Why do kids dislike veg? And how to change that
I’m always amazed that children can pick out the tiniest fragments of whatever vegetable they aren’t eating this month, with total precision. It’s frustrating when we want to give them good food to support their insanely busy lives.
But experimental research on children that suggests the liking of sweet and the dislike of bitter tastes reflects children’s basic biology.
Children are born preferring sweet tastes, which attract them to breast milk and even act as a pain killer.
They prefer higher levels of sweetness than adults, with preferences declining to “adult levels” during middle to late adolescence, which coincides with the end of physical growth. Put simply, they need carbohydrates for the energy to grow. So now you know why they bang on about Frosties and Haribos.
In contrast to sweetness, children can dislike and reject bitterness, because this protects them from ingesting toxins such as poisonous berries - it’s evolution’s way of keeping them alive and is well documented.
Additionally, high hormone levels during puberty can affect teenagers’ senses of smell and taste. This goes for both boys and girls but consider that around ovulation your daughter may have heightened smell and taste. Remember when you or your partner could smell boiling carrots at 50m whilst pregnant? Similar thing.
Here are my top 10 tips for getting veg into your kids and teens:
1. Don’t turn it into a battlefield - worse things happen at sea and don’t make it a button they push to wind you up.
2. Be realistic - studies show it takes 9 to 10 tries before the children said they liked specific veg.
3. Go for the easy wins - include sweet tasting veg include carrots, peas, sweetcorn, sweet potato, squash and pumpkin.
4. Be sneaky - I’ve read that you shouldn’t hide veg but offer it head on. I like a stress free life personally. Use the food processor - mushrooms etc can always be added to soups, stews, casseroles and bolognaise sauce after you’ve blitzed them. And check out Riverford's recipe for Chocolate Courgette Cake for the cucumber family haters.
5. Get them involved - it's never to early to get them preparing veg with you. The sensation of lumps can be off-putting so help them to cut veggies up small and add them to foods you know they love like pasta sauce or as pizza toppings.
6. Divert attention - a broccoli spear on a plate isn’t everyone’s idea of heaven. But pair it with a savoury, creamy blue cheese dip and there’s a reason to eat it. Or roast some kale with a little coconut oil, chilli flakes and Malden salt to make crisps.
7. Drink your veg - try vegetable based green smoothies using spinach, broccoli and kale. There are masses of delicious recipes online - and on our Facebook page. If in doubt, add banana or apple, mint, avocado and lemon juice to make all veg smoothies taste amazing.
8. All is not lost - remember, they probably eat everything on their plate at their friends’ houses.
9. See point 1.
If you think that your child or teen’s health is being adversely affected by lack of vegetables (pale, lethargic, constipated, prone to infections) then talk to your GP or a registered nutritional therapist about running some blood tests to assess vitamin or mineral deficiencies. A plan of action can then be implemented to get your child back on track.