Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Enjoying Your Veggies

Neither of my kids are crazy for vegetables. Sometimes I wonder if I did something wrong, as a mother, to make them this way. More likely, it's just their palates, along with the influence of their peers. Either way, like most parents, I try to find ways to make vegetables more interesting and appealing to kids.

Younger children, as I've mentioned before, have very simple palates. They tend to like foods that don't have a strong taste, and are prepared without too much hooplah. You know hooplah, right? It's that stuff you find in all those cooking magazines and cooking shows--the stuff that makes us as adults go, "Wow...I need to try that!" Yeah, that's hooplah. Kids don't like that stuff, in general.

In my experience, there are a few ways to make food more enticing and interesting to children. The first way, as mentioned above, is keep a simple palate in mind. Baby carrots and dip, tossed salad with dressing, or corn on the cob are tried and true favorites for young children. A caveat on the carrots: watch out if your child is very young--these can be a choking hazard! As always, make sure your child is seated and you're there when s/he is eating; this is critical to ensure that your child is not at risk for choking.

Another way to get kids interested in eating their veggies is by growing them. Children are fascinated by the process of growing fresh vegetables, from planting seeds to weeding and watering, to picking the vegetables and tasting them raw as well as cooked. Herbs are also excellent to explore with kids. The great thing about an herb garden is that children can smell and taste the herbs as they're growing, and use them to "spice up" whatever is for dinner. If you have a small window or patio space, herbs are an easy thing to grow. Some of my favorites that are super-easy include oregano, basil, dill, rosemary, and mint. Mint is a wonderful addition to lots of different types of drinks. Rosemary can be added to chicken or potatoes. Mix dill in with some plain yogurt and a small bit of splenda and stir in some sliced cukes--this is one of my daughter's favorite dishes. And we all know a million uses for oregano and basil. Children will naturally want to taste these herbs as they grow. Encourage your child to taste and smell as they help to care for the plants.

A third classic way to help children expand their palates is through cooking. Even two-year olds can help with stirring, pouring, and spreading. I began cooking with my own children when they were preschoolers; they now, at the tween age, both have decent repertoires of meals they can cook and prepare themselves. Not only have they learned an important lifeskill (more than ramen noodles when they go to college!), but they continue to expand their palates. Tonight, my son is cooking dinner with the assistance of his grandfather, and we're eating a stirfry with rice. By giving children the chance to prepare their own food, they have more control over the process and are more likely to eat what they've made. Plus, both of my kids can rest easy that nothing weird hides in the food they prepared themselves!

A fourth way to add more veggies into your diet is to include simple extras at your table. For example, last night, we had a roast chicken, peas, and dumplings as our main meal, but I included a small bowl of oranges and a sliced tomato as well. Side dishes don't have to be fancy. Baby carrots, cucumber slices, broccoli bites, banana chunks, apple slices--all are perfectly acceptable sides to put at the table and are not only super easy, but super kid-friendly. In our house, we currently are feeding three generations, and one of our favorite sides is salad; however, we all like different things in our salad. So we've settled on a big bowl of lettuce with smaller bowls of different salad "add-ins": red onion, tomato, feta cheese, cucumber, etc. This way each person customizes his or her salad. Not only do we cut down on waste, but we have some very voracious salad eaters!

The last suggestion I'd like to give is adding vegetables to foods they mix well with. I began doing this years ago in an effort to boost my own vegetable intake. I started with spaghetti sauce, and began adding things like frozen mixed veggies or shredded carrot to my sauce. My husband, who I was dating at the time, was so excited about this he began bragging about my sauce to anyone who would listen. One of my favorite dishes is a meat-free chili--I use soy crumbles and add tomatoes, corn, beans, green peppers, and onions along with seasonings to my crockpot for a long, slow cook. My children are very fond of corn muffins that have corn kernels in them. You may be asking yourself how this method of cooking is different than the mom who sneaks one past her kids with the purees, as discussed yesterday. Well, I never hide anything from my kids. It's all out there, and it's all in there. They know there's corn in the muffins, or carrots in the spaghetti, or beans in the chili. I think it's critical for kids to know those things, so they understand the value of fresh foods, and in particular, a healthy diet.

Here's a couple of ideas for snacks/sides/meals that go over well with kids:
*Bean and Cheese burritos--spread fat-free refried beans on a whole-wheat tortilla and sprinkle with lowfat cheese. Roll up and microwave for a minute; cut into bite size pieces.

*Pita sandwiches--spread a small bit of cream cheese inside a pita. Add lettuce, cucumbers, and sprouts, before cutting into small pieces to enjoy. An easy take on this is the classic cucumber sandwich--spread a small bit of cream cheese on whole wheat bread and layer thin slices of cucumber on top. Cover with another slice of bread and cut into quarters.

*Veggie squares--spread a small bit of cream cheese on a triscuit-type cracker. Top with broccoli slaw and shredded carrot.

*Mashed sweet potatoes--bake a sweet potato in the microwave for 8-10 minutes. Peel and mash with cinnamon, a small bit of brown sugar, and a taste of butter. (Sweet potatoes have a large variety of vitamins and minerals and are low in the glycemic index, making them an excellent choice)

*Baked apples or bananas--cut fruit into chunks. Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, and dot with low cal margaraine or butter. Bake in the oven or microwave until done (a couple of minutes in the microwave). With apples, I like to toss in a few raisins as well. It's a great fall snack!

*Pumpkin pudding--Prepare instant vanilla pudding per your usual (this works with both regular and sugar free options). Add one can of pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling!) and cinnamon and nutmeg to taste.

Tomorrow--more ideas for healthy eating. Please click on our sponsors, share your ideas below, and thanks for reading!


  1. I concur with the growing idea! My son will eat peas right off the vine because its fun. Granted my child has no healthy eating qualms but that leads me to another point. The will eat what you have in the house or snack table I suppose. I have very few food rules around here about food. Protein before sugar, not too much dairy, and lets not eat the entire container of yogurt in one day since grocery trips aren't that fun (LOL)...thats just about it. I'm never worried about the balance because as you said the balance doesn't have to come at every meal its an overall diet thing ;)

  2. You bring up an important point, will eat what is in the house. So as adults, when we shop with savvy, kids will automatically be exposed and encouraged to eat healthy foods. Consequently, there's very little need for rules when the foods in the house are nutritions ones.