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Let’s face it: Lots of kids hate vegetables. But parents of a fussy eater need not feel alone in the struggle to get kids to eat healthy.
There are different schools of thought regarding healthy eating for kids. Some health experts disdain the approach of sneaking vegetables into foods, because they feel it does not encourage a positive relationship with vegetables. Others--parents mostly--feel fed up and frustrated and turn to “sneaking” as a last resort. Trickery works with housework, why not with eating habits, too?
There’s nothing to say you can’t use both approaches to deal with a fussy eater, though. Have an open dialogue with your kids about vegetables and other healthy foods, while sneaking veggies in here and there to ensure they meet daily serving requirements.
Kids require from one to three cups of vegetables (ditto for fruits) per day, depending on age. A 2-year-old would need one cup.
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Communicating With Kids
"Nutritionist to the Stars" Dr. Oz Garcia says, "Kids tend to not like certain foods because their palettes haven’t evolved yet. The earlier a parent implements vegetables into their children’s diets, the earlier the child will learn to like these foods. Experimentation is key. If a child doesn’t like broccoli initially, give him or her carrots. If he doesn’t like carrots, give him green beans. Another great way to experiment with vegetables is by finding different ways to cook them. If your kid doesn’t enjoy veggies raw in a salad, they might like it pureed or in a stir-fry."
Kathy Wright, Certified Nutritional Consultant, educator, author of "Your Health in Your Hands" and mother of five says, “Cooking with children and getting them involved in the effort to get the family eating healthier is the best approach. I don’t like hiding vegetables in dishes and tricking the kids. This is never a good way to establish trust.
After talking about healthy eating with your kids, get them to put that into action with some fun eating games. Here are a few that have worked for my family:
- Crunching Contest: A couple nights each week, friends and I get our kids together for a group meal and we encourage the kids to have “crunching” contests with raw veggies. The kids really get into it as they chomp down on their carrot sticks and compete for the loudest crunch.
- Germ Party: We have explained germs to the kids in the simplest terms--if they eat healthy, the germs go away. If they refuse to eat their veggies, we say, “Germ party at [insert child’s name here]’s house!” It motivates the kids in a fun way to eat well. This is also a very helpful tactic when talking about hand washing and other healthy habits. Now at mealtime, the kids love to ask, “What do the germs say to spinach?” as they eat their spinach. Parent participation is required here: We take on the role of the germs and scream and run away, which helps the kids understand that the germs REALLY hate spinach and want nothing to do with the kids who eat it.
- Dipping: Many kids love to dip their foods, so experiment with different healthy but tasty dressings and dipping sauces for their vegetables.
- Be creative: Make a fun vegetable display--like a smiley face--on their plate.
Even if kids pretend not to like eating healthy, all veggies are not created equal. Some recipes use vegetables in ways almost guaranteed to please even the fussiest eaters.
A recent discovery of mine is fried kale chips: Cut up some kale, drizzle it with canola oil and a little salt and bake at 350 degrees until crispy. You can also do this with parsnips and sweet potatoes.
Experiment with making your own dips by combining yogurt, hummus or light sour cream with spinach, cucumbers, carrots and artichokes with some spices for a yummy, healthy dip.
Another favorite healthy recipe that is really easy to prepare is a smoothie with lots of frozen fruit, virgin coconut oil and spinach: In a blender, puree one frozen banana, one cup of frozen strawberries, a tablespoon of coconut oil, one cup of spinach, ½ cup of unrefined apple juice and ½ cup of coconut ice cream.
This is delicious, nutritious and fills them up. Let them help wash and add the ingredients so they know what they are eating.
Another easy and delicious recipe for dinner is anything Italian with a good marinara sauce that you can add cooked spinach, escarole, watercress, broccoli or broccoli rabe to. Adding fresh veggies to canned sauce is a great way to give it a healthy boost.
Find more recipes at http://www.kathywright.com
If All Else Fails, Sneak!
Whether you want to supplement your kid’s vegetable intake or if your kids just flat our refuse to eat vegetables, try these “sneaky” options.
- Burgers, meatloaf: Mix spinach, finely grated carrots, kale or other vegetables into lean ground beef for a healthier hamburger.
- Burritos, empanadas, calzones: Stuff these with your kid’s favorite protein, then add beans and vegetables to the mix. Lots of kids like foods they can pick up and eat, so this is a great way to sneak in some vegetables.
- Spinach, zucchini or carrot bread: Even if you don’t fancy yourself a baker, you will surprise yourself with these tasty, simple breads. My favorite recipes are in Mark Bittman’s "How to Cook Everything" and the classic "Joy of Cooking."
Get Professional Help
Get extra sneaky with The Sneaky Chef, Missy Chase Lapine. Creator of the wildly successful "Sneaky Chef" series of books, including The New York Times bestseller "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals." Her favorite “sneaky” recipes are her Mac n' Cheese Muffins (sneakily fortified with pureed carrots and sweet potatoes for energy) and her Quick Fix for Store-Bought Chocolate Pudding: Simply whip ripe avocado into the pudding. It makes it deliciously creamier, and gives kids long lasting energy.
Exactly Why Are Vegetables Important, Anyway?
We all think we know why vegetables are important for kids, but just in case, here’s some helpful info from Dr. Garcia, who wrote the wonderful and informative book "The Food Cure for Kids."
“The more vegetables a child eats, the greater the amount of phytochemicals in their bodies, which is extremely important for building strong bones and healthy brains."
Explain to your kids why you are adding green vegetables to the dishes: They are high in calcium, magnesium and potassium, which work together to help you absorb nutrients, build strong bones and think clearly. Green is the color of health and purifies the blood. When you eat green foods, bacteria and viruses are less likely to set themselves up in your body and you stay healthy.