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Mothers often wonder, and books and web pages disagree, about whether you should hide veggies on a plate in the hope your child will eat them without noticing.  My answers as a registered dietician are the same as my answer as a mom: you should not.

Having a toddler always means power struggles. A main focus of my work with helping families feed their children from infancy to their teenage years is to take the power struggle out of food.

A big aspect of this is removing all forms of pressure, including hidden vegetables. After all, how would you feel if someone hid something in your food? I know I’d be upset! I like to empower kids with choices from what is offered.

Here are a few tips:

  • Parents choose what’s served, then kids choose from what’s offered. Let’s say the meal is chicken, rice and broccoli. The kids can eat as much as they want of any of those foods. If they don’t choose broccoli that’s okay. Really. Continue offering vegetables with every meal, but remove the pressure to eat them. If the rest of the family eats their veggies and there’s no pressure, your kids might surprise you. If they do choose a broccoli, they shouldn’t be pressured to eat it. Don’t create any kind of pressure such as insisting they try a bite, or finish what they take, or eat like everyone else.
  • Involve kids. Let them help choose vegetables to go with dinner. Let them pick something new to try at the grocery store. Let them help prepare the vegetables for dinner. Kids love to grate, cut, wash, pull out of the fridge, etc. Involve them based on their age and ability.
  • Don’t hide any vegetables. Making a pureed soup? That’s great, but tell your kids what’s in it. Everyone, including kids, has preferences. They may or may not like certain vegetables, and that’s their right. I’m sure most parents remember being forced as a kid to eat things they didn’t like. Don’t repeat that behavior for your kids.
  • Grow a garden. Having kids plan and plant a vegetable garden can pique their interest. If they’ve seen the food grow and helped with the process, they often want to try the end result. Container gardening works for this, or a community garden or a u-pick.
  • Offer a variety of forms of veggies, like cooked, raw, roasted, grated, cubed, etc. Providing different forms for a vegetable can be a real hit. Try putting vegetables in smoothies and baked goods, but always tell your child what vegetables are in there.
  • Be a role model. When kids see everyone else enjoying vegetables and the pressure is removed, they will often try some. Be sure to include vegetables with every meal and snack. Making an omelet for breakfast? Throw in some veggies. Load up that sandwich at lunch with veggies, and have some veggies and hummus for a snack. Try having a salad on the side with dinner and incorporating a rainbow of color with your veggies in the meal.
  • Presentation matters. Try serving meals with the makings in different bowls in the center of the table. Everyone can pick and choose what they want. Try using little containers to put cut-up veggies in with hummus for a snack at school or on the road. You don’t have to make vegetables look like various characters and elaborate pictures like you see on Pinetrest, but presenting them with a little thought can go a long way. Some families find using catchy names gets their kids interested — trees instead of broccoli, cauli-power, etc. Remember: the more color, the more appeal.


In short, it’s about building trust. Removing the power struggles from food choices is so important. Don’t deceive children about vegetables being in a dish. If a pureed soup has different vegetables in it and your kids enjoy it, they may not even realize they like these vegetables if they aren’t told what they’re eating. In fact, deception can backfire — children won’t eat something again just out of spite, or they won’t eat a vegetable because they don’t know they like it.


If a child tries a new food and doesn’t like it, it’s fine to spit it out. Just teach them a polite way to do so. Knowing they have the option to spit it out can encourage them to try more. It takes 15-20 times of trying a food to decide you actually like it so it might take a lot of spitting it out before they know whether they like it or not. As long as you provide the option to try vegetables in their own time, it will happen. Don’t lose patience, and don’t lose hope.

My best advice: don’t worry! It won’t be like this forever. When people are really concerned I work with them to look at ways pressure can appear and power struggles develop. We go through their diet to ensure their child is getting necessary nutrients or to find alternatives that the child accepts.

Remember, kids have different eating patterns. This is normal.

Concerned that your kids aren’t getting what they need because they don’t eat vegetables? Wondering how to empower your kids to eat more vegetables? Contact Jill, Nurture The Future’s Registered Dietitian at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Published in Child Nutrition
Tuesday, 15 April 2014 16:06

Vegan Pregnancy - Part 2

My last post discussed eating a vegan diet during pregnancy. Now let’s talk more about specific nutrients you need.

