How you Can Help your Kids to Eat More Vegetables
How do we help our children eat more vegetables is something that is felt world-wide.
Well we feel that it’s all about curb appeal. If you want to sell your kids on eating more veggies, then you definitely need vegetable curb appeal.
We all know that an overall healthy diet includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. What we don’t always know is how to prepare vegetables that our children will like.
Getting an early start to life-long healthy eating habits is critical. But the good news is, it’s never to late to learn these habits!
How many servings of vegetables do we need every day?
The USDA recommends we need anywhere from 1-3 cups of vegetables.
It sounds overwhelming, but this can be accomplished by adding vegetables to just about everything we cook at home.
2-3 year old – 1 cup of vegetables
4-8 year old – 1-1/2 cups of vegetables
9-13 year old girls – 2 cups of vegetables
9-13 year old boys – 2 1/2 cups of vegetables
14-18 year old girls – 2 1/2 cups of vegetables
14-18 year old boys – 3 cups of vegetables
For many parents, each day brings a new battle in ongoing vegetable wars waged with their children. The very word vegetable elicits cringes and groans. Vegetables have a rotten reputation.
As a parent, you can change your children’s views that vegetables are boring or outright yucky.
Stop and think about vegetables for a minute. What are your favorite vegetables and your favorite way to prepare them? Your appreciation for vegetables (or lack of) will certainly play a part in getting your children to eat them.
While fighting the daily food battles with your kids, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture. You should have two goals, one immediate and one long-term.
The first goal is winning that daily skirmish. What vegetable can you get your kids to eat today? With your child staring down a plate of soggy greens, his mouth clamped stubbornly shut, and the latest USDA recommendations of 3 to 5 daily servings crowding your mind, you may be ready to resort to extreme tactics.
Before you demand that your child sit at the table until he finishes all of his squash, take a deep breath. This tactic may cause the squash to disappear (one way or another), but you’ll lose the opportunity to ever convince your child that squash is actually good.
Which brings you to the second goal, one that is achieved with patience and subtlety, and one that is more important than getting the daily recommended servings.
This goal is to encourage your children to develop a healthy relationship with food which will determine how they eat for the rest of their lives.
Fortunately you can work on both goals at once. You can reinvigorate the menu of vegetables that you serve, embrace creativity in the kitchen, draw your kids in to the preparation of food, and tempt them to eat at the same time. Focus on the larger goals of improving your children’s attitudes toward food, and their involvement in choosing and preparing food, and the daily goal will see improvement.
SIMPLE CREAM OF BROCCOLI SOUP
(That your kid’s will actually eat!)
You will need 1 large skillet with a lid and 1 blender.
1 large head broccoli (use florets only and some of the stalk)
4-5 cloves garlic
2 small/medium onions, cut into pieces
1 carrot (if you have one) peeled and cut into a few small pieces
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups low fat milk, divided
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Add everything except the milk and cheese to your skillet and bring to a light boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Carefully pour contents of skillet into your blender with 1 cup of low fat milk and blend for about 1 full minute.
Return contents of the blender to the skillet. Add additional 1/2 cup of low fat milk and the cheese. Stir and simmer until soup is hot. Serve with additional sprinkle of cheese.
Comment: We love this soup for so many reasons. It is simple to prepare and extra nutritious because the vegetables cook right in the broth leaving all the nutrients in the soup. This soup can easily hide many vegetables if you have some left over. Try throwing in some peas or leftover cauliflower.
(great side dish your kids will love!)
1 small head cauliflower
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons chicken broth
salt & pepper
4-5 slices bacon
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash cauliflower well and scrape off any brown spots. Place the cauliflower on a cutting board and using a large knife chop off the stem of the cauliflower. Slice at the base of each stalk, and cut into small florets. Now cut away at the stalk of each floret until the cauliflower is in small pieces. Spray a 13″ x 9″ casserole dish with cooking spray. Place cauliflower pieces on the bottom of the dish. Pour the chicken broth onto the bottom of the baking dish (not on the cauliflower) one tablespoon at a time. Drizzle olive oil over top of cauliflower and salt & pepper to taste. Slice the bacon into 1″ pieces and arrange in between the cauliflower.
