Not too long ago, I wrote an article about what veggies my seven-year-old likes to eat, in part, because I have had a lot of luck moving beyond the standard children’s diet of chicken nuggets, mac ‘n cheese and pizza. Though I respect all those children’s cookbooks with numerous recipes to hide veggies or cover them in sugar, I believe in “telling it like it is.” (Probably says a lot about my personality, in general.) At some point in a child’s life, he/she needs to recognize what asparagus and eggplant look like. So why not start young and make it fun – versus taboo?
Secrets to success
In getting Luke to try healthy foods and enjoy them, I have stuck by a few basic strategies, summarized below:
–Introduce new veggies gradually. If you throw too many new things at a child all at once, the strategy may backfire, whether it’s food or other life adventures.
– Don’t give up after one try. As Dani suggests, a child or adult may need to be exposed to a food many times before he develops a taste for it. So don’t give up if at first you don’t succeed.
– Try different preparations. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of preparing your favorite veggies the same ‘ol way every night. This is boring for adults as children. I have made Brussels sprouts many different ways before my family actually ate them!
– Don’t take no for an answer. It’s very likely you’ll hear a lot of “yucks” as you introduce new veggies into the mix. But if they only give it a try, yummy will quickly replace many of those yucky’s in their vocabulary.
I started out with the easy stuff – sweet potato fries, “trees” (aka broccoli), carrots and eventually asparagus. But we’ve expanded the repertoire recently to include the following:
1. Stuffed baked potatoes. Russet potatoes aren’t just for sour cream, butter and cheese. Now I stuff other veggies into the potato before it is served. Typically, I bake a potato in the oven until it’s done, then stuff it with fresh, raw veggies like broccoli, carrots and possibly mushrooms and red peppers. I grate some cheese on top then microwave the dish for about two minutes, adequate time to cook the veggies.
Not only is this dish easy to prepare, but the stuffed potato becomes a standalone meal. Another bonus? There’s very little mess to clean up.
2. Home-made garden burgers. One night recently, I made these delicious jiffy spelt veggie burgers from Oh She Glows. They were loaded with nutrients and easy to whip up in the food processor.
The outcome? “Mommy, I just love the meat.” (He ate every bite.)
3. Eggplant. Though Luke still shrugs if I sauté eggplant in olive oil and garlic , he loves this veggie when I prepare it in eggplant parmesan. Like the garden burgers, his remark is: “Oh mommy, I love the meat.” I use the less bitter Japanese eggplant and have more success, especially when it’s fresh from the garden.
4. Swiss chard. I have been making Swiss chard regularly. It takes a bit of time to chop, but it’s simple to sauté in olive oil. This has become a household favorite, as Luke “loves the salad.”
5. Red peppers. I was a proud health-nut mom when I went to the grocery store a few weeks ago and Luke’s only request was red peppers. He likes them raw, not cooked, and I guess it’s the sweet taste that wins him over. Either way, I now include them in lunches and serve them as snacks. What a great way to get vitamin C, thiamine, vitamin B6, beta carotene, and folic acid.*
6. Avocado. It took me a while to persuade Luke of the taste benefits of my favorite veggie (or fruit, if you insist) – avocadoes. But now he’s hooked. And when I prepared our annual super bowl veggie nachos, Luke told me the guacamole was “the best sauce he’d ever eaten in his whole life.”
7. Edamame. I mentioned this one before. But now this healthy veggie has risen to all-star snack status in our household. I’m happy to feed this to my little guy when he gets home from school, as it’s loaded with complete protein, high in fiber, a source of essential omega 3 fat, and rich in calcium, iron, zinc and B vitamins.**
8. Cherry tomatoes. Though this fruit/veggie is far more popular in the summer when he can pick them off the plants we grow in the back yard, this is another healthy snack packed with flavor and nutrients.