Do your kids (and you) eat enough veggies?

For years, we have been blaming our children’s expanding waistline on fast food restaurants, advertisements on TV, sugary beverages and increased screen time. And while all of these factors are indeed culprits, parents and caregivers have an integral role as well.

It’s learned at home

A study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that poor eating habits linked to obesity are learned in children’s homes.[1] Specifically, children’s dietary patterns are fostered at an early age, ones that includes few fruits and vegetables, relying instead on high amounts of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

The buck stops here

If you’re concerned that you little ones aren’t getting enough of the “green stuff,” then ask yourself a simple question:

How many vegetables are you eating on a daily basis?

If you fail to eat the daily recommended amount, there’s a good chance your child’s not either. To see if you’re on track, look at the Choose My Plate daily recommendations.[2]

*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.

Be a kid again

Do you like beets, Brussels sprouts and kale? Swiss chard, eggplant and okra? If broccoli and lettuce are your best bet over chips, then go slow and imagine yourself as the child. If a certain vegetable is a stretch for your 4 year old, it will be for you, too.

Hide them.  One obvious way to bump up the veggie uptake is “hide them” in purees and sauces, or even dishes like meatloaf. Though I’m not a big fan of this tactic for the long haul, it’s better than eating no veggies at all.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Drink them. You can also drink your way to a recommended veggie day through tasty smoothies. I don’t recommend them as a meal replacement, as whole foods tend to be more nutritious than liquid ones. However, a green smoothie is a better snack than pop corn and chips.

Add them. To dishes that you (and the kids) like to eat, such as pizza or pasta. Make it a family affair and select and choose the toppings you might like to try.

Prepare it differently. Challenge yourself to fix vegetables in a variety of ways, until you find a preparation you and your family likes. I did this with Brussels sprouts, and after 4-5 attempts, I found a version that pleased everyone. I have also converted many into okra lovers with my fake “fried” recipe.

Fatten it up. Don’t be a afraid to add a few calories to a vegetable to improve its likability. For example, add butter, a little ranch dressing, some grated cheese or a sprinkle of brown sugar. Remember, it’s about trying something new; over time, you need less of the fattening stuff to broaden a veggie’s appeal.

Don’t give up. If at first you don’t like a vegetable, try again. It may take up to 15 attempts to acquire a taste for a new food.

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