exposed to the same food 10-20 times before they will even give it a go so keep offering it over and over again. Our little ones will get there.
What are your top tips for getting veggies into little ones? Did I miss any?