Being a parent these days is tough. Kids today are so opinionated or pampered that they not only choose what clothes to buy/wear, but also invariably decide what is cooked at home!
And you’re not alone. When you talk to other parents at school, park or playground, the topic inevitably turns to foods and vegetables that kids will not eat. That means slowly but surely they are missing from the parents’ plate too — eventually. After all, which parent wants to spend more time making another dish? The tendency is to eat what the kids eat, and the dishes that the kids won’t eat, or rather ‘don’t’ eat, is made occasionally or rarely!
I’m not sure if this is really a good trend. Help me out here. Most parents will argue that at least the kids eat them when the veggies they like are made. True. As a parent I can see your point. But as a dietitian who was raised in a household where we just had to eat what was cooked, to me it seems like we are dancing to our children’s tunes! Moreover, different vegetables have different nutrients and benefits. For example- green leafy vegetables are a good source of iron, especially among vegetarians. Your child could be missing out on this if he/she doesn’t like it and you try to make it infrequently.
The best way to see that your child gets all the nutrients that nature has to offer is to use a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. It’s not so difficult if you try. All you need to do is change your tactic while introducing these dishes. Let me tell you how I got my kids to eat pretty much most of the vegetables and fruits. Yes, with the exception of butterfruit/ avocados which my son doesn’t care for, they eat pretty much whatever is made. Here are some tricks that I used:
Catch them young: Introduce vegetables into the diet when they start solids as babies. Try with mixing one vegetable (like mashed carrots or green beans or greens) along with the first foods that you give babies. I started with one vegetable mashed into dal and rice, and then slowly went up to 2-3 after they adjusted to it. This gives them a taste of the veggies at a very young age.
Tell them the benefits: Carrots are good for your eyes, palak (and other soppu), beetroot are good for your blood, peas have protein that helps in muscle building. Most kids will try to eat them when they know that what they are eating is going to benefit them/their bodies. This trick got me to eat (albeit not so willingly) karela/bitter gourd when I was five as I was told it was going to clean my blood!
Build a story around the vegetable: My kids love cauliflower and broccoli and believe they are monsters chomping on tiny trees! Peas are footballs that the monster eats. Thanks to Popeye- after eating palak/spinach, they walk around showing off their imaginary muscles! They love the way beetroot palya/sabzi makes the ‘white’ curd rice ‘pink’ when they mix it together. Bendekai/ladies finger, snakegourd, bottlegourd and drumsticks are a favorite just because of their ‘unique’ names-go figure! Tondekai/ tondli are ‘baby’ cucumbers and Mangalore southekai/cucumber is ‘jelly vegetable’ because of the translucent and soft consistency after cooking. Make your own story, names or tell them what made these vegetables/dishes special when you were growing up and you might have them eating out of your hands.
Grow some vegetables: Try some terrace gardening and grow vegetables with the help of your kids. Palak, ladies finger (you can buy the seeds near Lalbagh or any good nursery), coriander, methi, tomatoes, mustard grow without much effort on your part. Buy the kids a water sprayer (that way they won’t drown the vegetables with too much water) and they’ll enjoy taking care and then eating those vegetables. The harvest won’t be too much, but you can always buy some more to supplement the quantity. This will not only get them interested in the vegetables, but will also keep them busy with a new hobby.
Take them when you go grocery shopping: I usually take my kids and let them think they are deciding what I should buy. What I actually do is give them a choice between two things like “should I buy carrots or snake gourd?” or “should I buy methi or dantina soppu/amaranth?” and pick what they suggest. That way when it’s made at home you can always tell them that it was chosen by them.
Let them help in cooking: A friend of mine gets the kids to help out while cooking. Initially when the kids were younger, it was just taking the vegetables out of the fridge and washing, later when they were a little older it was mixing or sautéing (under close supervision) and much later chopping/cutting. This got them excited about the dish being made as it felt like they helped make the dish.
Add the vegetables into dishes they like: This works for those parents who have the time and patience and don’t mind the extra work if it gets their kids to eat the vegetables. You can grate carrots and add them to the chapathi or dosa dough. A friend of mine uses grated carrots instead of coconut to garnish all her dishes-this not only adds a dash of colour but also makes it more nutritious. You can also puree other vegetables (like greens, beetroot, etc) and add them to the chapathi dough which will also make them more colourful and nutritious.
Try out different recipes with the same vegetable: Sometimes kids don’t like the way a certain vegetable is made, rather than the vegetable itself. If your kids don’t like methi palya, then try out methi paratha.
Try to be a role model by eating all kinds of vegetables. It doesn’t set a very good precedent if the parents or other elders in the family don’t eat certain vegetables when they are served at the table.
All said and done, just keep in mind that there are no hard or fast rules, every child is different and hence what works with one child need not necessarily work with the other. So don’t be disheartened, just try something else.
We’d love to hear your experience on how you got your kids to eat their vegetables so do share your tips with us.