Vegetables are often one of those battle grounds when it comes to feeding little ones. How do I get my child to eat more vegetables?….is a question I am frequently. Vegetables in particular have a lot of different textures and tastes – and don’t come with fat or sugar to sweeten the deal like a lot of other foods do – natural ones included. Animal based proteins all contain fat, fruit contains fructose, milk contains lactose…as some examples.
Often as parents we expect that as our children are ‘eating solids’ that suddenly they will eat almost anything put in front of them! Research shows children often need to try a food up to 16 times in a variety of ways before they adapt – and with 2 monkey’s myself I know how disheartening this can be – just remember good nutrition is a life long learning journey and will have it’s ups and downs along the way.
What I find helpful to know is just how much vegetables should your children be eating a day (you may just be surprised here).
5 Plus a Day?
Here in New Zealand our current Ministry of Health Food and Nutrition Guidelines recommend the following:
Infants and Toddlers (0-2) = Not specified – focused on intake of dietary fibre/carbohydrate/vitamins and mineral
Preschoolers (3-5) = 2 servings of vegetables
Children/Young People (6-18) = 3 servings of vegetables
Before I explain these remember these National guidelines are just that – guidelines. As a researcher I appreciate the process it takes to develop such guidelines however they can quickly be outdated with research emerging so fast. The reason vegetable intake from infants and toddlers is not specified is due to the huge variation with breastfeeding/formula feeding during this time. To guide you I still recommend those who are eating 3 solid-based meals steadily, which you would expect between 1-2 years to go with the same guidelines for preschoolers.
Another important note here is that although there is the well-known campaign of 5+ a day this covers fruit and vegetables together however it is split into 3 servings of vegetables and 2 of fruit. In other words you want children (and adults) to consume more vegetables than fruit across a day.
The Ministry of Health developed standard serving sizes to help guide the total amount of food to eat from each food group across a day. A portion size refers to the amount of food offered at a single eating occasion. While these maybe the same, remember especially with children (when we are trying to sneak vegetables in) it’s what they have across a day that matters the most – rather than a single meal (hopefully that may take some pressure off you!).
Examples of Serving Sizes:
1 medium potato or kūmara (135 g)
½ cup cooked vegetables (eg, broccoli, peas, corn, spinach, pūhā) (50–80 g)
1 carrot (75 g)
½ cup salad (60 g)
1 tomato (80 g)
½ avocado (80 g)
If you have a really active child, they may well need more than these this so it’s important to remember that vegetables should be the majority for the basis of a good diet. The are the most nutrient dense, contain the most vitamins and minerals and are an important source of dietary fibre and carbohydrate. So portions should reflect this, you just increase the serving sizes relative to other nutrients (meat and grains).
It is really important to provide a variety of vegetables, eating seasonally really helps with this (and is the most economical) but also to use color as a guide. Lots of color = lots of variety!
So how do you go about meeting these guidelines when you have a fussy feeder? Sneaking them in is one of my top tips to tackle this. Remember my point at the beginning about the taste and texture of vegetables it is a challenge and you are not alone! I have loads of helpful recipes here on my site from smoothies, to muffins, to lunch/dinner ideas like my Zingy Meat Balls and Easy Vegetarian Lasagna. Every recipe in my new cook book Healthy Easy Dinners for Busy Mums is packed full of vegetables (and approved by both my monkeys!).
Keep watch on my Events Page for dates on upcoming tours and talks – I do many presentations and workshops on children’s nutrition including starting solids, feeding fussy toddlers, and sugar workshops.
xxx Dr Julie Bhosale