Here are some ways that I can get veggies, especially those all important dark-leafy greens, into my kids on a daily basis:
*Teach the Rainbow— Tell your kids WHY it is important to eat their veggies. Tell them that carrots are good for their eyes, spinach will give them muscles like Popeye, kale is like a broom for their insides, and beets are good for their heart! Show them the rainbow and make it a goal to eat one fruit/veggie from each color EVERY day! Create a sticker chart and make it fun!
*Hide the Veggies— If your child is THE pickiest eater and won’t touch anything remotely green, start with hidden veggies. Smoothies with lots of berries and a big handful of greens turn out purplish and you’ll never taste the greens over the sweetness of the fruits. Cook and purée sweet potatoes, butternut squash, even beets and mix them into pancake batter. Breakfast never tasted so sneaky! Chop veggies super tiny (food processor to the rescue!) before you sauté them for soups and sauces. Shred carrots and zucchini and bake them into breakfast muffins. Get creative and start hiding those veggies!
*Smoothies— Building off the previous point, smoothies are a great, quick, and easy way to get in those greens! Start with some frozen fruits (bananas make it creamy, berries add a great green-hiding color), fresh fruits (mango, pineapple, fresh berries, orange segments, etc), liquid (non-dairy milk, coconut water, or plain water), and a big handful of greens (spinach and romaine are the most mild whereas greens like kale and chard are more robust). Add mix-ins like hemp seeds, chia seeds, nut butters, raw cacao, and blend away! You’ll never know there are greens hiding in there 🙂
*Juices–If you own a juicer, then get juicing! Our favorite green juice is 1 cucumber, 1 bunch dinosaur kale, 2 green apples, and 1 peeled lemon. It’s sweet and tart and very refreshing! I do not recommend most store bought juices because the pasteurization process kills a lot of the nutrients, minerals, and live enzymes (and that’s not counting the companies that add in a bunch of garbage to their “juice”). If you are going to buy a juice, look for a cold-pressed, un-pasteurized juice such as Suja.
*Serve Veggies–I know what you’re thinking. “My kid isn’t going to touch the broccoli on his plate, so why bother putting it there?” Hear me out. It takes about 21 exposures for a child (or adult!) to accept a new food. If you keep putting vegetables on the dinner table and asking that your child take at least one bite, sooner or later, they might surprise you and eat some!
*Get Saucy–Give your child some dip to go with their veggies. Guacamole, hummus, cashew cream, and vegan ranch are all great healthy sauces to help hide the strong flavors of vegetables that some kids object to. Find a sauce they like and let them dip to their heart’s content!
*Get Kids in the Kitchen–Every once in a while, surprise your child by taking them to the store and letting THEM pick the veggies they want to try. Look up a recipe together and have them help in the kitchen where they can. Little ones can wash, dry, mix, and season, while older kids can be given a small knife and help with some of the chopping. The idea is, if they helped make it, they will be more willing to try it!
*Give Them What They Know–If your child already likes peas and carrots, by all means, serve peas and carrots! It’s better than no veggies at all. Next time, mix in some corn, or green beans, and keep building off of what they already know.
*Get Creative–We often tell our kids to play Ratatouille (like the Disney movie) and mix 2 foods in their mouths, close their eyes, and tell us what they taste. I have a friend who told her kids when they were toddlers that broccoli makes them roar like dinosaurs! She said they would take a bite and see who could roar louder. They are 9 now and still love broccoli! If your child loves Star Wars like my son, try telling him spinach will make him wise like green Yoda (and it will!! Among a wide array of vitamins and protein, spinach contains folate which helps brain development. Score!). Or tell your Princess-loving girls that bell peppers will give them long hair like Rapunzel from Tangled (and you wouldn’t be lying there either! Bell peppers have a ton of vitamin C that helps strengthen the hair shaft to allow it to grow longer)!
*Grow Something Together–This is the same idea as cooking with your kids-the more they help out in the process, the more open to eating the veggies they will be! Even if you don’t have a ton of space for a garden, grow a potted plant indoors. Herbs like rosemary and oregano are a great place to start and are very low maintenance. Kids can use the herbs to season their veggies!
*Try New Techniques–It may not be the vegetable itself that your child doesn’t like, but the cooking method. NO vegetable tastes good when it is boiled to death, soggy, or limp. If your child hates raw broccoli, try steaming or baking it. Maybe cooked carrots are a no-go, but they will go to town when they are served raw with hummus! Just as adults have food preferences, so do kids. Help them discover new ways to enjoy foods that they “hate.”
*Don’t Reward Bad Behavior–If your child flat out refuses to eat his veggies, don’t reward him with dessert. I am not a fan of bribing (“if you take 2 bites of broccoli I’ll give you a cookie”) because it sets up the understanding that you HAVE to eat yucky veggies to get a yummy treat and those negative food associations are hard to break. However, your child shouldn’t be rewarded with dessert if he/she doesn’t finish their healthy foods first. Side note: We rarely have dessert in our house. We treat it as what it is, a treat. And when I do make desserts, I make them as healthy (and yummy!) as possible-such as homemade ice cream!
*Be Consistent–Nothing is more confusing to a child than changing rules. If at one meal you say “eat your veggies!” and the next day you don’t enforce it, your child will quickly learn which buttons to press and how hard they need to dig in before you give up. Kids are smart like that! Tell your family that we are ALL going to be eating more fruits and veggies so we can be healthy…and mean it! No wavering, no giving in to whining, tantrums, or tempers. You’re the boss, applesauce. Remember, you are doing this for the health of your family!
*Be a Good Example–Kids will mimic what they see. If you load up your plate with everything but sweet potatoes, your kids will notice! Show them that you enjoy your veggies! Comment on the texture and flavors as you eat. When kids see their parents eating, nay, LOVING veggies, they are much more inclined to eat them too.