· By Julia Boase
Do Kids Need to Eat Vegetables?
That might be a strange question for a paediatric dietitian to pose, but here’s the thing, no matter whether parents have come to see me in clinic because their child is a little bit fussy or more at the extreme end of spectrum, the number one thing that worries parents is that their child is not eating enough (or any) vegetables.
As a paediatric dietitian and a parent of four kids myself, I’ve also found it hard to get my kids to want to eat their vegetables. If there’s one sure fire food that will come back home in their lunchbox, it’s their vegetables.
So let's address the age-old question: Do kids need to eat vegetables? The answer is not as clear as you might think.
**The Veggie Challenge**
It's no secret that vegetables often end up untouched in lunchboxes, but why is that? There are a few reasons. First, veggies tend to have flavours that can be a bit challenging for young taste buds – they lean toward the bitter or bland side of the spectrum. Additionally, kids can find the varying textures of vegetables off-putting. Let's not forget that nature loves to keep things interesting, so vegetables aren't always the same; they can surprise kids with different tastes and textures. This unpredictability can be a hurdle for children who prefer their food to be consistent (hint - this is one of the reasons kids love packet snack foods - they are always the same).
**The Power of Veggies**
Despite these challenges, vegetables are important for your child's health. According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, kids aged 9 and above should aim for 5 servings of vegetables a day (a serving being 1/2 cup cooked veg or 1 cup of salad greens). Why? Because vegetables are a great source of nutrients, coupled with a low energy density that helps balance out our energy intake with much needed nutrients. They provide essential nutrients like fibre, B-carotene, B vitamins, iodine, and non-heme iron to name but a few. Moreover, they introduce a variety of phytonutrients into your child's diet, which may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases in the long run.
**Nutrients Beyond Veggies**
But here's the good news: vegetables aren't the sole source of these nutrients. Fibre can be found in fruits and whole grains, B-carotene in fruits like rockmelon (plus its active form is in abundance in foods like meat, dairy and eggs), B vitamins in various foods, and iron in nuts, seeds, and meat. When you explore your child's diet, you'll likely discover that they're getting these nutrients from other sources too.
**Less Pressure, More Progress**
Many parents stress about their child's vegetable intake, fearing dire consequences. But here's a reassuring fact: there's more than one way to ensure your child gets the nutrients they need to thrive. In childhood, focus on essential nutrients for growth and development, regardless of where they come from. As your child grows, you can work toward an ideal dietary pattern that better aligns with preventing chronic diseases and maintaining a healthy weight.
If your child prefers fruits over vegetables, that's perfectly fine! Offer more fruits; they share many nutrients with veggies. Don't worry about the natural sugars in whole fruits – they're not the same as added sugars linked to dental issues and obesity.
**Take the Pressure Off**
If your child isn't fond of veggies, rest assured they're likely getting their nutrients from other sources. Still, don't stop serving vegetables. Instead, create an environment that encourages long-term acceptance.
Here are some tips to help:
1. Serve veggies in various ways – cooked, raw as snacks, mixed into meals, blended in smoothies, or as part of salads (you may find your child prefers them in one form but not others).
2. Be a role model by eating veggies yourself.
3. Avoid pressuring your child to eat – positive or negative pressure can backfire (best to be totally food neutral at the dinner table).
4. Start with small portions to boost their confidence.
5. Don't give up; keep trying.
Remember, it's a journey, and you're not alone. If your child is extremely picky, consider consulting an accredited practicing dietitian (APD) for guidance. In the meantime, keep offering those veggies and create a supportive eating environment.
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