by Catherine Hinchcliff

5 ways caterers can encourage kids to eat veg!

5 ways caterers can encourage kids to eat veg!
When I was a child, my grandparents ran a green grocers in Blackley, Manchester, and as you’d expect eating your veg was certainly a top priority in our house! My parents had all sorts of strategies… like offering lots of little portions of a variety of colourful veg, to encourage me to try different types. They even sent me out on customer deliveries with my own veggie boxes to bring along for the ride!! But even then, I’d doubt my veg consumption met the five a day we’re now all advised to consume.

So what chance have today’s children growing up in a turbulent world got when it comes to meeting the government’s 5 a day targets and eating a healthy diet? The National Food Strategy Young People’s Consultation Report quotes the alarming statistic that if we don’t change trajectory, 25% of children born in 2020 will be obese by the age of just 21. Do children truly know what a healthy diet looks like? And how do they feel about it? Recently, spurred on by our sustainability strategy and our vision to be ‘a positive force for change’, we surveyed 1,000 kids aged 7-14, and 1,000 parents of children aged 4-13 so that we could find out.

Some of the news was positive in that 97% of children get the idea that “healthy food is good for me”, and 92% tell us that they “know what food is healthy and unhealthy”.

We didn’t have to look far to find the real challenge in our results, though. 30% of children said they disagree that “healthy food can be really tasty” and 54% of them say “healthy food is usually boring”.


So how do we get them on board?

On a positive note, and not surprisingly, 81% told us they enjoy eating fruit. It’s vegetables that are more of a challenge. Around half of children (48%) don’t enjoy eating vegetables, and 53% would prefer them to be served in a separate bowl to the rest of their food. Perhaps so that they can avoid them!

And parents concur with this. Almost 1 in 4 (23%) told us that their children “won’t eat vegetables”, and 50% said that it is very challenging (19%) or quite challenging (31%) to get their children to eat the recommended five portions of fruit or veg a day.

It’s really important that we understand which vegetables they DO like, so we can try and make getting their 5-a-day more appealing… So, let’s take a look at the best and worst in the eyes of children. Drum roll please….



5 ways to love your veg


I chatted these findings over with Chef Wayne Wright, who works closely with our education customers. We came up with 5 key pointers that spring to mind when catering for children…


1) Play to our strengths

Topping the popularity stakes with kids are: potatoes, carrots, sweetcorn, cucumber, peas and even broccoli!


2) 36% of kids say “I don’t like eating food I haven’t had before”

Those vegetables least liked or even disliked tend to be those that are less likely to be tried. Perhaps there is some mileage in the advice of my grandparents to give kids the opportunity to become better acquainted with veggies and they’ll learn to love them eventually. Using taster portions of different veg will not only make the plate more colourful and interesting but I’ll seem less overwhelming than a full portion of an unfamiliar vegetable.

Veg tapas might be the way forward here! And, of course, including vegetables as hidden ingredients is a tried and trusted way of getting kids accustomed to the taste whilst subtly helping them get more of their five a day.


3) 24% say “I like bright and colourful foods”

Colour may also be a factor, and one of the reasons (alongside their slightly sweeter taste profile) that carrots and sweetcorn are some of the most popular choices with children. Interestingly, some recent research has also shown that ‘tinkling, high pitched’ tunes can also make veg more palatable for children1 – think Tubular Bells or Carnival of the Animals.


4) 45% agree that “Trying new flavours and foods from around the world is exciting” (e.g. Chinese, Indian, Mexican)

Incorporating vegetables into some of the more exciting cuisines or trends that appeal to children’s sense of adventure is a great way introducing them. Popular cuisines are: American (84%), Italian (71%), Chinese (63%). New cuisines kids were most interested to try were: Tapas (22%), Greek (20%), French (20%), Brazilian (17%) and Japanese (17%). Many of these cuisines provide great opportunities for hidden veggies in the recipe.


5) And an overwhelming 85% “like British food” (e.g. fish and chips, pub classics, roasts)

Root vegetables like parsnips, turnips and swede which are in the main sourced from the UK, all tend to be at the wrong end of the popularity stakes. But with British being the most popular cuisine with kids, there may be opportunity to play up their Britishness and provenance, to broaden their appeal.


Kids 4 carrots

It’s clear that kids are not averse to carrots, as well as a range of different vegetables, and 91% recognise that “eating enough fruit and vegetables is important”. It’s not easy, but with a little creativity, leveraging exciting cuisines and dishes they are interested in, and by giving them the opportunity to become accustomed to a wider range of veggies, we may be able to bust those perceptions that healthy food is boring!


1Dr David Guedes et Al, from the ISCTE University Institute of Lisbon.

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