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Creative Alternatives to Vegetables, Milk & Meat

Think outside the square 

Even fussy eaters can still get nutrients from a huge variety of sources so be aware of the basic nutritional requirements and then get creative. 

Remember NO single food is essential to a child's diet. A substitute for refused food can be found!

So relax, have fun with food and persevere. Understand that there will be some foods your child will honestly not like. Acknowledge those and work with your child to select some alternatives to ensure they are still getting a varied healthy diet.

Below are some of our ideas that may help:

My Child won’t eat Vegetables!!


SL30103.1.jpgIt is no surprise that the foods most disliked by children are vegetables. Vegetables are pretty essential in one form or another as they are jam packed with goodness. It is recommended that toddlers and children have 5+ portions of fruit and vegetables per day (2 fruit and 3 vegetables). Whole fruit and vegetables are best but there are a huge variety of other ways to cook and present vegetables.

Instead of replacing vegetables, try to experiment with a range of different vegetables and look at cooking/presenting them in creative ways.  Remember to persevere and continue to offer the refused food at a later date.

Just because your baby, toddler, or child doesn’t eat a food, it doesn’t mean they don’t like it….they may not have even tasted it!!

Children may need to be offered a new food 6-10 times before they taste it and, eventually, eat it.

Some Yum Yum Ideas:

  • Change the way veggies look and their texture – try vegetables mashed with cheese (a personal favourite of my daughters), made into patties, tempura veges or grated into a pasta dish. Mix it up and have fun.
  • Let your child choose – ask your fussy eater how they would like their veggies, make a pizza together where your child gets to choose the toppings (which include veges like tomatoes and tomato paste, mushrooms, onion, capsicum, eggplant and fresh herbs).
  • Soups, pastas or dips (guacamole) which have fruit or vegetables as a base…or maybe even baking (pumpkin scones or pumpkin pie).
  • Children may have a better sense of smell and taste than adults so try milder smelling and tasting vegetables such as pumpkin, avocado, potato, kumara, beans, carrots, corn and courgettes
  • Cooking can intensify smell so try tapa style raw fruit or salad vegetables and finger food (carrots, celery, avocado, cherry tomatoes). Maybe cut them into creative fun shapes ( use the fruit slicer) or try corn on the cob – the fun is in the eating!! 
  • Try canned, frozen or dried fruit and vegetables. The different textures may appeal to some fussy eaters. Some children find canned fruit and vegetables more desirable as they are softer and easier to chew. Recent evidence has shown that frozen and canned food retains the nutrients of fresh fruit and vegetables so this is a great option that is genuinely good for growing bodies.
  • Although it doesn’t replace the need for vegetables, another way to get loads of nutrients is fresh fruit. If vegetables are constant battle, you can feel reassured your child is getting goodness from offering them fresh fruit.
  • Broaden the experience of food by not only focusing on the eating but all the other things food has to offer. Think about food play, food preparation, growing food, cooking, the social aspects of food, food stories, food colours, textures and the learning potential around food. By doing this your child will develop an appreciation for vegetables and a more lifestyle orientated attitude towards it.
  • Don't Give Up - continue to offer plenty of vegetables - even if they are consistently not eaten.  By modelling good eating habits and consistently offering healthy food choices, your child will eventually try/eat vegetables.

My Child Won't Drink Milk!

Alternatives to milk

Milk is nutritious and an excellent source of calcium and protein for children.  For age specific milk requirements see the Age by Age Feeding Guide.

But some kids simply won't drink it...which can understandably worry their parents.  The good news is that there are a range of other foods that contain calcium and protein and therefore can substitute for milk in your child's diet.

  • Cheese  - Soft cheeses eg. Cottage cheese, feta, cream cheese, sour cream or ricotta cheese can be mashed into foods like potato, added to pastas/pizzas, made into dips or used in desserts.  Hard cheeses eg. Edam, tasty – cheese slices, grated and added to dishes or used to make sauces.  Chunks of cheese or even grated also make a great finger food!
  • Yoghurt – natural, unsweetened yoghurt is best but if they won't have that then the flavoured varieties are fine too.  You can make your own and it can be mixed with fruit or added to soups.
  • Milkshakes – add your favourite fruit (another good way to sneak in fruit too).
  • Ice cream or frozen yoghurt - just be aware of the sugar content.
  • Custards and milk puddings - again try to limit the amount of sugar to make these a healthy alternative.  Homemade versions can be a great option.
  • Milk can be added to cooked dishes – mashed potatoes, pancakes, pikelets...this will contribute to calcium and protein.



My Child Won't Eat Meat!

Alternatives to meat

x02_87135.jpgMany children choose to refuse meat.  Meat does contain valuable nutrients like iron and protein, but you don't need to fret.... plant proteins offer a nutritious alternative.

Milk, dairy foods, eggs, peanut or almond butter, baked beans bread, iron-enriched breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables, lentils and dried beans are all alternatives to meat.   What about home made lentil hamburgers with hummus, salad and chips as a fun alternative?

Consider however that animal and plant proteins are different in terms of what they provide:

You can meet your protein needs through plant sources but meat is undoubtedly the richest source of protein, iron and vitamin B12 (the nutrients non meat eaters are at risk of being deficient in).  Animal proteins are considered complete protein - meaning it provides all 9 essential amino acids, while some plant proteins may lack one or more essential amino acids. 

BUT, it is possible to get all of the essential amino acids by combining a variety of plant proteins together.  Remember, they don't need to be combined every meal, over course of a day or even week is fine.

  • Lentils with nuts or wholegrains
  • Chickpeas with seeds

Another point to remember is that the iron absorption from these foods is not as good as from meat so keep trying to include meat if possible. 
  • Keep offering small amounts of chopped chicken, steak, pork, lamb, or fish with meals. 
  • Using mince creatively can sometimes work – try it on pizzas, or in pasta. 
  • Some children like the entertainment value of chewing on a bone – so use this to your advantage… try giving them the lamb bone or offering chicken nibbles.



For more information and ideas