Want your youngster to love eating vegetables? Here’s how
MEET THE EXPERT
Registered nutritionist Sam Perkins is a mum-of-three and the founder of happyeaters.co.uk
We all want our little ones to eat more veggies. Most babies are happy to eat a range of veg at the weaning stage but, by the time they’re toddlers, have mastered the art of flinging those green beans across the kitchen! “Don’t panic,” says nutritionist Sam Perkins. “In these early years, you’re only at the beginning of your child’s journey of growing up to eat a healthy diet, complete with lots of veg. Think long-term, step back and relax. You can’t make your child eat his veg, but there’s lots you can do to help him want to.”
“Vegetables are an important part of his diet,” she continues, “and contain key vitamins and nutrients. But at this stage, you should simply be aiming for five tastes of fruit and veg a day. A small-but-happy mouthful of caulifl ower or roasted parsnip is better than a sulked-over bowl of greens, because it gives your little one a positive experience.” And that way, he’ll carry on enjoying veggies as he grows up.
So are you ready to set the stage for your youngster to love veg? It’s time to start a vegetable revolution in your home:
Snack on it!
Whether you’re at home or on the go, instead of handing your child a pack of raisins or breadsticks to snack on, offer him veg. And we’re not talking boring old carrot sticks here. Once you’ve got an arsenal of tasty, quick-to-make snacks up your sleeve, it’s just as easy to whip up a treat that he’ll really enjoy eating. Just remember that if your baby is still weaning, any veg needs to be soft enough for him to squash between his finger and thumb.
The easiest way to turn a root vegetable, such as a carrot, parsnip and sweet potato, into a pop-it-in-a-pot snack is to roast it. And who says roast veggies have to be served hot? They’re just as tasty cold, so you can cook them the day before, and store in the fridge. “Set the oven to 200°C,” says Sam. “Scrub the veg, cut into wedges or batons, and season with a little paprika. Heat some oil on a baking tray, then carefully coat the veg chunks in the hot oil and return to the oven for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on their size.” Try blending these roasted veg into a dip, too. Roasted red and orange peppers, carrots and tomatoes, or beetroot with a squeeze of lemon, all make dips most youngsters will happily dunk a strip of pita bread into.
Rather than serving one veg, a colourful pot of pick ‘n’ mix will often go down well: try thin strips of red pepper, cucumber, carrot and courgette. Pop the veg into a fun pot to make it look more appealing, too—something as simple as a small handful of peas in a bright cupcake case will be a big hit.
Ease the pressure you might feel to persuade your youngster to eat his veg by giving him a vitamin supplement. NHS guidelines advise children aged six months to five years should take vitamins A, C and D, unless they’re having more than 500ml of formula a day. A multivitamin isn’t a substitute for a healthy diet, but it will set your mind at rest while you’re busy helping her to love veg.
1 GREEN BEAN BITES
Throw some fresh and tender green beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes, until they’re cooked but still crisp for toddlers, or soft for babies. Plunge them into iced water and shred into thin slices. Sprinkle with Parmesan and finely chopped basil.
2 ROASTED SPEARS
Trim the ends from some asparagus spears, toss in olive oil, and roast in a 200°C oven for 10 to 12 minutes, before leaving to cool. They’ll keep in the fridge for 24 hours.
3 CARROT SPIRALS
Spread a tortilla with hummus and grate some carrot over the top. Roll it up tightly and cut into thin slices.
4 INSTANT AVOCADO DIP
Peel a ripe avocado and mash it with the fork, discarding the stone. It tastes great on toast fingers!
Roasted, stir-fried, steamed, sautéed or raw: there are many ways to eat a vegetable, and using different cooking methods can transform the taste and turn a loathed food into a loved one. “As a rule, roasting makes veg sweeter and intensifi es the flavour, while steaming makes the taste more gentle. Baking makes it softer, while stir-frying keeps the crunch,” says Sam. So it’s time to experiment and see if your youngster enjoys his veg more
when it’s cooked in a different way. And once you’ve worked out whether he prefers a strong or gentle taste, a crunchy or soft texture, you’ll be able to offer him new, untried veg in a form that he’s most likely to love. Make a note of what he likes and dislikes, and you’ll probably see a pattern of preferred tastes and textures emerge.
5 DIFFERENT TASTES TO TRY
1 ONE, TWO, CAULIFLOWER!
Cook cauliflower in two different ways and serve together to see which your child prefers. Roast half of the cauliflower florets by putting them, with a little oil, into a roasting tin and cooking in a 200°C oven for around 35 minutes. Steam the other half for 5 to 10 minutes until tender, then toss in a dressing of lemon juice, black pepper and finely chopped parsley.
2 CRISPY COATING
Most youngsters love anything that’s encased in a tasty crumb coating. And it’s very easy to do. Just cook, drain and dry your veg. Then blitz some bread to make breadcrumbs, and whisk a couple of eggs. Dip the veg into the egg, then into the breadcrumbs, and fry until golden brown.
