When I started out feeding my child I was so concerned about the fact she wasn’t eating veggies and fruit that I started to get sneaky. I was drawn to cookbooks and recipes that taught me how to hide carrot in spaghetti bolognaise, pureed fruit in cakes and put legumes in slices.
“I just need to get the veggies into her”, I thought.
If I could do that, then I’d feel OK about the fact that she turned her nose up at most everything else I served.
“But she can’t know they are there”, I added. That was before I knew better. Before I understood that hiding food could undermine the trusting feeding relationship I was trying to build with my daughter.
Whaaaat? Is the crazy dietitian is now suggesting we don’t add veggies to our kids’ food? I hear you cry. Nope. I LOVE adding fruit, veggies and legumes to foods. I do it all the time. The difference is that now I am honest and open about it. And this is why…
Kids are smart. Trust is essential
If your child hasn’t yet worked out there’s zucchini in the lasagne then they soon will. If you lie about it, when they DO finally work it out they’ll be wondering what else you haven’t been truthful about. Where else is dad hiding the yucky food? If mum needs to hide food to get me to eat it, it must be BAAAAD! Trust is automatically undermined.
If your child asks if there’s carrot in their mince, be truthful and honest. “Yes, it’s always been there”. Allow them to pick out the offending bits they can see if needed in order to make the food “just right” again for them. If they choose to push it aside, keep your cool. Ask your child if they’d prefer you prepare it differently next time e.g. grate it more finely, add a little less, puree it first.
Food skills matter
When I became not so intent on hiding ingredients I was then free to include my child in food preparation. Kids can learn first-hand what goes into the food they’re eating by helping you in the kitchen. This takes patience, a little extra time and dealing with a bit more mess but the rewards are great. WARNING: Getting kids involving in preparing food doesn’t always mean they’ll eat what they’ve helped you prepare. Each and every time you do this however, you HAVE helped them become more familiar with food and that is a benefit that can’t be measured. Invest in some good quality kid-safe knives in order for kids to build food skills.
Kids learn that food changes when we do stuff to it
Talk about and show your kids how food changes when we chop, mix, steam, bake or cook it. The look, touch, smell and taste changes when we do this. Your child may not eat a food whole/raw/cooked but in the exploration they might indeed find another way they don’t mind eating it. For example, frozen peas may be much more appealing than steamed peas. This strategy is most effective for children aged 5 years and up.
Go ahead and use your veggie-smuggling skills to your heart’s content but be sure to share them with your kids. Help them explore food in a safe, trusting and meaningful way with you as their guide and cheer leader. You may not get so much veggies in today but the future is looking bright.