Does your tot turn his nose up at fruit and vegies?
You love your little to bits. He’s full of energy and growing into a happy, healthy and little child. There’s just one small snag – he pushes most fruit away, baulks at trying a carrot stick and dry retches at the mere thought of eating broccoli. If this is your child, you’re in good company. Heaps of parents and au pairs struggle to get their children to eat at least one serve of fruit or vegetables each day. Can we put this food group on hold and hope that one day the littlies will just grow into it like a comfy pair of shoes? Or do we batten down the hatches and prepare for the nightly battle, hoping to emerge triumphant having successfully force-fed all the four-years-old out there their daily greens? Neither options is going to be successful in the long term, so it’s time to put away the war paint and find some better solutions to this age-old battle between parent and child.
All children need fruit and vegies every day as a part of the healthy diet. These foods provide essential fibre (‘roughage’) to keep your little one’s bowels and digestive system working. Constipation can lead to many long-term health issues and can affect your child’s appetite and lead to pain and irritability. A recent study has suggested half of all Australian children do not have adequate intakes of fibre and in a survey by The Gut Foundation, just under half of all mums said their children suffered bowel problem on a regular basis. Fruit and vegies are also the main sources of vitamins C, B1, and B2 for healthy growth, development and immune systems. Starchy vegetables such as potato, sweet potato and corn and fruits provide carbs for fuel, providing energy. The unrefined nature of fresh fruit provides instant vitamins and minerals as well as protective antioxidant. The edible skin is valuable too, as the vitamins are found just a few millimetres underneath.
THE BITTER TRUTH
Children have a preference for a sweet taste from birth, which is why vegetables tend to be the most difficult food to get them to eat. Repeat exposure to vegetable flavours flavours at an early age increases the likelihood of acceptance, while offering your child overly refined foods containing excess sugar and salt will only make the job harder. Start by settings realistic goals, making meals tasty using familiar bridging flavours such as dipping sauces (tomato sauce, guacamole, or light mayonnaise) and buying in season, as these foods are much cheaper and taste better,
WHEN VEGETABLES ARE SCARY…
For many children, fear of an unknown food is a big hurdle. Often you’ll need to offer a new fruit or vegie several times (up to 10 or 15) before your child is comfortable with it.
Try with your aupair the following steps to introduce a new food item:
NIGHT 1: Place a small piece of the cooked vegetable or cut fruit on the plate with the rest of your child’s meal. Ask him to bring his lips (for little ones ask them to kiss it, older kids just press it to their lips). The lip area is very sensitive and this brings the food to the nose where your child can smell that it’s not offensive.
NIGHT 2: Ask your tot to hold the vegetable or fruit on his back teeth. Here the tongue can pass over it for the first taste.
NIGHT 3: Ask him to place the vegetable or fruit on his back teeth. At this point he may be willing to bite down and if so, praise him. This builds confidence that the food is okay and will not make him sick. If he doesn’t bite down, leave this to the next night.
NIGHT 4: Get your child to chomp down on the vegetables or fruit down with or without a bridging flavour such as a sauce or yoghurt.
ARE THERE ALTERNATIVES?
While you’re still encouraging your little to try fresh fruit and vegetables, keep up his intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals, with these ideas…
- Offer legumes such as baked beans or chickpeas blended to make hummus on crackers or pizza bases, or a spread.
- Grate veggies into main dishes such as chicken bites or meat balls.
- Use vegetable juice drink – you can buy poppers that contain one serve of fruit and veg. While these provide some vitamins and minerals, they do lack the fibre of fresh fruit and vegetables, trough.
- If fresh fruit won’t go down the hatch, try offering dried or semi-dried fruit as a snack.
- Ask to your au pair to make fruit puree and mix it into plain yoghurt or bake into muffins or scrolls.
- Use commercially available pouches containing pureed fruit and vegetables, looking for ones with no added sugar, preservatives or colours.
While these are good ideas as you wait for your tot to take a liking to the fresh stuff, the following aren’t the best…
- Store-bought hot chips. They’re popular with kids and adults, but potato wedges and chips aren’t replacement for vegetables as they’re low in fibre and high in fat and salt. A healthier alternative is to make your own by leaving a part of the skin on the potato and baking or barbecuing.
- Store-bought fruit drinks. Fruit juices and drinks aren’t recommended for kids as they provide excessive amounts of sugar and kilojoules without the fibre or fresh fruit. A healthier alternative is to make your own by blending a serve of fresh fruit such as strawberries, mango or melon with ice to make a frappe.
- Fruit jellies, straps or tubes. These are essentially lollies containing small amount of fruit sugar a healthier alternative is to make your own jelly by adding dissolved gelatine to pureed fruit. Pour into fun moulds and leave to chill in the fridge. Hang in there! Most kids go through tricky eating patches, but with persistence you’ll eventually win him over.