How to get your kids to love veggies
By Mareya Ibrahim, eatCleaner Founder
Just like you would go to the gym to increase your strength, you have to do the same with taste buds. They are like muscles. They need to be conditioned, tested and exercised so that they can take on new flavors. It's too easy to succumb to the pressure of sweet and salty, because those taste buds are right on the tip of your tongue. With a little perseverance and dedication, we can help them to appreciate sour, bitter and umami flavors, we build their ability to live a healthy existence. It’s that important.
This idea of kids not having the taste buds for certain foods isn’t a matter of where they were raised, it’s how they were conditioned. It only takes looking around the world to see how what other kids eat for a traditional breakfast, for example. In Japan, it’s seaweed, rice and raw fish. In China, it’s congee, a rice porridge that can be seasoned with mushrooms and pork. In Egypt, it’s stewed brown fava beans with hummus, tahini and pita bread. In Sweden, they’ll have slabs of whole grain cracker bread with slices of cheese, pate and pickles. In Spain, it’s bread rubbed with garlic and tomato. In India, it might be a tofu scramble or dal with chapatis. In Australia, you can get your Vegemite on toast. In Mongolia, the day wouldn’t start on the right foot without boiled mutton. In Uganda, it’s stewed bananas and cow organs. In the Bahamas, a plate of spicy prawns and grits is the breakfast of champions. In Mexico, you’re getting chilaquiles or machaca. And in Peru, ceviche made with raw, marinated seafood is a typical starter for the day.
I love teaching kids cooking classes. When I ask for volunteers to help me at the ‘chef’s table,’ everyone’s hands go up. They have such a desire to help, be creative and be a part of the process. They have no qualms adding in handfuls of spinach into a sauce or throwing broccoli into a sauté. Studies confirm that one of the most important ways of getting children to make sound food choices is involving them in the process. A child will be much more apt to try something if they’ve picked it or helped to prepare it. As much of a challenge it can be to haul your kids to the store or the farmer’s market, it’s a critical part of their connection to what you’re feeding them. When my daughter was 1, I’d sit her in the front of the cart and hand her different fruit and veggies and recite the name so she could repeat it, hold it, smell it. By the age of 3, I would hand her a bag and ask her to pick a few of her favorite fruits and when we got home, I’d be sure to have her help wash it and we’d immediately cut it up so she could try it. There’s pride in that. It seems so simple but there’s something about perception and the effort she took in picking just the right ones and if she did it, well of course she was going to try it.
It just takes time, trial, patience - and a little creative energy – but it pays off in spades when it comes to health and ultimately, grooms a well-rounded adult palate.
Here are five bite sized tips to get more good stuff back into their mouths in a way that makes parents and kids happy:
1. Crunchy dippers. Try to get as much produce onto their plates in their raw state to really appreciate their pure flavors. The good news here is kids love crunchy, with an al dente bite and it’s a big time saver because it’s one less thing to cook. Carrots, celery, cucumber, jicama, sugar snap peas and bell pepper are all great veg options. Some veggies get more palatable with a light steam, like broccoli and cauliflower. Offering a low-fat, high flavor dunker for your veggies is the perfect way to get them to indulge. It’s also fun. Remember, kids love to be creative and taking a carrot stick to a spread is like dipping a paintbrush. Make-ahead dips like cuke and dill Greek yogurt, sundried tomato hummus and spinach pesto spread are great options that also pack a nutritious punch. Fill a cup with veggie sticks and dip and it’s a portable snack.
2. Something Saucy. One of the easiest ways to slip in a ton of veggies is into a versatile sauce that goes the distance. I combine fresh spinach, kale, zucchini, bell pepper, tomato, garlic and onion to make the base for my pizzas, pasta, bakes, soups and stews by blending them so they’re smooth. Kids tend to be texture averse and if they see it, they won’t eat it. You’ve got supercharged nutrition in there, but no chunks. Make extra and freeze them in ice cube trays for smaller servings.
3. Veggie Pizza Party. Kids love pizza, so why not give them the ingredients to make their own mini pie and customize their veggie toppings? I like to use pita bread as the crust, then add that fresh, veggie-based sauce from #2 and layer it up with more fun toppings. Broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, spinach and olives are all good options.
4. Bake it in. You can’t imagine the shock on people’s faces when I tell them I put beets and sweet potatoes in baked goods. The great thing is veggies can substitute for fat and sugar in a lot of cases. By exchanging fat for veggies, trading whole sugar for natural sugar-free alternatives and substituting white flour with whole grains, you can transform baked good into functional foods.
5. Blend it up. I can take coconut water or almond milk, throw in a couple of cups for fresh spinach, fresh blueberries and some high quality protein powder and a little flax seed and some crushed ice, I’ve got serious satiation in a glass in a minute flat. We’re talking texture here again. It’s smooth, cool and goes down really easy. You can also make blender smoothies and freeze them for a decadently delicious dessert.
How can you get your kids to eat a salad bowl full of nutrients? Through a straw!
Makes TWO 8 oz. servings
- 1 cups coconut water
- 2T Chia seeds
- 1 C Fresh Spinach
- 1/2 Banana
- 1/2 cup mixed berries
- 1 tablespoon almond butter
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ Cup Crushed Ice