Why your child may dislike veggies - and how to get them to eat more!

I’m always amazed that children can pick out the tiniest fragments of whatever vegetable they aren’t eating this month, with total precision. It’s frustrating when you want to give them quality fuel to support their insanely busy lives.

Experimental research on children that suggests the liking of sweet and the dislike of bitter tastes reflects children’s basic biology; children are born preferring sweet tastes, which attract them to breast milk, and even acts as a pain killer.

They prefer higher levels of sweetness than adults, with preferences declining to 'adult levels' during middle to late adolescence, which coincides with the end of physical growth. Put simply, they need carbohydrates for the energy to grow. 

In contrast to sweetness, children can dislike and reject bitterness, because this protects them from ingesting toxins such as poisonous berries - it’s evolution’s way of keeping them alive and is well documented.

Additionally, high hormone levels during puberty can affect teenagers' senses of smell and taste. This goes for both boys and girls, but consider that, around ovulation, your daughter may have heightened smell and taste. Remember when you or your partner could smell boiling carrots at 50m whilst pregnant? It's a similar thing.

10 top tips for getting your children and teens to eat vegetables

1. Don’t turn it into a battlefield - Worse things happen at sea, so don’t make it a button they push to wind you up.

2. Be realistic - Studies show it takes 9 to 10 tries before the children said they liked specific vegetables, but some even ticked the 'like a lot' box.

3. Go for the easy wins - Sweet tasting vegetables include carrots, peas, sweetcorn, sweet potato, squash, and pumpkin.

4. Get them involved - They're never too young learn to use a speed or Y shaped peeler. Help them to cut veggies up into small pieces - perhaps it's the sensation of lumps that they dislike. Then, add the finely chopped vegetables to foods you know they love, like pasta sauce or as pizza toppings.

5. Be sneaky - Some experts suggest that you shouldn’t hide vegetables in other foods but recommend offering them head on. I like a stress-free life personally. For example, use your food processor to blitz or finely grate raw mushrooms, carrots, and celery, then add them to soups, stews, casseroles, and pasta sauces. Do also check out Riverford's recipe for Chocolate Courgette Cake, for those averse to the cucumber family!

6. Purée steamed vegetables in the food processor - Add some butter, crème fraîche (if dairy tolerant), and black pepper to finish it off. My favourite as a child was a dish of three columns of puréed brussel sprouts, next to puréed cauliflower, next to puréed swede. It looks gorgeous in an Italian flag kind of way, and so is more attractive to little eaters.

7. Divert attention - A broccoli spear on a plate isn’t everyone’s idea of heaven. When did you last see it on Masterchef? But pair it with a salty, creamy blue cheese dip, and there’s a reason to eat it. Or, roast some kale with a little coconut oil, chilli flakes, and Malden salt to make crisps.

8. Drink your veggies - Try vegetable based green smoothies using spinach, broccoli, and kale. There are masses of delicious recipes online. If in doubt, add banana or apple, mint, avocado, and lemon juice to make all veg smoothies taste amazing.

9. Remember, they probably eat everything on their plate at their friends’ houses. All is not lost.

10. ... See point 1.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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