How to make children eat vegetables? Doctor Stefano Erzegovesi offers advice to parents on how to get the little ones closer to vegetables.
How to make children eat vegetables? It is often difficult to overcome their mistrust and introduce broccoli, courgettes, etc. into their diet. Yet it is essential, for adults and children, to eat various portions of vegetables every day: it is now known the role played by a green diet in the prevention of various diseases.
In the book Vegetables in fifteen steps. Cook them, love them and live happily (Mondadori), the psychiatrist and nutritionist, director of the Center for Eating Disorders of the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, Stefano Erzegovesi suggests a new and stimulating look at the infinite resources of the vegetable planet.
The ideal approach is certainly empathy: to exploit the beneficial virtues of green beans, cabbage and carrots, and at the same time enhance their qualities at the table, you need to “put yourself in their shoes”, know their nature and “character”, respect their seasonality and collection, places and systems of cultivation and conservation. The book is an anthology of traditional recipes and, at the same time, an essay on the very rich biodiversity of Italian crops.
We interviewed Erzegovesi, asking him for more information about the book and some valid ways to offer a diet rich in vegetables to children.
In this article
Listen to the podcast on how to make kids like vegetables
Getting children to eat vegetables: how to “disguise” them
«Children are more predisposed to foods with soft and creamy textures, with a sweet taste (or in any case typical of white flour), which recall foods rich in energy. Furthermore, they have, more than adults, an accentuated defense system in relation to bitter substances (which can recall toxic substances, such as strychnine) and in relation to acid substances (where the acidity reminds you of something that has gone bad).
Thus, the child instinctively eats things not bitter, not very acidic, melting and crunchy (which recall the presence of salt, sugar, fat) and little fiber (perceiving foods with fiber as “woody”). We must therefore make sure that children can approach the vegetables feeling more familiar with them.
First of all, children should be familiarized with vegetables, giving them a message of greater closeness through the knowledge and preparation of these. When you go shopping, for example, you choose them together. When preparing them, children can be involved, offering them various activities (shredding potatoes, peeling them, etc.). A child who has already had experience in preparing vegetables is already a child who has become familiar with them.
Second thing: when we eat vegetables, we must do it convincingly. Children and adolescents have antennae and follow the example of their parents. Therefore parents must eat appreciating and enjoying vegetables.
Finally, there is a component linked to cooking techniques. When making meals, it is advisable to always give vegetables to the little ones as an appetizer. If you serve vegetables as a side dish, a child or a teenager will almost perceive it as a nuisance and will have a palate saturated with other flavors ”, explains Erzegovesi.
Vegetables, how to propose them? The alternatives
«If there are vegetables with which the child is already familiar and which have – from the point of view of taste – a sweet aromatic profile (pumpkin, courgette, carrot, etc.), we can offer them to the little one in the form of sticks, cubes, etc.
If, on the other hand, we have to familiarize the child with a vegetable that has a more bitter profile, it is better to combine it with other foods more appreciated by the little one (for example, putting spinach in the savory pie, etc.) ».
Recipes with vegetables for children, for example
“One that I often recommend is definitely there tomato sauce with reinforced sauté. Cook the tomato sauce with a full-bodied vegetable-based sauté, which can be the equivalent of 100 or even 200 grams per person of celery, carrots and onions. Thus the child will eat “his” pasta with tomato sauce, almost without realizing that he is eating a lot of vegetables ».
Advice for parents
- “There are very strong scientific data that precisely link the intake of healthy foods with the so-called self-efficacy of parents. The latter must know and feel that if they change habits for their children it will have an effect about children in a positive sense. It is necessary to avoid the often frequent attitude according to which one thinks of wasting time by proposing a vegetable that the child instead refuses. A parent with low self-efficacy often thinks: “It is useless to go to the trouble of offering vegetables to the child if it is not needed”. Self-efficacy is a characteristic of the person: we can strengthen it and train it. For example, always with your children, peel a carrot, then cut it into fine strips, put lemon juice on top and eat it all together. Children like this, happy to have done something with an adult, show more curiosity towards vegetables. They can also feel proud that the dish was prepared by themselves together with their mom or dad. Even in children and adolescents self-efficacy must be awakened and activated by parents through shared experiences. Preparing carrot petals or an omelette with vegetables together can be very important. The key thing is that the little ones feel they have actively participated in the preparation. This also applies to teenagers.
- A coercive attitude (“I oblige you to eat”) has no effect whatsoever in the long run. Instead of forcing children to eat something, take the topic of “vegetables” away. We can therefore say to the little ones: “Let’s see what happens if we combine the purple cabbage with lemon juice: the color changes!”. Children, intrigued by this, will take more interest.
- If you are just desperate and it seems to you that children have no interest in vegetables, fry them. It always works! You can …