We all know we’re supposed to eat our five-a-day – five portions of fruit and vegetables – for a healthy diet. We explain how much your tot needs to have, and suggest some simple ways to encourage your veg-averse little one to eat their greens.
How much is five-a-day? The best rough guide to the size of a single portion is the amount your child can fit into the palm of her hand. For toddlers this is usually something like a small satsuma, three strawberries or half a small banana.
1 Play the hand game
“Get your little one to draw around her hand on a piece of paper,” says Dr Rana Conway, nutritionist and author of Meals Without Tears. “When she eats one of her five-a-day she colours in a finger in the same colour as the food.”
2 Be imaginative
Refer to carrot and celery sticks as magician’s wands that can turn broccoli into fairy’s trees! Get inspiration from the Charlie and Lola book, I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato.
3 Set an example
Children are copycats so make sure they see you and your partner enjoying as many of the ‘good guys’ as possible. This also means getting rid of the bad stuff in your cupboards. If your little one sees you munching on a biscuit, she’s going to want one too, rather than that plateful of peas.
4 Use old chestnuts
“Ever since we told Phoebe that broccoli makes her grow tall, she can’t get enough of it! She wants it with every meal and even eats the stalks. We’ve extended this to other fruit and veg now – carrots help her see in the dark, apples make her clever and so on. It really works.”
Polly Fox, 32, from London, mum to Phoebe, 3, and Wilbur, 3 months
5 Get creative
Children love little birds, so why not try them out with this veg ‘nest’? Grate up carrot and celeriac and arrange into a nest shape, then drop in grapes or cherry tomatoes as ‘eggs’.
6 Keep at it
Toddlers may reject new foods several times before they finally give them a try, and it could take you up to 10 attempts before a forkful goes in the mouth. “The key is not to force them,” says Rana, “even though watching them pushing their veg around their plate can be intensely irritating.” Patience is required here!
7 Be adventurous
If your child doesn’t like basic fruit and veg, don’t be put off. She might have a taste for the exotic instead. “Don’t be afraid to serve up something more unusual, such as papaya,” says Rana.
8 Start popping
Have popcorn instead of crisps. Put a 10p-sized drizzle of vegetable oil in a saucepan, add a handful of popcorn kernels, put on the lid and turn on the heat. When the popping stops, your popcorn is ready, just let it cool for a few minutes before serving. It’s great entertainment and a tasty treat too, but don’t smother it in salt or sugar.
9 Make veg cakes
“Even if your cake recipe doesn’t mention it, you can add a good serving of grated courgette or carrot to the mixture in order to up their five-a-day intake,” says Rana. “Your cake will be lovely and moist.”
10 Take it slowly
Bombard your child with different veg and you could freak her out. Introduce new varieties one at a time instead.
“Charlie and Lola can really help”
“The Charlie and Lola book, ‘I will never, ever eat a tomato’ is a great way to combine your child’s imagination with the bravery of trying something new. Amelia wouldn’t touch anything green on her plate, but after reading the book, she was happy to try ‘green drops from Greenland’ (otherswise known as peas!) and now she loves them!”
Sharon, 32, mum to Amelia, 4, and Kealan and Ethan, both 2
11 Let her lead
Every morning ask your tot which five fruits and veg she fancies eating today and then reward her every time she does. If she’s choosing, she’ll be much more likely to complete the task.
12 Get saucy
Most toddlers love tomato sauce with pasta. But rather than just the standard toms, onion and garlic, chuck in whatever veg you have in the fridge, cook it, then whizz in the blender. She’ll never guess all the hidden goodies she’s eating.
13 Buy a fruit bowl
Make fruit fun and get a wacky, colourful bowl to display your latest purchases from the greengrocer. Position it where she has to walk past several times a day, at a height where she can make her own selection.
14 Veggie crisps
Thinly slice up vegetables (sweet potato is perfect), spray with a little olive oil and roast for about 20 minutes in a hot oven to make tasty homemade crisps.
15 Start her early
“Your child can enjoy fruit and veg from the moment you start weaning. I puréed a variety of fruit and veg which Ethan used to gobble up. He’s 2 now and will ask for a plum or banana rather than chocolate.”
Sarah Briggs, 30, from Essex, mum to Ethan, 2
16 Don’t hide it!
Toddlers are smarter than we give them credit for. Try to hide a hated veg – layering peas inside mash, for example – and they’re likely to twig and probably won’t eat either. So try puréeing the peas and mixing them with the mash, serving it in a mound and asking her to tuck into her “teddy bear meadow”. Who’s clever now?
17 The sweet root
Children often dislike bitter-tasting foods, so for a good success rate in the five-a-day stakes, start your little one off with root vegetables that have a naturally sweet taste, such as carrots, parsnips and swede.
18 Get a veggie pal
“My best friend’s son is three months older than Jack and really good with his veg, so he gets invited to tea lots. When Jack sees a ‘big boy’ happily munching on the green stuff, he starts eating it himself. Result.” Marsha Harris, 39, from Cambridge, mum to Jack, 3
19 Try a lucky dip
Put a selection of different veg into a (non-see-through) bag and get him to take his pick without looking. Just one rule – he has to try what he’s taken out. It’s a good way to get him to name fruit and veg too.
20 Box clever
If you no longer use ice cube trays for freezing purées, recycle them as fun platters. Put a little fruit and veg in each compartment and serve it up