Protein should be a focus in the diet of a vegan pregnant mama. If you eat three meals a day and two snacks, I suggest protein with every meal and at least one snack. However, if you eat four smaller meals a day, include protein at every one.

There are many vegan protein sources to choose from. Although there are good options — that include fiber, iron, folate, and choline, etc. — they’re a bit harder to digest than meat, fish and eggs.

Vegans also have increased iron needs because many vegan iron sources contain phytates — antioxidant compounds that bind to the iron and make it harder to absorb.  So I recommend a vegan prenatal multivitamin that also contains iron. 

Through a blood test, your healthcare provider can tell you if you need an iron supplement over and above what you get from food and your prenatal multivitamin.

Vegan diets are usually high in Vitamin C, which increases iron absorption. If you take a prenatal multivitamin and eat high iron foods throughout the day, I don’t recommend an iron supplement unless your healthcare provider recommends it.

Remember that both caffeine and calcium can negatively affect iron absorption.

Zinc is another important mineral during pregnancy. Vegan foods high in iron are typically also high in protein, zinc, folate and choline. 

In pregnancy calcium needs don’t increase — your body absorbs calcium more efficiently.

Vegan diets often have low amounts of calcium. In addition, some vegan foods have phytates and oxalic acid that also affect calcium absorption. However, this is easy to remedy if sources of calcium are made a focus of the diet. Remember that caffeine can also affect calcium absorption.

Although many people meet their calcium needs with dairy, this is not the only way. Good sources of calcium include almonds, sesame seeds, fortified milk alternatives, blackstrap molasses, tofu (if calcium sulphate is listed in the ingredients), collards, figs, kale, turnip greens and broccoli.

Vegans, whether pregnant or not, most frequently ask if they’re getting enough vitamin B12, which typically comes from animal products. However, vegans can get it in fortified products such as red star nutritional yeast (be sure to check as not all nutritional yeast is fortified with B12), vegan meats and fortified milk alternatives.

I always recommend eating whole foods and avoiding packaged and processed foods as much as possible. So I point out that, although vegans can choose fortified foods to get their B12, these are all packaged foods.

However, using B12 fortified nutritional yeast is great because it is easy to add to foods that you are eating throughout the day.

To meet your needs with fortified foods you need to eat at least three fortified foods with B12 each day. A variety of B12 supplements are available. Depending on the dosage you choose, you may not need to take it every day. But don’t worry too much about getting more B12 than needed — you will just pee out any excess amount you take in.

That said, there’s no sense “peeing your money away” on unnecessary vitamins. So base your decisions about supplements on what you get from foods and what works with your lifestyle.

It’s a good idea for every future mother to boost stores of omega 3 before getting pregnant; and while you are pregnant it’s important to conserve them. This is especially important for vegans, who tend to have lower levels of DHA.

For this reason omega 3 is one of the most common supplements I recommend before, during and after pregnancy. Often it’s taken in the form of DHA, one component of omega 3.

Most omega 3 supplements are from fish sources, although you can find vegan forms made from micro-algae — the same source that gives fish their DHA. Taking the micro-algae form is a good option as it reduces concerns about mercury and other contamination.

There are also vegan food sources available, including flax seeds (if they’re ground or in the oil form), chia and hemp seeds, and walnuts.

Omega 3 has another component, EPA, that is readily found in supplements. Both it and DHA are important to both mom and baby, although DHA tends to get the spotlight, as it helps in baby’s brain development.

Fish sources seem to be better absorbed and utilized by the body and there is also debate as to how much the foods listed above actually have in them. Our bodies actually convert plant sources of omega 3 to DHA and EPA, making them not as efficient sources of these fatty acid components.

Chia and hemp seeds also contain omega 6. North American diets tend to provide more omega 6, so it is important to ensure a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids in the range between 2:1 and 4:1. Many plant-based vegan oils contain omega 3, 6, and 9, making it even more important to think about the ratio of omega 6 and omega 3.

Some things also affect our body’s ability to make DHA. This includes trans fats — another reason to avoid processed and packaged foods. Alcohol and smoking also have negative effects.

In short, it is possible, with a little planning, to eat a healthy vegan diet during pregnancy.

If you have further questions, please contact Jill, Nurture The Future’s Registered Dietitian, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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