Some parents are blessed with GREAT eaters! I had a mother in my office recently who said that her kids chew on Kale for fun! I had a moment of envy rush over me! For the rest of us, who are not blessed with naturally great eaters, creativity is the key to making sure our children have a well-rounded diet, most of the time.
Here are some of the tricks that I use at home. If you have others, feel free to email me so I can share them with the many desperate parents in my office and I can use them myself! I absolutely recommend always offering your children fresh veggies throughout the day and with almost every meal even if you "know" they are going to turn them down. Sneaking them into foods helps to get them in but it doesn’t teach our kids how to make good choices on their own. Also, having a house that is a sugar-free zone can go a long way. When children are old enough to know they have other options they are more likely to put up a fight for them. Keeping your house free of simple carbs and sugars helps our children develop good eating habits and it’s not so bad for us either (especially when your kids have you reaching for the chocolate)! When you feel like you are doing all the right things but are still concerned about your child’s veggie intake, try the following…
1. Smoothies and "Ice cream." My son Leo's favorite "ice cream" is frozen mango, coconut milk, and spinach. Who wouldn't like that? It works wonders for getting those fresh leafy greens in. Your child won't eat green things? Add blueberries or beets! Frozen banana is the perfect smooth food to make an ice cream with, add beets and you have frozen pink ice cream! Color matters to kids!
2. Dips. Kids love to dip their food! Whether it is carrots dipped in applesauce, yogurt, or almond butter, my son will eat a vegetable or anything for that matter if he gets to dip it. Dips can also be good protein sources, like hummus and bean dip or nut butter. There was one night that my son wanted to dip his broccoli in his almond milk. It didn't make for the best manners at the table but he ate all of his broccoli. I guess we can work on that next time.
3. Muffins. In many recipes, applesauce can be substituted for egg. Also, sweet potato or blended carrots can be substituted for much of the sugar in a recipe as well. Look online for recipes like sweet potato muffins or pancakes. You can also add shredded carrots, spinach, chopped kale, or a greens powder to just about any baked good as well. In our house we often make "cookies" using sweet potato, almond flour, greens powder, and coconut oil. "Sure kiddo, you can have a second dessert!"
4. Greens powder. For the pickiest of children, having a good greens powder (without stevia or sweeteners) on hand can be a real help. We make "pesto" with greens powder and I also will hide it in tomato sauce when Leo is turning down "chunky" food!
5. Morning scrambles. This is my favorite way to eat veggies in the morning. A scramble with eggs and/or cheese or tofu makes for a high protein breakfast with lots of veggies in the mix. Tomatoes, basil, garlic, greens, and even left over root vegetables from the night before, all make for a healthy scramble. Add some avocado on the top and put over rice or quinoa and you have a great breakfast, complete with protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, and healthy whole grains!
6. Funny veggie faces! Come on adults, who doesn’t want to eat the nose off a clown?! Kids respond well to fun food, especially toddlers!
7. Make your own sauce! Having a professional style blender in our house goes a long way for getting those healthy foods into our kids. We will often make a mixture of fruit and veggie "sauce". Just like applesauce but different. Our favorite recently has been frozen figs (we get them from Trader Joes), water, and either cucumber or green beans. Squashes are so nutrient dense and make great sauces! When blended well, a "fig sauce" can be used as a dip or eaten with a spoon and it's a great place to hide your children’s supplements, like probiotic and fish oil if you use them!
8. Gardening and Chef’s Helper! Getting children involved with the growth and/or preparation of food can be a great way to get them excited about it. Take them to the farm or better yet, grow your own tomatoes and green beans! You may find that out of context, your child won't be so picky about which veggies he or she will eat. They may make an exception to “liking” Brussels sprouts if they are able to help wash them and stir them in the skillet!
With all these great tools, please don’t forget the importance of continuing to model great eating habits and offering your children fresh whole vegetables right out of the garden if possible. Children who are connected to the earth and their food supply will be more likely to make good choices in the future when it comes to food, even if it seems like you are currently losing the battle. Enjoy those veggies!