There has been much in the media lately about what and how we should be eating, but one thing that everyone agrees on is that we need to get more vegetables in our diet, and particularly into the bodies of our growing children. Did you know that less than 5% of Australian children consume the recommended 5 serves of vegetables each day, and that number drops even lower if potatoes (which should really be counted as a serve of carbohydrates) are not counted? Below are some ideas for sneaking in more vegies into the diet of our kids (and our other reluctant vegie-eaters!)

Cut-up vegetable sticks such as carrot, cucumber, celery and capsicum may be better received if accompanied by a small tub of dip. Whizz up a tin of chickpeas or white beans with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and a little garlic for a tasty preservative-free dip. It will keep in the fridge for several days. You can buy small round plastic containers meant for salad dressing which are perfect to transport a serving of dip to school.

Another simple dip is tatziki – greek yoghurt with finely chopped cucumber, mint and salt and pepper to taste.  Make a pretty pink beetroot variation by omitting the cucumber and blending in some cooked beetroot (the vacuum packed natural variety, not tinned). A basic guacamole can also be made with just avocado and lime or lemon juice, seasoned to taste. This one goes brown fairly quickly, so best for after school or weekends.

Try to think outside the square when it comes to increasing your family’s vegie repertoire– purple carrot sticks, raw green beans, small button mushrooms, lightly steamed broccoli florets or snow peas, even lightly steamed purple or yellow cauliflower are all great for dipping. Take a leaf out of a well-known children’s book and give them interesting names – ‘purple fairy wands’ for the carrots, or ‘purple and yellow clouds from Rainbowland’ for the cauliflower. Let your imagination run wild!

If more novelty is required to tempt fussy eaters, try threading a cherry tomato, a cube of cheddar and a small circle of cucumber (lengthways) onto blunt-ended toothpicks for ‘traffic light’ snacks. Other toothpick combinations for the more adventurous are cucumber, feta and a mint leaf; cherry tomato, baby bocconcini and a basil leaf, or encourage children to invent their own!

Consider using wholegrain wraps rather than sandwich bread for school lunches as you can fit a lot more salad in with the meat, cheese or other protein filling. Salad boxes with shredded lettuce, grated carrot, tomato, cucumber and grated cheese can be packed the night before if refrigerated. Remember to include a fork!

Don’t forget the frozen food aisle. My children have always loved frozen peas (especially the minted ones) as an afternoon snack on a hot day- just pour into a snack cup and serve. Another great option are edamame beans – soy bean pods. You can buy them pre-cooked and lightly salted. Just pop a few in a small tub – they will defrost by morning tea time and the kids can just pop them out of their pods to eat – yum!

There are lots of ways to sneak more vegetables into family dinners, too. Grate carrot, zucchini, or squash into bolognaise sauce, lasagne, and taco mince. Try adding a cube or two of frozen finely-chopped spinach. Throw in a tin of lentils as well or try red kidney beans in the tacos for a boost of protein-rich legumes. If your children will only eat the top of the broccoli florets, don’t throw the stems away.  Blitz them up in a food processor and add them to a casserole – no-one will even know they are there! Instead of white potato mash every time, try pumpkin or sweet potato. If the flavour is too strong, make it with half white potato. Or google a recipe for cauliflower puree – so delicious and if you process it until very smooth the kids will never guess what it is.

If you enjoy baking, try getting some vegies in there too. There are some great recipes out there for chocolate cakes with beetroot, zucchini or mashed sweet potato- the colour of the cocoa hides the vegies very well. Or experiment with fruity muffins that have a vegie twist – apple and carrot, blueberry and zucchini or savoury versions with cheese and bacon and a mix of grated vegetables

Of course, it goes without saying that children ‘do what we do’ rather than ‘do what we say’, so we can set a good example by embracing vegetables! Perhaps have a ‘new vegetable of the week’ that the whole family samples at dinner before introducing it into the lunchbox. And no-one likes soggy or limp veggies, so keep them fresh and cool with an ice-brick, and use individual containers to keep dips and juicy foods separate. Here’s to happy little vegie-mites!

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