Welcome to my special Christmas-themed series all about Picky Eaters and the dreaded VEGETABLE.
I am a Paediatric Feeding Therapist. As part of my job, I assess and treat children who have extremely restricted diets due to very fussy eating. The cause of the fussiness can be varied, and the kids that I see are on the severe end of the spectrum when it comes to picky eating. But even for children who are just going through a normal picky eating phase (because, in the most part, picky eating is just another developmental stage that many children will go through) there seems to be a common thread between them all. A common dislike of VEGETABLES.
Picky eaters often have very few, sometimes no, vegetables that they will willingly eat. There are MANY reasons for this, and that would take up a whole blog series in itself to fully explore. But regardless of the reason, it’s up to us as the parent to help foster a positive relationship with vegetables because we want our children to eventually like (maybe even love!) eating vegetables as part of eating a variety of foods from all the food groups.
This blog post is about the first in my TOP 3 strategies to help picky eaters learn to love vegetables.
What’s the first strategy? EXPOSURE.
Repeated exposure to foods is essential for us to learn about whether we like them or not. In my Facebook Live broadcast I did during the week I talked about how you might now love an (embarrassing) song that initially you thought was rubbish. Here is another way of thinking about it...
Remember the first time you had a bold red wine? You probably had one tiny sip and thought “Oh GROSS why does everyone rave about this?!” Then, over time, you try it again. And again. And in all different social settings. And you see that your parents like red wine. So does your best friend. And your workmates. And you start to drink Rose. And smooth red wine. And then occasionally bold red wines. And all of a sudden, you don’t hate red wine. You think it’s okay. And then over time, you start to really like red wine, and then before you know it you are craving a big glass of red at the end of the day. We forget what it’s like to learn about new foods – but think back to things like beer, coffee, anchovies, olives, oysters, spirits, kale, pickles, kombucha... there are loads of foods that we eat as adults that we needed to try many times before we decided that we liked them (or hated them!).
Kids are going through this ‘learning to like’ phase at almost every meal. So how can we support their learning AND increase their exposure to vegetables?
Most parents I meet are already offering vegetables at dinnertime and putting it on the table or their child’s plate. This is great, and essential. But most of the parents I meet are also frustrated that despite their diligence, their child is still not eating the vegetables.
Exposure needs to happen in a variety of settings, not just at the dinner table. It’s one of the reasons why your kid might eat vegetables at a party, or with their grandparents, but not at home. New and novel ways of being exposed to foods is really powerful.
One way I LOVE to increase exposure to vegetables is to get kids in the kitchen. In the kitchen a picky eater doesn’t have any pressure to eat it (a win for them! And no battle for you!) AND they tend to interact a lot more with the food than if it was just sitting on their plate. Because of this, they learn about all the different sensory properties of a food before it even hits their plate.
For example, if your child helps you with the broccoli in the following recipe, they will have learnt:
What it feels like raw (when you wash it)
What the inside of the broccoli feels like (when you cut it up)
What it smells like raw (as you blitz it)
What it looks like uncooked
What it feels like all blitzed up (when you fill the pies)
What it smells like as it’s cooking
What it looks like cooked (when you chop up the bigger pies)
So before they’ve even sat down for dinner, they’ve learnt SEVEN things about broccoli. That’s masses of exposure, and all necessary in learning to like vegetables!
So here’s my recipe for ELF PIES. Have fun making them!
CHRISTMAS ELF PIES
These cheesy, slightly sweet broccoli pies are easy to make and filled with lots of familiar ingredients for many kids (except for the broccoli!). Fun to make, and easy for the kids to be involved with and get their fingers sticky. I’ve called them Elf Pies because of their funny shape and green elf filling, but you could call these Hulk Pies, Shrek Pies, Zombie Pies, Princess Fiona Pies... whatever appeals to your picky eater!
This recipe really taps in to all the different senses too – the smells of the different ingredients, sight as you watch the ingredients get blitzed, touch when you make the pies, and taste (because you gotta sneak some of that grated cheese and lick your sticky honey fingers!). Crispy pastry can also be a great way to make ‘wet’ foods appealing, as lots of the picky eaters that I work with LOVE crunchy or crispy things, especially if they melt in the mouth like pastry does. By pairing up a preferred food with a new (or ‘learning about’) food, you are helping make that new food more appealing and less scary or unknown.
Christmas Elf Pies Recipe
Prep Time: 5 – 10 min plus time to defrost the pastry
Cook Time: 20 – 25 min
Serves: 2 adults + 2 – 3 kids
You will need: large gingerbread man cookie cutter (or other Christmas themed cookie cutters - see notes below), pastry brush, baking paper, food processor, kid-safe knife (like this one), chopping board, a side plate
4 sheets puff pastry
1 medium head of broccoli
¾ cup cashews (OR 1 slice of bread OR ½ cup cooked brown rice)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 Tbspn Dijon mustard
4 Tbspn honey
4 Tbspn mayonnaise
Generous pinch of salt
(for egg and dairy free variation, see notes below)
Everybody wash your hands and get ready to cook!
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (350 degrees F), line two baking trays with baking paper. Get out your pastry to defrost.
Help your child to wash and dry the broccoli. Break it into florets and then help your child to cut each floret in half, and chuck it in the food processor.
Crack the eggs into a little bowl and lightly beat them. Pour MOST of the egg mixture into the food processor and keep a little bit for at the end to baste the pastry. (If you forget this part, don’t panic – just use some milk to baste it at the end instead)
Eat a couple of cashews and put the rest into the food processor. (If you are using bread, tear it up first into smallish pieces) Add in the cheese.
Help your child add in the mustard, mayonnaise and honey, plus the pinch of salt. Have gentle smells of the different condiments and talk about which ones have really big smells, sweet smells, ‘nothing smells’ and so on.
Blitz the ingredients for about 10 seconds, until all well combined and there are no large pieces remaiing.
Using the cookie cutter, cut out a gingerbread man and place him on the baking paper. Place spoonfuls of the pie filling mixture on the head and belly. Use your fingers to spread it out a bit.
Using the cookie cutter as a template, cut a large outline around the gingerbread man (crime scene style!) so that you end up with a bigger shape. Place that on top to make the pie lid. Use your fingers to crimp down the edges.
Little scraps of pastry can be used to make eyes, nose, mouth, buttons etc.
Baste the gingerbread pie man with the beaten egg, and sprinkle on sesame seeds. Use a knife to make some little incisions to let steam out.
Make as many gingerbread man pies as you want, OR use the side plate as a template to cut out circles of pastry – fill one half with filling, fold over to make a semi-circle and crimp the edges. This will make big adult sized pies.
Bake in the oven for about 20 – 25min, until crispy golden.
Allow to cool, and enjoy!
You can make this dairy free – just omit the cheese, it will still taste lovely.
For an egg free version – use 1 flax-egg and add in some extra bread to help bind it all together.
If you don’t have a large gingerbread man cookie cutter, you can just cut out small Christmas shapes from the pastry (stars, trees, boots etc). Make some small circular pies (use a glass or a round cookie cutter) and then place the Christmas pastry shapes on top.
Enjoy with a glass of red wine ;)