“You’re not leaving the table until you finish your vegetables!”
You probably received an order along those lines as a child, or maybe you’ve said it yourself, but for some cooking parents, it’s never been uttered.
“You have to choose what to tell and not to tell (children) is in the food,” said mother of two and nutrition program coordinator at George Webster Elementary School, Jessica Saville-Dumais. “If they don’t see it, they don’t know it’s there.”
Dumais knows how to mix vegetables into food kids want to eat. She prepares meals that give every student a breakfast each weekday, and runs a hot lunch program for 50 students who pay for meals two days of the week.
“The more colour, the more they want to eat it,” she said. “Stay away from just greens.”
Dumais portions chopped cucumbers and assorted peppers with dip for each student as a part of their morning meal. Their favourite dip is creamy salsa (half cream cheese, half salsa), she said.
For pizzas, she blends peppers with the sauce, topped with a sprinkle of marble cheese, accompanied with oven-baked sweet potato fries, with no salt added.
To make chili, she chops kidney beans, tofu and vegetables as small as possible.
“They get all of the protein and health without knowing it’s there,” said Dumais.
However, when eating with family, don’t accommodate children’s meals to their likes and dislikes, said mother and author of the blog Food, Football and a Baby, Michelle Peters Jones.
“I believe that children learn to appreciate food by eating whatever the family eats,” said Jones. “But I’ve been experimenting with many other kinds of cuisines as well.”
Jones also dresses up rice and butterfly pasta (farfalle noodles) with colourful, chopped vegetables.
“Make sure that the food is packed full of flavour, and visually appealing as well,” said Jones. “I am more likely to get a good response to a dish that is colourful and looks good.”
Getting kids involved in cooking and grocery shopping gets them excited about food, said Jones. When her daughter refused to eat eggs, she got her to help whisk, pour and scramble them.
“She was soon eating eggs with no questions asked,” said Jones.
Dumais also involves her two children in the cooking process. Her daughter opens cans, stirs pots and passes utensils, while her 8-month-old son tests almost everything she cooks.
“It’s little things like that, that make them feel like they’ve made the meal,” she said, adding one final piece of advice to entice children to eat meals they otherwise may not like.
“Cheese is the secret to every child’s stomach.”
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