Everyone wants their kids to eat more vegetables, right? Here are 10 tried and tested ways to do it. And no fair dipping them in chocolate fondue.
- Convince yourself first - find out more about vegetables.
Why do I want my kids to eat them anyway? How will it make their lives better? Short answer: Vegetables are really, really important for getting all kinds of vitamins and minerals that are difficult to get anywhere else. Long answer: Read books that can help you understand how vegetables make us healthier. Some of my favorite sources that answer my questions about this without going into organic chemistry are:Dudi Starck
- The New Laurel's Kitchen: A Handbook for Vegetarian Cookery and Nutrition, by Laurel Robertson, et al. Forget the anti-meat polemics and enjoy the detailed information on every vegetable you can think of - how to grow, store and prepare it. This book is a great buy - good, chatty information on nutrition, tasty recipes, and excellent tables with nutritional info in the back.
- Brewer Medical Diet for Normal and High-Risk Pregnancy: A Leading Obstetrician's Guide to Every Stage of Pregnancy, by Gail S. Brewer and Thomas H. Brewer, M.D. When I read this during pregnancy, I finally understood just how many vegetables a day I ought to be eating. It even provides a chart so you can make sure you - and your children - get what you need. (The book is out of print, but Dr. Brewer, now retired, runs a hot line: 802-388-0276.
- Confessions of a Sneaky Organic Cook, by Jane Kinderlehrer
- Whole Foods for the WholeFamily Cookbook
by Roberta Johnson
- Get 'em while they're young. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, by La Leche League, recommends the following foods for introducing solids to babies: A raw mashed banana, boiled or baked sweet potato, or raw mashed avocado. Avocado! I have friends who swear that their children developed a taste for vegetables because they started them off with lots. Cooked carrots, green beans, etc. are other possibilities. If you're eating them anyway, it's easy to hand some to your baby. A few peas can keep an adept toddler happy long enough for you to read this article. As they grow older, make veggies a part of the routine. My graduate student daughter recently reminisced: "I think you were very smart about how you got us to eat vegetables. You always cooked different ones and made it clear that we had to take some, any amount, on to our plate. I don't remember you ever telling us what to do with it once it was on our plate, but we generally ended up eating it and asking for more sometimes."
- Grow your own. Just kidding. I put that in because I've never read an article on this topic that doesn't suggest this. Personally, whenever I tried this I got more potato bugs than potatoes. However, I can attest that I have tasted scrumptious vegetables from gardens of friends, and that I have never seen a child eat vegetables more happily than when she could pick a stringbean herself and eat it right away. So maybe I should change this to: make friends with people who grow their own.
- Have them delivered. OK, if you can't walk out to the back yard and pick them, have them come to you. I have my local specialty store deliver them and I believe I don't spend any more than I would at the supermarket. This is because my fruit man picks out only the best for me. In fact, he guarantees it: If he recommends grapefruit and they're too sour for my family to eat, he'll give me something else the next week, at no charge. He knows it's worth it to keep a vegetable-loving family like mine as his regular customers.
- Keep things discrete. No, I don't mean discreet. I mean, some kids hate having their favorite veggie mixed in with all those distractions. My son likes lettuce, but refuses to eat salad. Solution: Serve a salad bar every night - cut up the veggies just as you would for salad, but serve them in separate little piles instead of mixed up in a bowl. That way you can have your onions, too.
- Mix things up. Yes, I know I just said the opposite, but remember, just as vegetables are different and varied, so are children. And some prefer not to know all the good things you are serving them. So when you make vegetable soup, puree it. Zucchini haters probably won't even notice they're in there, if you hide them behind some split peas and sweet potatoes. But if the whole family loves potatoes (mine does; did you notice I keep mentioning them?), then leave them unpureed. You can then pass your soup off as "potato soup". The poor things will never know.
- Allow your children to play with sharp, pointed objects. Yes, I'm referring to kitchen knives and peelers. At first you'll have to supervise, but after a while your children will actually be helping you prepare dinner. When my child would invite a friend for lunch after kindergarten, I used to give them each a knife, cutting board, and cucumbers. His friend was often shocked but delighted to be allowed to use these items, and we never lost a finger. But they did eat an amazing quantity of cucumbers. Older children can move on to vegetables that are more difficult to cut, and more nutritious.
- Give vegetables the exposure they deserve. If everyone is just sitting around and shmoozing, bring out fruit or vegetables and just sit there, cutting them up. (This one is good for teenagers.) They will keep taking pieces until you get tired of cutting. Offer them raw at lunch, raw and cooked at dinner. Keep them in the fridge, cut up, on a pretty dish. If you do the cutting, they'll do the eating. (For help on that cutting, see #7.)
- Make them taste good - duh. If you usually serve your veggies plain, raw or steamed, you can experiment once in a while with different dips, dressings, and sauces. If you can get your children to be lifelong veggie lovers, the nutritional benefits will outweigh the small amounts of fat. A quick dip/dressing that my kids like is mixing mayonnaise with vinegar until it's not too thick to pour, but thick enough to dip. You can add powdered or fresh garlic, paprika, etc. We also like guacomole - mash an avocado and add lemon juice, fresh garlic, salt, pepper or chili pepper and maybe a chopped tomato.
- Ask your friends for suggestions. This was a fun topic to research - everyone had a tip.