3 SAUCY AUBERGINE SLICES
“Aubergine can taste bitter to little ones,” says Sam. “But you can soften the flavour by covering thin slices of aubergine with a tasty sauce and grated cheese.” To make the sauce, heat tomatoes, olive oil and crushed garlic for 20 minutes, add a sprinkle of caster sugar and cook for another five, then sieve to get rid of any lumps. While it’s cooking, slice the aubergine and steam for 10 minutes.
4 SAUTÉED SPROUTS
A lot of us adults still hate boiled sprouts, but sauté them and your toddler will think they’re delicious! Serve with thin slices of shredded fried bacon.
5 SWEETCORN FRITTERS
Put 30g plain flour, half a tsp baking powder, one-fourth tsp salt, one large egg, 200g tinned sweetcorn, drained, and one large spring onion, finely sliced, into a food processor, and whizz for one minute to make a batter. Heat a little sunflower oil in a large frying pan and drop in teaspoonfuls of the batter. Cook in batches of five for 60 to 90 seconds on one side, until golden, then turn and cook for another minute. Drain on kitchen paper and serve.
ADD A HERB!
Putting a pinch of herbs in the water when you’re steaming a veg adds a whole new taste and only takes a second. Try a few leaves of mint when you’re cooking peas, or sage with broccoli.
MAKE IT NORMAL
“It’s important for your child to see that all sorts of vegetables are a normal, daily, tasty part of our diets,” says Sam, “even if he’s not eating them yet.” The best way to increase his familiarity with them is to eat plenty yourself. Get him to help you choose veg in the supermarket, and wash and prepare them when you’re home. Have a veggie bowl alongside your fruit bowl, too, so veg is in daily view.
It takes time for your youngster to get comfortable with different veggies, then perhaps try a nibble or two, before he gets to the point of actually eating it. But it can be difficult for us mums to back off and let that journey happen, without praise or persuasion. The one thing, though, that instantly takes the pressure off, is knowing that your baby is secretly already getting the goodness of veggies. So while you’re busy putting the veg in view every day, hide a little bit too. The most easily-accepted ruse is to hide a vegetable in a blended sauce. You can blend almost any veg into a tomato sauce and your child won’t notice, but a good combination to try is softened onion, celery, garlic and leek. Dips work well too— try mashing up some cooked broad beans with cream cheese, or add just a little broccoli to a blend of summer fruits to make a delicious smoothie. You don’t need to add much to be getting valuable nutrients into a veggie-averse toddler. Just rubbing a cut tomato, juicy side down, onto a slice of toast before you top it with cheese to grill, helps.
1 MACARONI CAULIFLOWER CHEESE
Boil 300g macaroni according to packet instructions. Make the cheese sauce by melting 50g butter in a pan, taking off the heat and stirring in 40g flour, until it’s smooth. Put back on the heat and cook for two minutes, adding one pint milk, a little at a time. Cook for five minutes until the sauce thickens. Add pepper and 50g grated cheese, and stir. Mix slivers of cauliflower with the macaroni and cheese sauce, put in an ovenproof dish and top with grated cheese, and bake at 200°C for 20 minutes.
2 SUPER VEGGIE BURGERS
Put 200g sweetcorn, 200g peas, 200g broad beans, half bunch coriander, 75g flour, a pinch of ground cumin and a pinch of cayenne pepper into a food processor. Blend to a paste. Divide and shape the mixture into four patties, two cm thick. Coat in plain flour and chill in the fridge. Fry the patties in a little vegetable oil until they’re golden-brown on each side. Serve in a burger bun.
3 CROWD-PLEASER PIZZA
Mix 100g ground almonds, 100g oats, dried basil and a little pepper. Put the florets from a medium cauliflower head into your food processor and blend until it looks like rice, then combine with the other ingredients. Add two eggs, mix into a wet dough, flatten into a base and put onto a greased baking tray. Bake in the oven at 220°C for 20 minutes, until golden. Then add tomato, cheese and toppings. Bake for another eight minutes.
Eat it for pudding!
From Jamie Oliver’s beetroot cake to Nigella’s courgette cake, putting vegetables into desserts isn’t such a crazy idea. “And putting veg into puddings boosts the amount that your child is eating,” says Sam. “But, because the vegetable doesn’t look or taste like a vegetable, it won’t help your child see veg as a tasty ingredient. So, have fun with puddings—but don’t make this the only way you give veggies to your little one.”
1 COOLING CARROT LOLLIES
Juice together eight peeled carrots, two peeled and cored apples, one cm peeled fresh ginger and a few mint leaves. Pour the juice into lolly moulds and freeze to set.
2 CUCUMBER ICE
Peel a cucumber and scoop out the seeds. Roughly chop and blitz in a food processor with lemon, sugar and mint, adjusting quantities according to taste. Chill in the fridge for 24 hours, then churn it in an ice cream maker.
3 BEETROOT BISCUITS
Mix together 340g self-raising flour, 85g cocoa powder and two tbsp caster sugar. Add 170g raw grated beetroot and two tbsp coconut oil, and knead the dough. Shape into small balls, about two inch across. Flatten with a fork and bake at 200°C for 15 to 20 minutes. | MB