One of the biggest struggles parents often face is getting their kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. As part of National Nutrition Month, I'm sharing 10 tips and tricks I use to get my three boys to eat more of the good stuff. I want to hear your ideas too! Leave them in the comments and I'll add some of my favorite reader comments to the list.
1. Every little bit counts. A handful of kale in the smoothie. Onions and mushrooms in the lasagna. Shredded zucchini in the muffins. Every little bit counts. It's good to keep encouraging your kids to try more new things, but don't beat yourself up your kids only eat carrots and broccoli covered in dressing. You're looking for small victories here, not necessarily for your kid to order the Vegetarian's Delight on the menu. 2. Freeze it (or leave it frozen). I learned this gem of a tip from my friend Courtney at Whole Diligence when my kids were little. My kids won't touch cooked peas, but will down a cup of them if they are frozen. I've also heard of kids loving frozen mango pieces, frozen green beans, and frozen grapes. Plus serving frozen peas out of the bag is just about as easy as food prep gets.
3. Juice it. My kids normally wouldn't eat two cups of kale and three carrots, but they will drink them. The kids love to smoosh the food into the juicer (we have this one) and watch it transform into "Green Power Juice!" as we call it in our house. They have fun trying new add-ins (ginger? beets? celery?) and watching their muscles grow as they drink it. You have to look closely, but I can always see it. ;) 4. Grow them. Fruits and veggies are more exciting and often better tasting when you grow them yourself. Start small if you're a gardening newbie (like me) and get your kids' input on what you should plant. Put them in charge of watering, weeding, and picking produce for lunch or dinner.
5. Cook it differently. Kids don't like raw carrots? Try them sauteed or roasted. In teriyaki sauce or with herbs. Cut into strips or circles or chunks. Shaved into coleslaw. It's a good exercise for the cook of the house too. Often we get in ruts, cooking things the same way we've always made them. Kids are a good motivation to mix things up. (Ready to start? Here are three new ways to cook carrots - Roasted Carrots with Tops, Carrots With Gremolata, Roasted Carrots with Cumin Yogurt)
6. Put them in charge. A few weeks ago I told my 7-year-old I needed a new way to cook broccoli. I plopped him in front of Epicurious.com with the search results for broccoli and told him to pick one that sounded good. Later that week, we tried this recipe which wasn't dramatically unique or the holy grail of broccoli cooking, BUT...it was kid-chosen and kid-eaten without complaint. 7. Make it visible. Apples in a bowl on the table. Tangerines on the counter. A glass container of whole carrots at eye-level on the fridge. When you make the good choices more visible (and keep the chips, crackers, etc out of easy reach), you help the kids make better choices. Parents too.
8. Have a taste-off. Occasionally when I make something new, I tell the kids upfront that it's a new recipe and that I need their feedback. A solid review requires adequate testing so there is a three-bite minimum. I ask them to think about the flavors, consistency, spices and presentation. Opinions must be kept to themselves until the finally judging at the end of the meal where each child gets to give his opinion. I've found this to make their feedback much more nuanced - no "Ick - it was gross!" but "I like the crunch, but not the sauce" or "The flavor wasn't bad, but I think I'd like it more if it was less spicy." They feel that their opinions were heard, I get to find out way to improve the dish for my family, and I still got them to try a new dish with veggies. 9. Make it the only choice for snacks. My kids seem to be constantly hungry, but right after school and right before dinner they'll reach a hunger frenzy where they'll eat just about anything. Yes, they'll down a plate of cheese and crackers or chips and salsa if I put it out, but they'll also devour a plate of cucumbers, blueberries and jicama because they are starving and that's the only pre-dinner option. Veggies for the win!
10. Talk about the nutrients. Beets are high in betaine which is good for cardiovascular health. Cabbage is a good source of fiber. Swiss chard ranks high in potassium which is important in regulating blood pressure and the health of your kidney. When you talk about the different nutrients that different fruits and vegetables have and why your body needs them, you move the discuss from "mom trying to make me do something I don't want to" to "getting my body the fuel it needs" to grow, play soccer, ride horses, pass that test. And finally... Remember that it's okay if they don't love every vegetable. My husband refuses to eat zucchini. I have bad memories of lima beams. It's normal for people to have a food that they just don't like. When we force kids to eat and like every single vegetable we serve, we gloss over the fact that there are likely fruits and veggies that we probably don't like to eat too. How do you get your kids to eat more veggies? Tell us in the comments below.
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