Do you find it a challenge getting the kids to eat their greens? Chances are you do, if CBBC's research is anything to go by. The TV channel found that more than half of kids don't eat a single portion of veg a day.
Eat Your Veg is a supportive, charity-funded online resource that's been created on the back of this research, where real parents share tips and tricks. But does it really help? I set myself a week's challenge, using some of these parents' tips and tricks, with my two young children, to find out. For each day, I worked within one of the website's six key themes.
Monday: Make it fun
"Veggie pizza faces! Salad dinosaurs!" are among the tips that immediately attract my attention. "Crunching contests are fun with raw veggies" is another. Pizzas and raw veg for lunch, then.
Well, the sound my children make when they try the olive "eyes" would win a whole other contest of most disgusted noise made by a child. But the sweetcorn mouth and cucumber eyebrows go down well with my son and my daughter asks for more of the tomato nose. Meanwhile, crunching contests go down a treat, getting them to eat way more carrots than they normally would.
"I told my daughter that little mushrooms are Welsh fairy mushrooms and she loves eating them now," was a tip that interested me too. But truth be told, I've already tried everything with mushrooms, to no avail, and experts have told me slimy foods often don't appeal to kids, so we'll wait a while for that one, I think. After all, no good running before we can walk.
Probably the biggest hit is my son pretending broccoli florets are dinosaur trees at tea time, especially when we brought some of his plastic toy dinosaurs to join them on the plate. Big brownie points to the parent who thought that one up.
Tuesday: Sneak it in
"Try adding veg to potatoes and then mash them," advises one mum. I like the sounds of this, along with, "Put frozen spinach into mash." This mum adds, "My children know it's spinach and even now at 11 and 14 they ask for more 'ogre' mash!"
Alas, it doesn't work – actually, it really doesn't work - but it's probably not helped by the fact that my kids aren't that partial to potatoes in the first place, particularly mash. What was I thinking?
My favourite tip of the day, however, goes to "Grating carrot and courgette and a handful of red lentils into the mince when making a spag bol. The kids don't notice!"
And they didn't! I'm genuinely impressed.
Oh and I nearly forgot breakfast. "Use a food processor to chop spinach very finely then add to scrambled eggs...my little one loves her 'green eggs,'" one mum had written. Given that we're big Dr Seuss fans in this house, this is a sure winner.
Wednesday: Do it yourself
I'm embarrassed to say we have a sizeable vegetable patch on which we've grown nothing but weeds for years. It's not that I didn't have great intentions when we moved in. But time – coupled with my complete lack of green fingers – just seems to stand in the way. But by the end of the day (and helped by the sunshine), I've tackled at least some of the weeding and I'm enthusing the kids about what veg we could grow this year.
"We grew lots of salad veggies, peas, edible flowers, beans in hanging baskets," says one mum, who I instantly admire. "Involving them with the planting, growing and harvesting of their own veg helps a lot," agrees another. "When they see the care that goes into growing each item, makes them appreciate it," she adds.
But DIY with vegetables for kids doesn't need to stop at growing-your-own, as other parents point out. "Helping to pick and chop up veggies into stir-fries, or stuffing peppers with cheese and chicken is great fun," says one. "Little children love to help – to chop and grate safely and then make 'pictures' for tea."
My kids usually help out with baking in our household, but mealtimes are often a rush, so I tend to just get on with it myself. But sure enough, their input into the preparation and cooking goes down a treat and they're both already asking what they can do to help tomorrow lunchtime.
Thursday: New tricks for old veg
Most of us are familiar with that dreaded moment when you've given so much of the one (or few) veg that your child does actually like, that you put them off through sheer overkill. My son, for instance, has always loved carrots. Until a few weeks ago, that is, when I realised I'd given the poor boy so much of it that he couldn't even look at another one, let alone eat one.
"New tricks for old veg" is all about undoing, or better still preventing, this happening. "I mix grated carrot with grated cheese for a cheese sandwich. Nicely moist and sweet," says one mum, who I could frankly hug because she's got my son back on carrot.
"Mixed mash is good for topping cottage or fish pies: carrot, parsnip, swede, butternut squash or any combination of these mashed with butter and black pepper," says another mum, whilst one parent points out the joys that rainbow rice has brought to her household: "Fry a chopped onion and red pepper and stir into cooked basmati rice, adding some peas and sweetcorn. All the veg is visible but it looks so colourful," she says.
Then there's the parent who points out how her kids will happily eat any veg as long as it's on skewer – and that's a genius tip for my two kids. Meanwhile, another sings the praises of pureeing different vegetables into pizza sauce.
"My little man is fascinated by the different things we get in the veg box each week and loves the different shapes we get. So much more interesting than supermarket veg," says one mum, reminding me how well our veg boxes went down the few times we've had them. Time to reconsider, methinks.
"Having a box of veggies arrive every Friday morning became an exciting event. The surprise of what was in the box was a huge incentive," agrees another mum.
"I have my little one help out when I shop, asking him to find certain veg as we go around and talk about what we can make with them. Then he helps me cook," says another parent, and whilst I'm sure this would work well with my two, lack of time means we do online shopping most of the time.
More helpful advice for me comes from the parents who point out that being seen to eat veg as adults can go a long way. "Gobble up your carrots with enthusiasm," says one – and it's true that the keenness rubs off (a bit).
One mum says she encourages a "rainbow day," aiming to eat as many colours of the rainbow as possible. This definitely gets my vote – a real winner for little ones.
Friday: Best of the rest
"Remember that children may like vegetables that you do not," points out one wise parent. And it's true that it's so easy to reflect your own tastes onto your kids, especially if you eat together as a family and inevitably leave out the things you don't like. Peppers, for example, are my pet hate. But to my amazement, my kids love them.
"I proposed a competition to see who could eat the most carrots and broccoli – the prize being permission to stay up 10 minutes after bedtime. To my shock, they scoffed the lot," says one parent, who I hold personally responsible for the World War 3 that broke out at bedtime when I stayed true to my word and let my daughter stay up and my son (who didn't eat his broccoli – where were those plastic dinosaurs when I needed them?) didn't. Still, I have long believed that setting my kids up against each other through competitions is unwise, so I should have known better.
My prized quote for this theme goes to, "Hand out any kind of veg they want while you're cooking dinner and they are pestering you because they're hungry. I usually get two portions in them that way."
I once watched with amazement at a mum I know who refused her kids carrots and cucumber whilst waiting for pizza to serve with it because "it's not dinnertime yet." Hey presto, they ate the pizza and no veg.
"Not going on about the food they are rejecting is a good idea," adds one mum, pointing out that the more you draw attention to it, the bigger issue it becomes and I know I'm guilty of that. A good reminder there.
This website gets a big thumbs up from me. We all know the 5-a-day message, but we also all know the difficulties of getting kids to eat their greens. It can be genuinely tough to think of any new tactics and we can all feel at the end of our tether when the veg we've just lovingly cooked are tossed aside and pudding is demanded instead. This growing library of real ideas that have been tried and tested is, in my opinion, bound to be a winner among parents everywhere.
More on Parentdish: What parent has time to feed their children TEN portions of fruit and veg?
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