Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How to get kids to eat their vegetables?

I have just read about the release of Jessica Seinfeld's new cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, which encourages parents to con young vegetable haters into eating their greens by hiding spinach in their cupcakes.

I have to admit, I do not have that problem. My kids eat their vegetables. They demand apples for desert. They eat my home-made wholemeal, sourdough, and multi-grain bread, including the crust, without any complaint. They even often wander through the garden and pick their own vegetables and eat them on the spot.

Are they different to other kids? Of course not! In fact, if they get a chocolate treat or a muesli bar in the afternoon, I can guarantee that they will be fussy eaters in the evening. It’s just that in our house, there is no such choice. I have no lollies or sweets or commercial biscuits in the cupboard, so there is no temptation to snack on those. If they are hungry, they can always have a piece of fruit. As a result, we go through enormous amounts of fruit each week.

My kids grow up eating family food right from an early age. No mashed pap, mixed in with inedible rice powder “cereal” glue. And if you have ever tried the stuff, you will quickly know why your baby chucks it all up over the floor. If I don’t like it myself, I won’t give it to the kids! Not that I didn’t try otherwise with my first baby and again with the second, but my kids simply rejected the commercial jars and the “no taste food” for babies promoted in baby books.

Instead, I breastfed them exclusively until six months old, and then they quickly began to eat pretty much what everybody else is having, apart from a few foods that are to be avoided in the first year such as honey (because of the botulism risk) and eggs (because of allergy risks). I also avoid most kinds of nuts, particularly peanuts, partly because of the allergy risk, and partly because of the choking hazard. But I definitely use herbs and selected spices in our food, although I do go easy on the salt. My one-year old loves curries, chutneys, casseroles and gets particularly excited over mixed salads and green vegetables.

Of course they all go through stages where they don’t want to eat their main food and would rather feed themselves exclusively on dessert. Well, there is a simple rule in our house. Nobody needs to finish their plate of meat and vegetables if they are full. But clearly, if you have eaten enough, you are also too full for dessert…

I have read recently that some nutritionists warn against forcing kids to finish their plate as that would make it harder for children to develop a sense of when they have eaten enough. The key is to give them only a small, manageable amount to start with, or make compromises if you have misjudged their appetite – I tend to insist that they do eat the salad or the green vegetables, which they usually happily comply with. And the amount of dessert on offer is really only for the purpose of finishing the meal with a nice sweet taste, not to fill you up again. And if they are still hungry after dessert... well, they can have some more dinner then!

Quite frankly, the solutions promoted in the Seinfeld book sound disgusting. Vegetable mash covered in sweet batter? That would be enough to turn me off vegetables for life. How about some common sense instead?


  1. I think that you are doing what a lot of parents would like to, but are either insufficiently motivated, unaware or lazy.

  2. I always made fresh veggies for the babies and they loved them, except for M who had a tongue tie and still has problems with chewing and swallowing since his tongue did not develop properly. I am happy to say, he likes spinach, but not in cup cakes, with fetta cheese in a quiche of all things. You are doing sucha a great job, your children will be very greatful when they grow up.

  3. Well that's interesting. I can hear other parents saying that each kid is different and I'm sure that's true, but good to know you can just slightly modify what you'd normally eat and your 6-month old kids would eat the same thing! The whole "baby" industry always seemed like a crock to me...

  4. That all sounds very sensible to me!