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Helping under-fives to eat a rainbow of vegetables
Post date: 10 Jun 2015

If you’re a parent, carer or teacher of young children, you’ve definitely heard the battle cry of the anti-vegetable under-fives. Something between a wail and a whine, it insists loudly that "Vegetables are yuk!”. And yet this is one of the most important stages of their development, when the right balance of fruit and veg could make all the difference.

So what to do to make sure they eat their five a day? I’m Fiona Jenkins, paediatric dietitian and here are my top tips for encouraging your under-fives to eat their greens (and reds, and yellows, and purples…). Dietician with girl and fruit

1) Get creative

It doesn’t always have to be meat and two veg. You can serve raw carrots, celery, peppers and cucumber with dips. Roasted vegetables go nicely with cous cous or pasta for a healthy lunch. Hundreds of soups have vegetables as a core element – carrot and coriander, roasted red pepper and tomato, and pea and ham are just a few examples.

You can include vegetables in stews, casseroles, curries, pies, quiches, sandwiches, wraps and rolls. Perhaps more interestingly, lots of sweet baking recipes use vegetables – have a try at these avocado brownies or this beetroot red velvet cake with your little ones.

2) Be a role model

If you moan about how much you hate broccoli, or regularly eat a vegetable-free lunch in front of younger children; they won’t feel encouraged to try something you clearly don’t like. Figure out which vegetables you like first, and make it clear that everyone in the class, family or group eats their vegetables happily!

3) Get involved

Make meal preparation interactive. I'm not suggesting you leave the full Sunday roast to your four year old, but you can certainly get their help with picking out vegetables in the supermarket, pushing the button on the liquidiser to make soups, arranging the carrot sticks on a plate, or putting the vegetables into the cool saucepan or roasting dish before cooking.

You can take this further by planting and growing vegetables together too. Spinach, cress, radishes, cucumber, tomatoes and peppers are all easy to grow – even in the most limited space.

4) Mix it up

There’s a huge variety of vegetables out there with different tastes and textures. Disliking one doesn't mean a child hates them all. Keep trying – there’s evidence that children have to try something between five and ten times before they decide whether they like it or not. It’s about frequency and regular exposure not necessarily quantity. In fact, the right ‘five a day’ portion is a handful (by the eater’s standards), so for children under five that’s a pretty small portion.

Something I hear a lot is that tinned or frozen vegetables don’t do you any good – it’s simply not true. Buy whatever you can afford. As long as it’s not deep fat fried every time, any vegetables will provide vitamins and goodness.

5) Start ‘em young

Roasted vegetables are ideal complementary foods when a baby first moves onto solids. Not only are they healthy, but they’re also good finger foods which support coordination and dexterity.

Roasted parsnips, baby sweetcorn, courgettes, aubergines and peppers won’t take long to cook and any extras can be frozen and defrosted to include in stews or stir-frys at a later date.

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