Monday, 24 October 2011

Helpful hints for getting children to eat more vegetables!

I served up a Cauliflower Cheese for my three little cherubs yesterday which was demolished without protest much to my surprise.  It might possibly be because we ate lunch at 2pm and they were absolutely starving or ( I like to think!) it just tasted so delicious that there was nothing to moan about.   

It can be harder to get children to eat vegetables.  Some vegetables taste slightly bitter while others have a stronger taste and look less visually appealing than fruits. Research indicates that while both fruits and vegetables are important for health with their cocktail of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, vegetables have the slight edge due to being (in general) lower in sugar (fructose) and lower in calories.  Adults should ideally be aiming for a ratio of 1-2 portions of fruit to 3-4 servings of vegetables, though it can be harder to have your children eating along these lines.

So what can you do if you are struggling to get vegetables into your children?

I have to say that I am not a fan of using force or coercion to get children to eat vegetables, though I’m not above a bit of bribery when necessary!  I do not like the use of ‘Food and Vegetable’ charts much either as I like to think that eating vegetables should come as naturally to a child as eating meat, rice potatoes etc and trying to ‘push’ vegetables on your child can often lead to them digging their heels in and refusing to eat it.  Remember that we should be trying to set our children up with healthy eating habits for life and that forcing them to eat vegetables in their childhood could backfire horribly when they are adolescents and young adults and can make their own food choices.

Strategies that can help include:
  • Involving your child in (growing), selecting and choosing the vegetables - fruit and vegetable market stalls are good places to take them and let them select the vegetables they want
  • Giving children a choice of vegetables where possible (eg do you want peas or beans for super?)
  • For older children, sitting them down and explaining that they need to eat vegetables because it helps make them strong/better at sport/helps them not to get sick
  • Leading by example - making sure your children see you tucking into lots of vegetables
  • Disguising vegetables - throwing extra vegetables in Bolognese sauce, tomato sauces,  soups and purees and then blending it well
  • Juicing sessions - my son loves carrot, cucumber and apple juice
  • Keeping calm and not making a big fuss when vegetables are rejected ( not always easy I know, but simply ask them which vegetable they would like to have next time)
  • Keep trying to introduce small amounts of new vegetables and ask them their opinion - I was amazed and ever so slightly smug when my three decided they liked artichokes 

If none of these strategies work, you can simply allow your child to fill up on fruit instead, though you can gently persist in offering vegetables at mealtimes.  You never know, one day they might surprise you!

Recipe for Charlotte’s Cauliflower Cheese.

So very versatile (and seasonal and cheap!).  Great served with roasted meat.  Can be served as a main dish, in which case I like to add 3 chopped, hard boiled eggs.  Can also be made with blue cheese for a more sophisticated adult dish.
I like to add wine to the white sauce which I think gives it a hint of ‘fondue, skiing and blue skies’ (and gives me an excuse to open a bottle!)  but leave out the wine if you’d prefer.  
Can also be baked on a bed of spinach.

Cut one medium cauliflower into florets and steam until just cooked (don’t over steam as it will cook a bit in the oven).
Make a cheese sauce - Melt 25g butter, stir in 2 tablespoons of flour and a good pinch of mustard powder) - let it cook for a couple of minutes then slowly add 250-300mls of milk, stirring after each addition.  Let sauce then cook gently for 5 minutes.  Add a good slug of white wine, cook for a further 2 minutes and then take off heat and add 75g of a strong flavoured grated cheese (cheddar or conte).  Season.
Cook 100g of chopped bacon until just crispy (leave this out if veggie!)
Put cauliflower in baking dish, throw in a handful of cherry tomatoes, scatter over bacon, pour over cheese sauce, top with a further sprinkling of grated cheese.  Bake at 180 degrees for 20 minutes until bubbling and browned on top.  Enjoy with rest of the wine!

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