How to Improve Your Child’s Vitamin and Mineral Intake (without them noticing!)
It’s no secret that a diet rich in vitamins and minerals aids in the healthy growth and development of your child. It’s also no secret that getting children to consume an adequate amount of fruit and vegetables is no simple feat!
In the 1930s the population’s iron intake was at a startling low. Realising it would be difficult to convince children eating truckloads of spinach was a good idea, clever public health professionals harnessed the selling powers of Popeye The Sailor Man – an affable muscle man powered by tinned spinach. Consequently, spinach sales increased by 33% in the mid 1930s! A contextual study of ‘the Popeye effect’ in 2010 had surprising results with most participating children increasing their vegetable consumption after watching Popeye. Unfortunately, products with limited nutritional value realise the marketing potency in creating characters and now all manner of superheroes and cutesy characters are selling empty calories to our kids. We hope to give you a few techniques to help you fight back!
Your child’s visual system is supported by nutrients such as lutein, beta carotene, carotenoids, lycopene, omega 3, zinc and vitamin C to name a few. A diet rich in these nutrients can prevent the onset of eye disease and promote optimal visual development and eye health.
The NHRMC issues nutrient reference guides for children, though the problem for many parents is ensuring their children are meeting these nationalised standards.
Many essential nutrients come from fruits and vegetables. If you’re finding yourself engaged in battle every time you serve peas, hopefully these strategies can help you increase your child’s nutrient intake without them even noticing!
1. Grow fruits, vegetables and herbs
Involving your child in growing their food has a wealth of developmental benefits. Many parents who have experimented with this technique have found their budding gardeners are so proud of their achievements; they simply can’t wait to sample the ‘fruits’ of their labour! A vegetable patch is a great way to teach your child about the food cycle and they’ll be so excited as their plants grow, you might find much of it doesn’t even reach the dinner table! If you don’t have space or time for cultivating a vegetable patch, growing windowsill herbs or strawberries and cherry tomatoes is an easy alternative.
2. Add spinach to your cooking
Spinach is a super food that is relatively easy to add to most dishes. Keeping a packet of baby spinach handy to add to pre-prepared meals, pastas, lasagnes and sauces is an easy way of increasing your child’s nutrient intake. Frozen finely chopped spinach can be easily thawed and added to many dishes without great consistency, texture or flavour changes.
3. Finely dice vegetables and hide in your child’s favourite dishes
If you haven’t read ‘Deceptively Delicious’ I highly recommend it. The author outlines a range of techniques to help you hide pureed vegetables in almost anything! If they can’t see it and they can’t taste it they won’t notice it. Your food processor could become your new best friend! Start by hiding carrot, onion, zucchini, celery and spinach in bolognaise and lasagnes.
4. Make your own sauces
Though time consuming, making sauces from scratch is a fantastic way to ensure your children are getting maximum nutrition from the foods they are eating without consuming a plethora of nasty additives and extra sodium. Rich in lycopene, tomatoes are a fantastic base for sauces and their strong taste means that pureed or grated vegetables can be added without changing the child-friendly tomato taste. If you boil or steam vegetables, always conserve the water to use in sauces as nutrients depleted in cooking remain in the water!
5. Let your child colour in a chart when they eat a fruit or vegetable
The psychology community is divided over the use of rewards in encouraging children to eat a wide variety of foods. One school of thought suggests that the provision of rewards, though effective, will limit a child’s intrinsic motivation to self-select vegetables and when the reward stimulus is removed, a child’s will to have a balance diet goes with it. Recent studies show however, that a rewards system is an effective way of encouraging your child to eat a wide variety of foods and to enjoy them. Be sure to never reward with junk food as the detriment to your children is not only physiological, but psychological.
6. Force Dad to eat his peas!
If Dad doesn’t eat his peas, you can be sure the kids won’t be touching them either! The ‘do as I say not as I do’ adage is not effective when it comes to encouraging vegetable and fruit consumption and you can be sure ‘but Mum, dad doesn’t eat his!’ will be their first line of defence! If your children consistently see you eating a wide range of vegetables and fruits, this will reinforce the importance of having a balanced diet.
7. Keep diced up raw vegetables in the fridge
Fight back against convenience foods by keeping a stock of ready diced fruits and vegetables in the fridge. Kids love cherry tomatoes and keeping a stack of celery, carrot, cucumber and capsicum sticks with a range of healthy dips is a far healthier alternative to potato chips or high sugar muesli bars when the kids return from school.
8. Involve kids in making homemade pizza or tacos
Chop a range of vegetables varying in colour and texture and put into separate bowls. With the blank canvas of a taco or pizza base and a few reduced sodium/sugar sauces, your child’s nutrient intake for the evening is turned into an art and craft extravaganza! Encourage them to pick at the vegetables as they go. Raw fruits and vegetables often have higher nutrient density than cooked.
9. Don’t overcook vegetables
If you overcook vegetables they lose their taste, texture and most importantly their nutrients. Try steaming, lightly stir frying, blanching or gently boiling your vegetables and avoid high heat. Always conserve the water used in cooking as most of the nutrients depleted will be present in the water!
10. Involve your children in cooking
Asking your children to wash, chop or cook the vegetables may not be met with enthusiasm initially, but their involvement in the preparation of the meal will encourage them to sample the finished product!
11. Let your children pick vegetables while you’re shopping
They may choose to try cool looking vegetables and fruits they’ve never tried before like dragon fruit, or they may prefer to choose the best looking apple of the bunch – but giving your child ownership over the selection of fruits and vegetables can see this sense of fun and pride translate to consumption!
12. Use segmented plates
Segmented plates show how meal portions should be divided into protein, carbohydrate and vegetables. Encouraging your children to fit their meal to this guideline is a way of reinforcing the importance of fruit and vegetables without the nagging always coming from you!
13. Let them use fun implements like shape cutters, graters, blenders etc.
One of the great nutrition mysteries is why making a pretty shape out of a stick of celery suddenly makes it irresistible to children! Whether it’s making ‘vege people’ from chopped up vegetables and fruits or blending up a smoothie, involving kids in the fun, messy parts of cooking can take the fuss and stress out of eating vegetables and fruits. Teaching your children to use chopsticks or threading veges and fruit onto skewers can entice your children to try new foods.
14. Early nutrition education by associating foods with benefits
When your child drinks a glass of milk, explain the benefits of calcium and vitamin D to their growth and development. When they aren’t feeling well encourage them to eat oranges and explain the benefits of vitamin C. If they suffer from constipation talk about the benefits of a high fibre diet. Helping your children associate these foods with good health is beneficial from a young age.
15. Where possible, choose fortified products
With a surge in vitamin D deficiency in Australian children, many products are now fortified with this essential vitamin. Where possible, select products that are fortified with a range of vitamins and minerals. Many children’s cereals, breads and dairy products are fortified with a range of vitamins and minerals from folate, vitamin D, B group vitamins, iron and zinc.
If all else fails a range of palatable children’s multivitamins are available, though you should always consult your GP before introducing supplements into your child’s diet. With patience and persistence, hopefully these techniques will help you to include a wide range of fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet.