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Kids who just can't get enough broccoli are few and far between, yet the USDA's newest food guide recommends that fruits and vegetables make up half of a healthy diet. As a parent, you're probably wondering how anyone can get their kids to eat that way. Not to worry! If you're looking for ways to draw out your child's inner zucchini lover, read on for 9 great tips.
- Show Love for Veggies. Yes, that means you. If you wince at carrots, you'll definitely have trouble persuading your kids that they're delicious. Parents who eat lots of vegetables set a great example. Even if you're not a salad fan, you can incorporate vegetables into every meal. Check out these ideas:
- Toss vegetables in with pasta dishes. Try roast tomatoes and mushrooms with tortellini, or carrots and peas with mac and cheese.
- Pile lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and sprouts on every sandwich.
- Top pizzas -- even frozen ones -- with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, olives, onions, etc.
- Find new ways to eat vegetables you enjoy. Love raw bell peppers? Try them roasted, skinned, and chopped into a zesty salsa or tomato sauce. You'll discover delicious new combinations with different vegetables and maybe even stumble on to something the kids can't get enough of.
- Start Young. Once your child is off baby food, what you eat and offer to your toddler will shape future food preferences. Make sure there's always a variety of tasty vegetables at the table, and your child will grow up thinking that it's normal to have veggies at every meal.
- Recruit the Kids. It's a fact: kids who are actively involved in choosing, growing, or cooking vegetables are far more interested in eating them. Some ways to get your kids involved include:
- Go grocery shopping together. Buy any vegetables or fruits they show an interest in, even if you have no idea what to do with it. If you end up with a knobbly head of celeriac, look up recipes with your child, and pick one out to try together.
- Start a vegetable garden with your kids. What child can resist trying a carrot that she planted, watered, and finally pulled up from the ground?
- Bring kids into the kitchen. Even young children can help wash vegetables. With supervision, older kids can help measure, peel, mash, chop, and use kitchen appliances like the blender and stove. The bigger the role they play in making dinner, the more likely they are to eat it.
- Play with Your Food! From mashed potato volcanoes to drawing ketchup smiley faces, a little fun can help the vegetables go down. Try these fun ideas for playing with -- and then eating -- vegetables:
- Give them funny names. Carrots are boring, but how about golden buttons? Green [zucchini] fries?
- Mold the mush. Instead of using play dough, try making mashed potato critters.
- Make a pretend forest. Raw or lightly steamed broccoli florets make wonderful trees, and carrots and other vegetables can be cut into flower and animal shapes.
- Create monster faces out of sliced apples and vegetables for a fun snack. Or go for the classic ants on a log!
- Timing is Everything. Kids are less picky when they're hungry, which makes it the perfect time to make a strategic move.
- Healthy before-dinner snacks. Here's one way to deal with the before-dinner munchies: set out a plate of cut raw vegetables (e.g. carrots, broccoli, and celery) and dip. It's OK if they fill up on vegetables before dinner!
- Make snacking on vegetables an easy option. Designate an area of the fridge to stock with small containers or bags of washed berries, apple wedges (a little lemon juice will keep them from turning brown), carrot sticks, or even raw sugar snap peas. Keeping the junk food in your house to a minimum will encourage kids to reach for a healthier alternative.
- Substitute kale chips for potato chips. In the oven, kale turns crispy and absorbs whatever seasonings you put on it. Toss uniform size pieces of kale in a small amount of oil, salt, and garlic, and bake at 325 for about 15-20 minutes, or until perfectly crisp but not burned. Your child won't even miss the potato chips.
- The One Bite Rule. Make it a rule that your kids have to try one bite of whatever they're offered. If they don't like it, don't force them to finish it.
- Persistence Pays Off. Most kids won't like a new vegetable the first time it's offered. You'll need to be patient and offer it again over many different meals -- at least 8-10 times. Try different ways of preparing it and enforce the one bite rule. Even if your child detests sweet potato casserole, she might love crispy baked sweet potato fries.
- Make Soup. Strong tasting vegetables become mild after a long, hot simmer. Some kids who won't touch vegetables under ordinary circumstances don't mind them at all in soup. Try adding extra vegetables to soups they already enjoy, like peas and carrots to chicken noodle soup, and pureeing milder vegetables like carrots and corn into thick chowders.
- Sneak Them In. If all else fails, you can try disguising vegetables. It's not a great strategy if you want to raise kids who voluntarily reach for the salad, but it's useful as a last resort to get some nutrition into your kids. Here are some sneaky ways to do it:
No matter how hard you try, you may not end up with an enthusiastic herbivore. But with these tips, you'll have a few tricks up your sleeve to make vegetables as appealing as possible. Good luck!
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