The simple truth is getting your kids eat more veggies or new foods should be considered a marathon, not a sprint. The immediate goal is to get your kids just to try veg with the long-term goal being that they eventually are happy to eat any and all foods. So how do we get there?

Serve them up!

If you never serve a food up to your child, they never have the opportunity to try them and therefore will be less likely to eat them. We have all experienced how a child’s tastes change from moment to moment, like when your child decided they didn’t like blueberries anymore after you paid $7 for a punnet – they can just as quickly turn around and love something again and the key is exposure so make sure they are being served up a broad range of foods regardless of preference.

Be neutral around all food

We have a tendancy when we serve up something to our kids we know they’re going to love e.g. icecream to say something like “oooooo here you go, so lucky!”. Then when we serve veggies, it’s more of a pressure situation – “you need to eat at least 2 bites!”. This can pre-program how a food is immediately perceived.

Try to stay neutral around all food – more of a “here you go” vibe and try not to focus conversation on other topics away from the food. If there is any push back on any food you can say “that’s fine, you don’t have to eat it, just leave it on the plate” or “you don’t have to eat it but you could try it - you might love it!”.

Avoid bribing

So common is the phrase “if you eat 2 more bites, you can have icecream”. We want our kids to listen to their own bodies to indicate when their bellies are full. Baiting with more desired foods may lead to overriding that internal “belly voice” and therefore overeating. Kids are really good at regulating their eating – this is why one day they will barely eat a thing and other days they will eat more than an adult – this is normal intuitive eating and should be preserved.

Family meals

You don’t need to be cooking 4 different dinners to suit everyone’s differing tastes. Serve up the same family meal for everyone with no pressure to eat and if your child doesn’t eat it, simply pop it aside and make it clear there is nothing else for dinner. If they’re hungry they will eat (this of course doesn’t speak to neurodivergence or illness etc). Serving up alternative foods in the case of meal refusal can lead to picky eating and more difficulty at dinner times.

Eat Together

Food modelling is so important for kids – eating a family meal together allows your children to see you eating all foods. It is difficult in our busy schedules to eat together so aiming for one meal together a day is a good start.

Most importantly – you are not alone in your struggle to get your children to try new foods – it’s something that every parent experiences at some time. You can rest easy knowing that it’s not necessary for kids to eat veg to meet their nutritional needs, fruit offers similar nutritional properties. If you have any concerns about your child’s eating or nutrition, you can engage nutritionist or dietician.

Shannon Colebatch

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