5 ways to get your kids to eat – and enjoy – their vegetables
What is it about a green vegetable that can send a kid into hysterics? I mean, it’s just a little stalk of broccoli. And peas! Peas are so cute, so innocent – so hated by kids.
Not all kids, of course. Some kids would actually choose carrot sticks over chips. The parents of these kids hear it a lot: “Oh wow, I wish my kid would eat like that.”
When my kids started table foods, they loved vegetables. I felt pretty smug telling people how they ate vegetables without complaint. Wiser moms warned me the day might come when the kids would stop being so compliant. And it did. Without warning, one of my girls went on a “plain food” kick. No sauces. No color. No vegetables. Her favorite foods comprised a short list: Cheerios, rice, pasta, bananas.
I used the sneaky methods you’ll find in Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious” and Missy Chase Lapine’s “The Sneaky Chef.” I mixed butternut squash in her macaroni and cheese, stirred pureed beets into her brownies. She didn’t suspect a thing, and I felt so much better knowing she was getting some good nutrition.
Vegetables, perhaps sadly, are a hot topic among moms. I was at a party recently when a mom mentioned she could barely get her son to eat anything besides cheese pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches. Another mom leaned in with her secret: She gives her 2-year-old son those packets of squeezable baby food. The other moms responded in an amen chorus.
I do it, too. When I feel like my kids haven’t had enough vegetables, I’ll give them a squeeze packet of Plum Organics or Gerber, in flavors like pea and pear or squash and apple. Yes, it’s not the ideal way to consume a vegetable. But the executives at these companies are smart enough to know parents will do nearly anything to get their kids to eat vegetables, even if it means sucking them out of a plastic pouch.
Sneaking in vegetables, whether through a fun-looking pouch or pureed into favorite foods, is good enough for the time being at my house. But, I know it’s not a permanent solution. So, I’ve taken the recommendation of pediatricians and dietitians, and I continue to place the vegetables on their plates. Sometimes they surprise me and actually eat a little. Sometimes they don’t touch them. There aren’t threats of time outs if they don’t eat them, but there are occasional bribes for dessert if they do.
I’ve learned a lot from moms with older children about how to get through this rough patch. Here are five ways you might find success in the produce aisle.
1. Take them to a farmers market.
When you let your kids be part of the process, they’re more likely to like the food. Let them choose the best-looking lettuce at the farmers market. Or, better yet, grow your own little garden where the kids can pick the food themselves. If you have a friend or neighbor with a garden, take the kids there to see that food has a life before it ends up in the grocery store.
2. Sweeten the pot.
One reason kids have an aversion to vegetables is the bitterness they sometimes taste. Choose cooking methods that lessen that bitterness. Roasting is one of the best ways to bring out the sweet, natural tastes of vegetables. Fill a roasting pan with carrots, asparagus, potatoes and green beans, and taste the difference between roasted vegetables compared to steamed.
3. Top the vegetables with something familiar.
Most kids love cheese, so sprinkle some Parmigiano-Reggiano over their roasted carrots. For strong-tasting vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli, make a béchamel, or white sauce, with the addition of a good white cheddar cheese, and then spread over the veggies.
4. Let them help you cook.
Just like the trip to the farmers market, kids are more likely to enjoy food when they’re part of the process. Let them peel the potatoes or slice celery with a dull knife while you prepare dinner.
5. Add an element of play.
Take a few minutes to make a smiley face out of sliced zucchini and cherry tomatoes. Or, place your stalks of broccoli on a plate to look like trees in a forest. Set out a plate of other foods they can add to the forest, such as cremini mushrooms, chives and bell peppers.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients, and mix well.
- Mold mixture into bite-size pieces, and place on baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time. Serve warm
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cooking for a minute or so, just until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and basil. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add the broccoli, and simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender. Season to taste. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Carrot and Zucchini Threads
- Shred the carrots and zucchini using a mandoline to create long, thin threads of vegetables.
- Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the carrots and zucchini, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. The vegetables are done once they have a little color or are crisp-tender.
- Serve in a little mound, or let the kids pile up and then eat the threads.