Brussels sprouts, broccoli, squash, lima beans, beets, cabbage. All vegetables that many people don’t care to eat. Yet these hated vegetables are also some of the most nutritious ones, packed with vitamins A, C, beta-carotene, and folate, and important nutrients like potassium and fiber. The cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts and broccoli contain a compound called sinigrin which some believe prevents colon cancer. Red beets and other purple vegetables are full of anthocyanins, the substance that gives them their dark red color and is also a potent antioxidant which affects a person’s health in a positive way on a cellular level. Lima beans are a great alternative source of protein and filled with dietary fiber as well. Squash, particularly the orange varieties, is a powerhouse of essential minerals, amino acids, and vitamins with less than 50 calories per ½ cup serving. With all these great reasons to eat vegetables, it should be easy to get the kids to eat them along with the chicken and mashed potatoes or the tuna noodle casserole at dinner. But it’s not. According to the USDA food pyramid, children need 1 to 1.5 cups of vegetables per day and adolescent/teens need 2 to 3 cups per day. Just how can you make sure your kids get enough vegetables in their diet and be assured that they are eating healthy? By trying out one or more of these simple tips that just might get junior to think twice the next time you serve Brussels sprouts at the table.
Change Your Approach As hard as it is to realize, kids learn their eating habits from their parents. And if you aren’t willing to try a particular vegetable or you turn your nose up at a healthy green salad, the kids will learn from your queue. If you want them to eat more vegetables, everyone in the house has to eat more vegetables. Don’t worry about meeting a specific serving size. Kids have different appetites and different tastes, depending on their age, the weather, or even their day at school.
The important thing is that they at least try the vegetable and you see them swallow it. Start in baby steps. At least it’s one more bite of vitamin A packed squash eaten today that wasn’t eaten yesterday. Make eating vegetables fun. Try eating a new vegetable each week. Buy vegetables according to their colors (green, orange, yellow, red, purple) . Figure out different ways to cook or serve your vegetables. Discover your neighborhood markets or farm stands and eat seasonal or local produce. Vow to give up deep fried potatoes and mushrooms as a form of eating vegetables and try out other ways to serve nutritious food to the kids.
Call Your Vegetables Names
Not many kids like to eat broccoli and cauliflower, but when you ask them to eat their “trees” and “clouds”, eating veggies becomes more of a game and not such a chore. Celery is a “boat” for ants, carrots are “snowmen’s noses”, Brussels sprouts are “mini cabbages”, and all orange squash is referred to as “Halloween pumpkins”.
Whether the kids call the green beans “witch fingers”, the corn “teeth” and peas “marbles”, if they eat them, it’s a success.
Cook Them Differently
Sometimes people (kids and adults) really dislike a vegetable, yet what they don’t like is how it’s cooked, not the actual vegetable. For example, you might like cooked cabbage, but hate coleslaw. Or love crunching on carrots but hate eating them out of a can. Vegetables are available in a variety of ways, so try out new ones until you find one your family likes. If all you ever have are canned vegetables, you may not know that they are also available in the freezer section of your market or in the fresh vegetable section. Try steaming your vegetables next time instead of boiling out all the flavor and nutrients. Or even better, skewer them on a shishkebob and cook them over the grill with the rest of your meal.
Vegetables take on different flavors, depending on how they are cooked. So experiment a little and find your kid’s favorite way to eat them.
Cover Them Up
Some of the favorite ways to eat vegetables can be the least healthy, particularly due to the fat content. But if used in moderation, adding a little butter, cheese, or cream sauce might be just enough to convince your toddler that those red beets are the sweetest things there are on his plate.
Mix It Up
When all else fails, it’s time for the little white lies involving vegetables. They aren’t really lies, it’s more like not telling the truth. This is when you hide the vegetables in your cooking. Some veggies hide better than others. Shredded zucchini and carrots disappear in cake or muffins; tomatoes, onions and peppers become favorite spaghetti sauce; onions, asparagus and mushrooms blend into their favorite quiche or “egg and cheese pie”. Artichokes on the other hand, are hard to hide (though I can slip them in on a homemade pizza).
No matter what method you choose, a little creativity and some diligence are all you need to get your kids to eat veggies each day and to feel good about the health of your family.
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes childrens and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at email@example.com.