Bake covered for 15 minutes; remove from oven and give a little stir. Place back in the oven uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until cauliflower is tender. Remove from the oven and sprinkle cheese over all. Place back in the oven until the cheese melts. Remove from oven and stir.
** Watch when you bring this dish out of the oven. Everyone seems to appear out of nowhere and before you know it, it is gone before you can get it to the dinner table!
GREEN PEA & BACON SALAD
1 (12 oz) bag or box green peas, thawed
3/4 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
6-8 slices bacon, fried and chopped
2 hard boiled eggs diced
1/2 block sharp cheddar cheese cut into cubes (about 1 cup)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/3 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place all salad ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine. In a small bowl, mix sauce ingredients and stir through the salad. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.
To encourage your kids to eat and enjoy vegetables, try incorporating some of the following suggestions into your family’s routine.
- Reinvent your sandwiches. Sandwiches offer a huge creative opportunity to layer on vegetables, so pull your kids right in. Assemble a good quality of bread, your choice of meat and cheese, and a variety of vegetables, all sliced paper thin. There is no end to creative combinations. Try mashed avocado, sprouts, peppers, red onions, and mango with sliced chicken. Add tomatoes, olives, capers, basil, and red pepper to tuna, and serve open faced with melted sharp cheddar. Combine ham with brie, pesto, watercress, and cucumber. Layer prosciutto and fresh mozzarella with tomatoes, black olives, and arugula. Sandwiches can be inventive, colorful, healthy, and delicious too. Having your kids help with these creations will spark their interest and eventually, enthusiasm.
- This may come as bad news, but as the grownup, you will need to eat your vegetables too. Take a moment for a self-check. Do you model enjoyment of a wide variety of crisp, colorful vegetables? If not, you’ll never persuade your kids to eat them. The good news is that there are many types of vegetables, and many interesting ways to prepare each type, so there’s something for everyone to love. So dig in, and be a role model for your kids.
- Get rid of the same tired vegetables and recipes, or at least, give them a break. Most supermarkets offer hundreds of kinds of vegetables, familiar and exotic. Try something new. Watch a cooking show, or buy a food magazine and browse recipes to get ideas. Look for ways to use vegetables that you’ve never tried before, or novel ways to cook familiar ones.
- Banish soggy, bland, overcooked veggies. Vegetables should be tender or crisp. They are too often overcooked, resulting in a loss of nutrition, flavor, and crunch. Learn to cook vegetables well. Try new ways to prepare them, perhaps by lightly sautéing, quickly steaming, or grilling them for a change. Add fresh herbs and spices to boost flavor.
- Get your kids to help with dinner preparation. Put them in charge of a vegetable dish. Challenge them to prepare a vegetable they won’t normally eat, but that someone else enjoys. This helps kids think about a disliked vegetable in a different, nonthreatening way. Also, kids who help put a meal together are more likely to be interested in what’s on the plate.
- Experiment with the cuisine of different cultures. How about trying a world cuisine night once per week? Family members can take turns choosing the next country or region to try. Have your kids help plan the menu, shop for groceries, and prepare the food. Older kids and teens can go online to choose recipes. There are many cuisines that feature wonderful uses of vegetables. Consider trying Indian, Greek, Thai, Cuban, or Japanese. Sampling new cuisines will add variety to your diet, adventure to your dinner routine, and a fresh way of looking at vegetables.
- How about setting out ingredients for a family salad bar once per week? Have available greens, cucumbers, peppers, olives, cheese, croutons, chicken, tomatoes, avocado, raisins, apples, or anything that will make an interesting addition to a salad. Let everyone assemble their own salad creation.
- Look for ways to increase your kids’ connection with food. Little children are amazed that you can pick a tomato off the vine and bite right into it, warm from the garden. Teach them that vegetables do not come wrapped in plastic from the supermarket. They come from seeds, rain, earth, sunshine, and farmers.
