Many parents have a difficult time encouraging their children to eat healthy food. While many kids will eat fruit such as apples, oranges, and berries, even these very healthy foods can be too high in sugar for a healthy diet. Vegetables are almost universally dreaded by children who fear bland side dishes such as broccoli, peas, and carrots. There are several ways, however, to encourage healthy eating that bring flavor and nutrients to the table.
Get Kids Invested in Their Dining Decision
A good tip is to try the opposite of typical parenting by decree. Rather than making kids eat vegetables, start a dialogue in your home about the importance of healthy eating. If dad is 20 pounds overweight and hoping to incorporate more plant-based ingredients in his diet, children may see vegetables in a completely different light. Getting children involved in menu planning is another good tip. Ask them what vegetables they would like to see in their meals, for example, and let them play a role in selecting them. The idea is not to let them have their way but to give them a voice. They may have a valid reason for not liking a certain vegetable, but they might enjoy one that is just as healthy and can be added to your weekly menu.
Make Vegetables an Opportunity for Discovery
Most communities have farmers markets. If you haven’t gone before, make a family tradition out of stopping at your local farmers market and look for exciting new choices. This activity incorporates healthier food choices while providing a lesson on where our food comes from. Farmers markets are also fun communal areas, often with adjacent craft and prepared food vendors.
Another option is to explore local Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA). These provide local produce in a subscription box format that changes each week based on season and availability. It can be an exciting process to plan meals based on what surprises may be in the box during any given week. Many of these programs also provide community education about farming, including community gardens.
The opportunity for learning extends to the supermarket as well. Most markets have vast produce aisles with rotating stock of vegetables from all over the world. Make a game out of picking the brightest colored pepper or most unusual vegetables. You never know -- your whole family may learn to love something new and unique.
Try Different Preparation Methods
Vegetables present a cooking conundrum. If they are prepared through simple steaming, the results can be bland. Kids might be averse to vegetables that taste like nothing or douse their side dishes in an unhealthy amount of butter, salt, or sauce. Many vegetables benefit from grilling, pan sauteing, and oven roasting. Mix things up and try something different. If your kids love french fries, try roasting carrots on high heat. The texture is similar to a potato, and many kids like the sweetness of roasted carrots. You can even get weird and try unusual methods. Grill some avocados. Stir-fry beets and corn with green onions. Pan fry chickpeas for a crispy snack. You can also steam vegetables and add some fresh herbs.
As a Last Resort, Sneak in the Veggies
If your kids refuse new vegetable ideas, try sneaking some vitamins on their plate. Cauliflower can be chopped into small pieces and cooked like rice. All it needs is a few minutes in a saute pan, and you can serve cauliflower fried rice or risotto to your family. If your kids love mashed potatoes, try mashed cauliflower. If that’s too much, try a 50/50 mix of potato and cauliflower.
Vegetables are an important part of our diet. Children can benefit from the nutrition that vegetables provide. By getting them involved in meal planning, making vegetable buying exciting, and trying new dishes, kids are more likely to eat healthier.
Kris Louis is mom to two rambunctious boys. Her oldest is 10 and her youngest is 7. A former advertising copywriter, she recently created parentingwithkris.com, where she puts her skills to work writing about the trials and tribulations of parenting. Kris, her husband, and two boys live in Durham, NC.
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