10 June 2024

How to get your kids to eat more vegetables – and how to do it cheaply

10 June 2024

Although most parents know eating vegetables is great for their kids, many still don’t serve them much – for two very good reasons.

Children often don’t like vegetables, and a lot of parents think they’re too expensive.

Indeed, research by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) for Healthy Eating Week (June 10-14), found 45% of parents believe healthy food being more expensive than unhealthy foods makes it harder to give their children healthy meal, although more than half (56%) said discounts on healthier foods would encourage them to provide a healthy diet for their children.

In addition, many parents said a major barrier to getting their children to eat vegetables was that children prefer processed foods (38%), and they simply refuse to eat vegetables (37%).

But the BNF is encouraging parents to have a Veggie Victory with their children, by aiming to serve them two types of vegetables at dinner time every night – and stressing that while parents should encourage children to try the vegetables, they shouldn’t be disheartened if they won’t eat them all.

Bridget Benelam, the BNF’s nutrition communications manager, points out that the Veggie Victory page on the BNF website offers a healthy eating reward chart to use with children, as well as a factsheet, recipes and ideas for vegetables on a budget, with a list of vegetables that are less than 50p a portion on average.

And she says that although some children may initially reject certain vegetables, parents shouldn’t stop serving them, as sometimes they might need to be offered between five and 15 times before a child accepts them.

“We all know it’s important for children to eat plenty of vegetables, but it can be really difficult when you make the effort to provide a healthy dinner and the vegetables are left on the side of the plate,” says Benelam, who points out that it’s important for parents to try and keep mealtimes as positive and stress-free as possible, encouraging children to try vegetables and praising them, even if they only try a little.

“Avoid telling children off or punishing them for not eating vegetables,” she advises.

Benelam says another way to encourage children to eat well is for parents to be good role models themselves, pointing out: “If you eat with your children and they see you enjoying vegetables, they are more likely to try them too.”

But although parents may be prepared to persevere with their children’s veg intake, what if they just can’t afford to buy the vegetables in the first place?

“When budgets are tight, it’s especially frustrating to waste food,” says Benelam. “The good news is there are more affordable options when it comes to buying vegetables.”

She says carrots and packaged beetroot are some of the cheapest options, at about 6p and 10p per portion each, and frozen vegetables such as peas, spinach, cauliflower and broccoli can be great value at less than 15p a portion. In addition, canned vegetables such as tomatoes, chickpeas and sweetcorn are decent value too, at around 10p-20p a portion.

But if you’re looking for real bargain veg, there are plenty of options, promises personal finance expert Jasmine Birtles, founder of Money Magpie.

“If you know where to look there are fruit and veg bargains all over the place,” she says, pointing out that Lidl offers a box of fruit and veg containing around 5kg of good produce that will keep the family going for a few days for just £1.50, and Morrisons has a wonky veg section of odd-shaped fruit and veg that costs a bit less than ‘normal’ shaped items, but tastes just as good.

She says: “I’m a big fan of ‘freeganism’, where you get to know when grocers put good food into bins outside the shop at the end of the day and you go in and pick it out for yourself. Most supermarkets don’t allow it but some independent shops are quite laid back about people taking stuff from their bins and even put them out on the pavement for people to access easily.”

However, Birtles says a rather more organised way to get free food is through your local ‘pantry’. She says: “Most towns across the UK have a pantry where local grocers and restaurants will leave food they can’t sell so that locals can pick it up.”

She says families can try looking on Facebook to find out where their local pantry is, and there’s also the charity UK Harvest, which has food hubs around the country where they distribute surplus food, and apps like Olio, where neighbours and local businesses give away spare food, and Too Good to Go, where you can get cheap food at the end of the day from cafes and supermarkets.

“Finally, of course, if you have a garden it’s really worth getting into growing your own,” suggests Birtles. “It can cost in terms of seeds and compost but it’s a great way to get really good tasting and nutritious fruit and veg. Even if you don’t have a garden you can grow them in pots in the house and on the windowsill.”

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