- Involve children in all aspects of food preparation. From shopping to chopping, sautéing to serving, the more involvement they have, the more they are likely to sample dishes themselves. Connection to food happens in many ways. It doesn’t begin when you are staring at your plate. Work on your child’s relationship with food before it gets to the table.
Think about it this way. When you buy a bagged salad and serve it to your child, what connection does he have with that food? If he helped to wash, chop, and toss the salad, he has some ownership, and interest. If he also helped to choose the ingredients for the salad, he has an even greater investment in it. Best of all, if the tomatoes came from his own garden, from plants he helped to tend, then he has a real connection with the food in front of him. This kind of connection to growing, choosing, and preparing food fosters a lifelong appreciation that will inform his food choices going forward.
Here are some additional suggestions to get your kids to eat their vegetables today and to encourage a lifelong love of vegetables.
Vegetables don’t always come on the corner of a dinner plate. They can be part of dessert, like a delicious sweet potato pie!
Cut back on junk food. Don’t ban it outright because that only makes it more appealing. Most junk food is loaded with sugar and salt, and eating it frequently makes it more difficult for your children to develop a liking for the subtle flavors found in nature.
Kids love snack plates, especially attractive ones. Choose colorful, crisp veggies like red and yellow peppers, carrots, radishes, and juicy cherry tomatoes. Cut veggies into chunks. Add interesting cheeses and whole wheat crackers of different shapes. Finish with flourishes of hummus, mashed avocado, or other healthy dips, and place casually within reach.
Don’t make servings too large. Huge portions are daunting to kids. A heaping tablespoon of gingered sweet potatoes is sufficient. Think quality over quantity. Make them ask for more.
Think about color! Think about crunch! Color excites the eye, bringing visual appeal to the plate; but it is a good indication of nutritional benefits as well. Dark bluish greens, deep oranges, rich purples, and bright reds are some of the healthiest vegetable colors to choose. Let them be crisp, crunchy, or juicy. Arrange them so they are works of art.
Create food buddies, by permanently pairing your kids’ favorite foods with a sidekick vegetable. If your child loves cheeseburgers, always serve them with sweet potato fries. Chicken fingers might always come teamed with lightly sautéed, crunchy broccoli. Peanut butter sandwiches could go with cucumber and carrot slices. Start them associating food partners when they’re small, and they won’t bat an eye later.
Blend your own vegetable smoothies. A juicer is great, but a blender will work. Experiment with combinations, and don’t hesitate to mix veggies and fruits together. Carrots with pineapple are a great combination. Green vegetables like cucumbers, lettuce, and kale juice beautifully. Sweeten them with grapes, apples, or pears, or add fruit juice such as pineapple, mango, or orange.Don’t have time to juice your own? Buy bottled juices from the supermarket. Just watch out for sticker shock, because they can be pricey.
Load vegetables into sauces, stews, soups, and casseroles. Make chicken noodle soup with garlic, onions, celery, mushrooms, carrots, kale, and parsley. Spaghetti sauce can include garlic, onions, tomatoes, olives, capers, basil, peppers, mushrooms, celery, and more. Chili is another great dish containing multiple vegetables, as is any stir-fry, nachos, pizza, omelette, and quiche.
Experiment! Not only with vegetables, or methods of preparation, but with combinations and seasonings. Try curries, by combining turmeric and coriander with yogurt, cucumbers, lentils, and rice. Season sweet potato fries with cayenne pepper and fresh grated ginger. Make tomato salad with a sprinkling of fresh chopped basil, vinaigrette, salt and pepper, and a grating of parmesan cheese.
Help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food. Getting your kids to eat more vegetables is a lifelong family project. Stop viewing it as a battle, and see it as a family adventure. Never stop learning about and being delighted by food.
Share your curiosity and appreciation with your kids. Don’t get dragged in to the vegetable wars. Instead help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food, and a real liking for vegetables. Together, you can appreciate the farmers who grow vegetables, the rain and sun that fuel their growth and ripen them, the farmers’ market that offers them for sale, and Mom, Dad, and all the helpers who chopped, sautéed, and so beautifully arranged a lovely dish of colorful, scrumptious vegetables to be savored.
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