Can gadgets convince children to eat their vegetables?

Can gadgets convince children to eat their vegetables?

Samantha Lster
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With so many food choices available to children today, it’s often hard for parents to persuade them to tuck into the more healthy options. However, could the novelty of a gadget help to encourage young ones to eat the greens you’re trying to sell mum and dad? Samantha Lyster tests a few out with her daughter and friends

There was a time when my daughter would happily chomp through any dinner I put before her, but as she approaches her second birthday it’s getting harder to feed her new foods, while some are flatly refused.

Greens are a particular area of pain for me. Gracie will eat peas, but the spinach or broccoli she would once chew without pulling a face are now picked off the plate, and deposited on the floor.

I don’t know who said it first, but toddlers really can be like unreasonable drunks; there’s no logical argument to be had with them. I’m amazed at the swift turn from giggles to hysteria that a suggestion to eat a tiny piece of courgette can produce.

Like many parents in this situation we are relying on trusted favourite foods to ensure she has a full stomach, and thankfully these are still healthy options, but I fear the sands of foodie time are running out, and soon even these will be hitting the lino before they go anywhere near her mouth.

In an attempt to re-engage her with eating a range of foods, I’ve selected some gadgets to see if they can add an element of excitement to mealtimes.

This has been inspired by the news that sales of courgettes are on the up thanks to the spiralizer, a handy bit of kit that turns this variety of cucurbit into thin strands eaten as an alternative to pasta. According to Waitrose, sales of courgettes have increased by 13% on last year thanks to bloggers such as Hemsley + Hemsley raising awareness of the versatility of these ‘hero’ vegetables.

Waitrose, and Marks & Spencer, also report increased sales of spring greens and kale, which the retailers believe is in part down to the popularity of juicers and smoothie makers.

Now I’m well aware that some experts will not approve of my turning to the smoothie as a strategy to smuggling vegetables into a child’s diet. It’s not a long-term solution, and, ideally, I don’t want to use subterfuge to get Gracie to eat her greens.

However, to encourage my daughter to eat a portion of spinach these days would take saint-like patience, so if I can do it through a liquid lunch, I’m all for it.

Gracie’s friends, brothers Monty, aged four, and Ozlo, aged two, are also taking part in this experiment, as their mother Sacha Kenward is dealing with a few food issues too.

“The problem is that if Monty doesn’t like something, Ozlo will then also not like it, and I cannot get him to even taste it,” she explains. “They are good with their food, but I’d like them to try a few more vegetables.”

With that in mind, into the Bella Extract-Pro blender, £59.95 from Argos, goes a handful of spinach, some spring greens, an apple, half a banana and a teaspoon of cashew nut butter. None of the children have allergies, but at the risk of stating the obvious, you should check with other parents before distributing food containing nuts among your offspring’s friends.

The bright green mixture is duly handed round, and while Gracie slurps her way through it, Monty is not so sure, and therefore Ozlo refuses more than a sip too. Thankfully this does not put Gracie off, and I’m pleased she asks for more.

I’m sure if we had more time there are other combinations of vegetables and fruit that we could have tried until we found one that Monty liked, and the good thing about smoothies is that you can add supplements to them to help boost their nutritional qualities, such as mushroom or baobab powders.

It’s also a fuss-free way of ensuring that not only is your child getting vitamins and minerals, but also that all important fibre – something a juicer just doesn’t offer. And the Bella blender is far easier to clean than the juicing machine that’s at the back of one of my cupboards for the exact reason that it’s a faff to wash all the bits.

Next up is another veggie smuggling ruse, this time by asking the children to help make mini pies. Only these pasties are baked on sticks to resemble lollipops using the Pie Pops kit, £24.95 from Prezzybox.com.

The children take turns cutting out the pastry – all pushing to get involved with the task. Monty is keen on this process, and watches intently as I fill the pastry with a pre-cooked mix of mushroom and sweet onion, and we put together the pie using the kit provided.

The pies certainly look impressive when they come out of the oven, although I have already spotted a flaw when one of them slides off its stick – I didn’t use the recommended egg wash that would have made them cling a bit more.

Nonetheless Gracie and Ozlo tuck into them, waving them around. I like to think the novel design is the reason they are eating them. Had I just put a mushroom and onion pie on a plate I doubt there would be such enthusiasm.

The pie maker is a winner, as is the giant carrot sharpener. The Koroto, £9.99 from Qwerkity, is Monty’s favourite, and as both of the boys already love carrots it was more of a fun way to prepare this vegetable.

One area of contention among parents is the inevitable discovery of tasty but not exactly healthy snacks. To give in or not to crisps that is the question often asked by mums over a play-date coffee.

With the fruit and vegetable crisp maker, £24,99 from Qwerkity, any parental guilt is assuaged because this gadget allows you to create your own crisps in the microwave without oil.

I was a bit sceptical when presented with a silicone disc with holes punched into it, but I gamely sliced up the (organic) potatoes – taking a bit of skin off my finger in the process, so I would advise a responsible adult does this bit.

After letting the slices dry out, I placed them on the disc and into the microwave for the allotted time. Sacha and I were both surprised at how ‘crisp’ like the result was, and later I tried pears and found that these too looked as though they had come out of a packet.

The children did not appear to notice the difference, and Ozlo was happy to munch his way through a bowl of them. Another hit with the kids.

I imagine there are parents reading this, and wondering whether it is worth spending the money and time on gadgets simply to provide a plate of food. My view is this – there is so much money spent on toys that children play with only a handful of times before they’re discarded; I’d rather use that money on items that will engage Gracie in food preparation.

When she’s older, I’ll explain as best I can the good reasons for eating healthy food but until she can take that onboard without protest, I’ll carry on stashing produce into her diet via the power of pie pops.

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