According to the CDC, the majority of children don’t eat enough vegetables. But if you’ve ever tried to get a young child to eat their veggies, you probably know it often involves bargaining, bribery, and lots of wasted food.
Kids are usually more interested in other items on their plate than the nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and many parents struggle with this at mealtimes. If it’s happening in your home, know you’re not alone! Sometimes you have to be creative to get over this hurdle and make sure your little ones are getting the super important vitamins and minerals they need. Hopefully these tips and tricks will help you sneak a bit more produce into your little one’s belly so they can grow up big and strong.
Be a Good Role Model and Be Patient
Perhaps the most important tip of all is to model eating behaviors you want your kids to pick up on. If everyone else in the house is eating well and eating the same foods at the table, your little one is more likely to follow along. Sometimes children can be overwhelmed when presented with too many choices, so limiting options can actually cause less stress. Even though it can be frustrating at times, try your best to be patient. It can take several attempts with the same food before a child will begin to like it.
Presentation is Key
Research has shown strategic food pairings are a critical part of getting kids to eat more veggies. If presented with a plate of tater tots, chicken fingers, and carrot sticks, you know they are going straight for the tots or chicken fingers! Starting meals with a plate of veggies only (while kids are at their hungriest) can be a surprisingly effective strategy. It was found to quadruple the amount of vegetables eaten because it makes the choice much easier; vegetables or… vegetables! After they’ve eaten their fill of veggies, other items can be served.
Let Them Help in the Kitchen and Garden
If your little ones are old enough to be in the kitchen, invite them to help make meals. Even if it’s just mixing sauce, grating cheese, topping a pizza, or washing veggies, they will be more invested and interested in the end product. Let them choose colorful veggies to top pizzas with or ask them to help stuff taco shells with corn and bell peppers. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, teach your kids where vegetables come from and let them help with picking the veggies. Even if you just have a few herbs in your kitchen window, watching them grow and then getting to eat them is really interesting and fun for children.
Blending fruits and veggies is a great way to turn them into something unrecognizable that seems like a treat! Making a delicious, brightly colored smoothie allows you to sneak in lots of nutrient rich produce as well as other healthy protein powders or supplements. With the right ratio of fruit to vegetable, it will taste sweet while packing a super healthy punch. If your child can tolerate nuts, you can also add peanut or almond butter for a boost of protein and a creamy texture.
You can find a bounty of smoothie recipes online, but my daily go-to is an easy one to start with. Blend one frozen banana, half an avocado, half a cup of frozen blueberries, a handful of frozen spinach, a spoon of peanut butter (optional), a splash of vanilla extract and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Add in about two cups of liquid (I use either almond milk or water)and blend until smooth. You can also add a scoop of Vega protein powder in the flavor of your choice or a couple of soft dates to sweeten it. This smoothie is so creamy and cold you could almost put it in a bowl and eat it like ice cream!
You can make smoothies even more appealing by asking your little one to pick the color of the smoothie they’d like. If you stock up on a few different colors of berries and fruits, you can offer up a rainbow of fun, which adds a little magic to the mix.
I’m a big fan of mixing veggies into sauces. A blended sauce means there is nothing your little one can pick out and they will just focus on the delicious gluten-free pasta and gobble it up. I find it always works better to do this with pre-roasted veggies. I like to throw chopped zucchini, sweet onion, button mushrooms and a few heads of garlic on a baking sheet, toss them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and bake them at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Take however much of the mixture you like and blend it with a red sauce. The veggies add a delicious mild flavor to the sauce but the consistency and tomato flavor hide them perfectly! Spoon the sauce over your favorite gluten-free pasta and watch it disappear.
It may not seem like it would taste good but surprisingly, certain vegetables mix really well into baked goods. Explore recipes like zucchini bread, morning glory muffins, sweet potato waffles, avocado pudding, and black bean brownies. Sneaking veggies into baked goods is a great way to increase your child’s fiber intake without them even noticing.
For just a few dollars you can pick up wooden popsicle sticks and a popsicle tray (in any shape you like) and make homemade fruit pops. Knowing exactly what’s going into a frozen treat will ease your mind and your kids will get excited about popsicles when really they are just eating fruit! You can make more of an icy pop using just fruit and a bit of honey and water, or blend in some coconut milk or yogurt for a creamer pop. Have fun and experiment with different types of fruits or poke around online for fun recipes. It’s an incredibly easy way to make fruit fun and refreshing.
By Emily Freedner