This week is National Nutrition Week where Australians are urged to “Try for 5” vegetables per day. This is something I am passionate about and the development of my Veggies+ booster was inspired by the knowledge that only 4% of Australian’s are eating enough vegetables each day with the average person eating only half as much as they should (the stats are worse for children where 99% do not eat the required serves of veggies per day). This week make it a goal to try a new vegetable or start boosting with Veggies+ to up your family’s intake of the amazing vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that nature’s vegetables offer.
We all know the struggle of getting children to eat their greens (and reds, oranges, blues, purples and browns) on a daily basis! In fact, it’s the most common concern I hear about amongst parents. My advice is to keep calm and carry on because long-term studies prove that even the fussiest of children can learn to eat their veggies with repetition and exposure. You may be asking why it is so essential that kid’s (and adults) eat vegetables - what’s all the fuss? The answer is simple; vegetables are nature’s insurance policy against illness. They contain minerals, vitamins and powerful antioxidants that our body needs to thrive and fight off inflammation. The vegetables your child eats now can make an enormous difference to their overall health.
Here are some of my top tips to help Australian families achieve 5 servings of veggies per day.
1. Create a rainbow plate.
Most kids prefer to eat the same veggies each day. Whilst all vegetables are beneficial, the ultimate goal is to eat veggies from the different colour groups to get the maximum benefit. We eat with our eyes first, so it makes sense to engage your child visually when encouraging them to eat more variety. Keep fresh and frozen produce on hand and get your child to create their own rainbow plate, filled with veggies from all the colour groups.
2. Try one new veggie a week.
I usually find a strong connection between children who eat the same vegetables over and over and their parents who do the same. By expanding your own repertoire, you give your child an opportunity to see and taste variety too. You can also expand their range by including different vegetable groups. Try salad veggies, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and starchy vegetables like pumpkin or sweet potato. While there’s nothing wrong with focusing on their favourite vegetables, it’s best not to forget there’s a huge selection out there, which given the chance, children may actually enjoy.
3. Include beans and legumes.
These are our most nutritious plant foods, high in proteins, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, fibre, minerals and phytochemicals. Beans are an excellent way to ensure optimal protein intake in vegetarians, prevent constipation and keep away diseases such as colon cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. Hummus, lentil soup, bean stews and chickpea falafels are a fantastic way to introduce legumes to your child. To prevent bloating with “wind”, soak dried beans overnight in water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and then rinse before cooking. For canned varieties, look for BPA-free cans wherever possible and rinse well. Try kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas and lentils.
4. Add sea vegetables.
Seaweed, thanks to its high calcium content, strengthens bones and teeth. It’s also high in iron, has antimicrobial properties and is a good source of essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre which helps prevent constipation.
Nori is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2 and C as well as iodine plus, contains protein! Use it for sushi, shred it over salad or create veggie-filled seaweed wraps filled with julienned carrots, cucumber, shredded chicken (or protein of choice) and avocado. Despite the nutritious benefits of seaweed, it is possible for it to contain heavy metals. Hijiki, for example, contains high levels of arsenic and should be avoided. If your child likes the seaweed snack packs that are commonly found in supermarkets, seek out varieties, which are free from additives such as MSG or added sugar.
Moderation is key, so don’t offer your child seaweed on a daily basis, either.
5. Don’t forget herbs and spices.
Basil is packed with essential oils which are known to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Add it to tomato-based pasta sauces, sprinkle on pizza and mix it into rissoles.
Mint soothes upset stomachs and improves digestion. Chill mint tea with a dash of raw honey or add fresh mint leaves and orange slices to water and serve in place of juice.
Oregano is often used to treat respiratory tract disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and urinary tract disorders. Add it to chicken, lamb or beef dishes.
Parsley is rich in many vital vitamins and keeps the immune system strong, tones the bones and heals the nervous system. It also helps to flush excess fluid from the body and support kidney function. Add it to smoothies, chicken soup and pasta sauces.
Spices aren’t just for adding flavour. Spices such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are packed with nutrients too. Add turmeric and ginger to chicken soup, sprinkle turmeric on cauliflower and add cinnamon to pumpkin and butternut squash.
6. Shop for vegetables together.
Encourage your children to touch, smell and engage with their food. Let them help with grocery shopping and encourage them to pick up new vegetables from the shelves and place them in the trolley themselves – this begins the engagement with the new food
7. Cook vegetables together.
Get little ones involved in the kitchen. Children love to eat what they have helped to prepare and it’s important for them to be exposed to vegetables in their raw state and understand how the texture and look of a vegetable changes when it’s cooked. Let them help by peeling carrots and potatoes (using kid-friendly graters), cutting lettuce with a plastic knife or adding grated zucchini into the muffin batter.
8. Serve veggies at every meal.
If you want until dinner to load up their plate with their favourite vegetables, there is little chance they will eat more than 1-2 serves of veggies. In order to achieve 5 serves per day, it’s best to follow the example of my meal plans in my.wholesomechild.com and in my book, where I serve veggies with each meal ( aside from breakfast). Veggies are offered on the side and are also added to the mean meals to ensure that no matter what your child chooses to eat, there are plenty of opportunities to fill up on the right amount of vegetables.
9. Create a veggie patch.
Children love planting seeds, watching them grow, and eventually harvesting what they have planted. It’s the best way to help them make the association between earth to plate, and to engage their curiosity about different varieties of vegetables. If outdoor space is limited, start off with herbs such as basil or oregano, or better yet get involved with a community garden.
10. Opt for Veggies+ if you are struggling with a fussy eater
If you are struggling with a fussy eater, try our Veggies+ powder to ensure they are still receiving all the goodness of 15 different veggies and supercharged greens. Offer the powder mixed into their favourite spreads, cereals, porridge, cheese toasties or pasta. Remember to continue to offer veggies in their visible form. Over time most fussy eaters with enough repetition will learn to enjoy vegetables. For more support and guidance, check out my Fussy Eating course or my Increasing Veggies Course.
Don’t be disappointed if they don’t eat the new vegetable or food the first time it’s offered – stay positive and freeze what’s not eaten and offer it again. Repetition is key!