How to get your family eating more vegetables

Vegetables don’t have to lead to tears and tantrums at the dinner table - and I don’t just mean the children! 

Vegetables are a vital source of fibre, slow release energy, vitamins and minerals so if you or those around you are averse to their daily veg, it’s time to get some strategies in place to help boost veggie intake. 

Evidence shows there are significant health benefits, including improved immunity, to children getting at least five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Even though vegetables are packed with nutrition, they are low in calories and fat, and they tend to be filling. Substituting high-calorie snack foods with fruit or vegetables can help our children maintain a healthy weight. A healthy diet including plenty of vegetables may help even help your child’s concentration, which is always a good thing! Many studies have shown how vitamins, proteins and healthy fats are necessary for healthy brain development and cognitive functions.

To meet the extra demands of growth, children have higher energy and nutrient requirements. However, as any parent knows, as children get older they start to take more control over their food choices - some earlier than others! If they are having school meals it's important that they also know some of the good things to choose. The five-a-day campaign is an ideal way to get them involved, especially if you make it into a fun game to reach the daily target. 

Bored with broccoli?

Nobody likes menu monotony, include a variety of vegetables, try not to get stuck in a rut. Not only will this help to keep things interesting but different fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients so it pays to mix it up. Eating with the seasons is one of the easiest way to achieve this. 

Forget fancy too. Locally grown, seasonal vegetables are the best way to get maximum nutritional benefit without breaking the bank. Superfoods and exotic fruits and veg are great but you can get just as much goodness in a good old British cabbage and blackberries as you will in kale and goji berries! Just make sure you’re getting a variety of fruit and vegetables everyday - aim to eat a rainbow.

Making veg fun

Growing simple veg at home in your garden or window box is great fun and can provide your family with plenty of nutrition. Even a few herb plants that children can pick at cooking or dinner time helps to get them more engaged. 

Here are a few tried and tested ideas to help give vegetables their rightful place in the daily menu - don’t forget we eat with our eyes first and a bit of effort into how you present those vegetables can go along way in encouraging your kids to eat them! 

  • Disguise vegetables in a Bolognese or pasta sauce that you whizz in a blender or food processor before adding to wholemeal spaghetti.
  • Try swapping potato mash for cauliflower mash. Simply steam a chopped head of cauliflower until soft. Allow to cool slightly, then pulse in a food processor with a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of cream cheese, and couple of pinches of salt. Process until it reaches a creamy consistency. Add a small amount of milk or water if necessary. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  • Get kids to help you make a homemade pizza, adding vegetables such as sliced peppers, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn and mushrooms (with mozzarella balls) to make a design of their choice. Use a wholemeal, thin pizza base for the healthiest option. 
  • Make a mini rainbow salad that actually looks like a rainbow: use diced red peppers for the red, cooked or raw carrot slices for the orange, sweetcorn for the yellow, cucumber or green pepper for the green, and chopped red cabbage for the purple. Serve with a dip such as hummus or guacamole. 

Healthy soups with oatcakes on the side are a tasty and delicious way to sneak in some vegetables too. Here’s my tomato soup recipe that’s a winner with adults and children alike.

Protein boosted tomato soup - Serves 4

The addition of protein-rich butter beans to this simple tomato soup makes it more filling and satisfying!  Experiement with ingredients to make this your own….

2 large onions, chopped
2 tbsps olive oil
230g butter beans, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed, or two x 200g tins, drained and rinsed 
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes or 2 x 700g jars passata
2 bay leaves
2 litres vegetable stock (low-sodium variety or home-made)
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Fry the onion in the olive oil until soft but not browned.  Here, you can add some carrots, celery or deseeded chopped chillies if you want to jazz it up a bit.
  2. Add the butter beans, tomatoes or passata, and the bay leaf, and cook for 3 minutes more. 
  3. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes for pre-cooked beans or 1− 1 1/2 hours for uncooked beans.
  4. Remove the bay leaf and process the soup in a liquidiser or blender until smooth.

This is delicious with some crumbled goat’s cheese on top and a few oatcakes on the side.

Simple veggie side dishes 

Parsnip Puree - serves 2-4 little people

Naturally sweet parsnips contain B-vitamins and fibre to support your child’s health

3-4 parsnips, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp full fat milk or cream
20g butter
Salt and pepper to season
Half a handful chopped parsley

  1. Add the parsnips to a sauce pan and fill with water and add a pinch of salt. 
  2. Bring to boil and let the parsnips cook until tender - about 15-20 min. 
  3. Drain off the water and add the parsnips to a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Mix until you get a smooth, creamy consistency. 
  5. Serve and topped with parsley. 
Creamy spinach - serves 2 little people

Spinach is a great source of iron and vitamin C to keep your kids in tip top health

1 x 250g packet of spinach (fresh or frozen)
1 x 150ml tub sour cream
1-2 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper to season

  1. Add spinach to a large saucepan and heat up on low to medium heat (If using frozen spinach make sure to defrost and drain all water).
  2. Mix in the sour cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook gentle for a few minutes until very hot - do not boil!

Rainbow veggie topper - serves 2-4 little people

This sweet salad doesn’t so much hide veggies as celebrate them! It contains many of young children’s favourite flavours so can be a success where other bitter vegetables may fail!

5-10 cubes of roasted butternut squash 

1 handful of fresh spinach
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
1.5 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
1 apple, diced (skin on)
10ml extra virgin olive oil 
½ lemon, juiced
Sea salt and black pepper

  1. Mix together the squash, spinach, cherry tomatoes, sesame seeds and diced apple in a large bowl.
  2. Pour over the olive oil and lemon juice and mix well.

Red sauce - makes a large batch which can be frozen

Ideal with pasta or for bolognese. Easy to make and can be batch cooked and frozen. Adapted from a BBC Good Food recipe with just a little extra hidden veg! 
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 small courgette, grated
2 carrots, chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped
4 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes

  1. Gently cook the onion, celery, carrots and leek until soft, about 20 mins. 
  2. Add the peppers and grated courgette and cook for another 10 mins. 
  3. Add  tomatoes and simmer for at least 20 minutes, ideally up to 1 hr. 

 It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to get more veggies into the family’s diet, whether overtly or ‘sneaked in’!  Next time you’re in the supermarket, get the kids to help with the shop by hunting out the different vegetables and weighing them.  Or if you’re at the local garden centre, pick up a few packets of seeds to plant.  Keep on sharing pictures of your progress #NaturallyEnergising, and look out for the next installment where it’s all about lunch!  

Amanda Hamilton

About the author

Amanda Hamilton
Nutritionist and broadcaster

Amanda is one of the UK's most established nutritionists, with a career that has included three best-selling books (with a new title coming out in January), an internationally syndicated TV series and regular slots on BBC radio. She runs her signature detox and weight loss retreats in leading spas across Europe. But most of all, she's a busy working mum who is passionate about healthy, tasty and wholesome food.