Mealtime battle strategies

By Jo McKinnon When your child is a vegie-hater, mealtimes can end in tears … mostly yours. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some clever parents' real-life solutions.
  • Egg and cheese have a strong flavour and smell, so putting some grated vegies in a frittata or omelette is a good way to get them into a vegie-phobe's mouth.
  • Sang choy bow, with its mix of mince, soy sauce and finely chopped vegies, is another good choice. "The trick is to make the vegies inconspicuous, small, bite size," says Kate.
  • Blanch vegetables, as this makes them softer and sweeter for young kids to eat. Also cook younger vegies, as they're sweeter. Try broccolini (sweeter than broccoli), baby carrots, sweet corn niblets and baby peas.
  • Serve vegies with a little bowl of soy sauce, tomato sauce or salad dressing. "Sauces are great ways to get kids eating stuff, because they like dipping things," says Kate.
  • Have bowls of cut-up fruit, so kids can choose what they eat. Eventually they'll try something new from the bowl.
  • Make it fun. Kate tells her three-year-old that a cherry tomato is like a little mini balloon and when she eats it, it explodes in her mouth. She's also made her 'vegie lollipops' out of a stuffed olive and a runner bean. The classic mashed potato face, or vegies arranged as a face on an omelette, can also be a winner.
  • Get the kids involved. Having your youngsters with you when you go shopping for fruit and vegetables (they could choose the fruit for the week), and helping prepare vegies for cooking may make them more likely to eat them.
  • Kate tells her children that "fruit and vegetables are full of fighter pilots with vitamins so you eat them to keep your body healthy. It's like Spider-Man protecting your body."
  • Car-mad kids might respond to "eating great food can ramp up your body's engine so it performs like a V8".
  • For older children, you can tell them that eating fruit and vegies can make them look better, will improve their hair and their nails, and give them better energy and better coordination for sport.
  • With littlies you can always present a previously spurned food a month or two later, telling them that "now you're bigger you might like this more grown-up food".
  • Puree cooked carrot, capsicum, onion, mushroom and broccoli and stir through Bolognese sauce.
  • Process cooked zucchini with mince and cheese and then make meatballs.
  • Puree cooked green beans and broccoli and stir them through tuna, then top with a white sauce and cheese for tuna mornay (Bronwyn warns us that it does make the tuna green).
  • Kate makes a tuna dish that has finely chopped celery, carrot, a little capsicum and Dijon mustard in the tuna, topped with mashed potato.
  • As well as cooking the usual hot chips, fry up sweet potato and pumpkin as well, mix them all together and serve with tomato or barbecue sauce for dipping.
  • Hide vegetables in sweet things like pumpkin pikelets or scones. You can also use sweet potato for this.
  • Kate makes her kids burritos with minced meat and baked beans, puts on strips of avocado, then puts baby spinach leaves or cut-up lettuce in the folds of the burrito as she wraps it up.
  • Tania Houghton, mum to champion eater Amber, six, has always given her daughter fruit and vegies as snacks. When Amber was a toddler, rather than focusing on the food at mealtimes, she started reading to her at dinner. "I knew she loved her stories and so just as we were about to turn the page I would get Amber to have another mouthful so that we could continue the story. It never failed."
  • Damien Lovelock — single dad, soccer nut and muso — in his 1995 book What's For Dinner Dad? (Random House Australia) noted that "during The Simpsons or other similarly transfixing televisual experiences, children will, quite literally, eat anything that is put in front of them." It's true. Try it.
  • The icon of New Zealand home cooking, Alison Holst, used this method to get her school-age kids eating vegies. She let them watch TV from 5pm to 6pm, and had them sit on a rug. She prepared a plate with raw vegetable strips and a dip and gave it to the kids to eat while they watched their program. They were not allowed off the rug until the vegies were eaten — often they asked her for more. Dinner was served as usual, and even if they didn't eat their dinner vegies, she knew they'd already eaten something nutritious.

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