Whether you are plant-based or not, no one can deny that eating more fruits and vegetables is good for us. And, what is good for us is also, obviously, good for our kids.
But let’s be serious. No kid ever said, “hmmmm broccoli. Yay!” At least no kid that I’ve ever known.
If you are a parent, which I assume you are if you’re reading this, then you are likely very familiar with the endless games and bribes at the dinner table to get a bit of green into your precious small human’s mouth: airplane, train, no treat, just one more, and in our house, the fairies in your tummy are hungry.
These are battles that I often lose and so, in an effort to keep my children growing as healthily as possible, I found a few tricks for getting the good stuff in them.
Number 1: smoothies
Smoothies are the big-vegetable-hider in our house. All of our smoothies are green because they are always loaded with spinach. The great thing about adding greens like spinach and kale to a smoothie is that you can’t taste it. Keep your base yummy – banana, berries, mango, pineapple, melon etc – and throw in a big handful of greens.
Another nice add on here are the mini seeds: chia, flax, and hemp. I have a mason jar in my house that is a mixture of these 3 and I try add it to anything I can. Remember to buy ground flax seeds though as otherwise they tend to pass right through us untouched.
PS. In summer, buy some reusable popsicle sticks and turn your sneaky spinach smoothies into ice creams.
Number 2: soups and sauces
Soups are the dinner time smoothie and a great way to get an assortment of vegetables in. I find if my base is something like butternut or sweet potato, the success rate is usually pretty high. Also, if there is a piece of bread to dunk, that’s a win too.
If there is still resistance, mix up the vessel in which it is served. I bought a pack of reusable pouches from Amazon that I can fill with smoothies or soup, which the kids enjoy. They are different animals, so super cute, easy to wash, and a much better option for the environment.
Including a blended vegetable into your pasta sauce is another sneaky way to get in some bonus nutrients. If you have the time and energy, finely dicing up veggies and mixing into the noodles and sauce can be successful too.
Number 3: peanut butter
Assuming your child does not have a nut allergy, a nut butter is a great dip for a variety of fruits and vegetables. Carrot sticks, apple slices, banana, and sweet potato are often accompanied by nut butter in our house.
Try to buy the ones with the least ingredients if you can. Check the ingredient list and go for the one that is either just nuts or perhaps nuts and salt. Nothing else will add any value.
Number 4: let your child join in on the shopping
This is a fun one. If your child is old enough to benefit from this, then take them shopping. Tell them that they can pick out any fruit or vegetable that they want to as you walk through the produce aisle and together you will discover all about it. You can teach your child what is healthy about it and find a fun way to prepare it. Your child will feel a sense of independence, agency, and involvement.
It’s never too early to start teaching your kids about the food they are eating – where it comes from and how it is either good or bad for them. We all know that children understand far more than we often give them credit for.
Anecdote: my 3.5 year old daughter knows exactly where her food comes from. As a vegan home, when she is out and wants to eat chicken nuggets, I let her choose, but she chooses from a place of knowledge. Well, a few days ago we were walking home from school where she had chosen to eat a chicken nugget. I was explaining to her that it is her choice, but that she must remember that the chicken had to experience pain and die in order for her to eat it. Her response was that it was ok because “we can just put it outside and it will grow again”. If only, right?
Number 5: green and yellow light combos
One of my favorite “food is medicine” books is How Not to Die by Michael Greger. In it he brings up the categories of Red, Yellow, and Green light foods – like a traffic light.
Red light foods are those you really should try avoid, which include all processed animal foods and all highly processed plants foods. For example, bacon, vegetable oil, candy.
Yellow light foods are those that you should keep to a minimum and be mindful of. These include processed plant foods. For example, no-stir nut butters (which tend to have added sugar and other ingredients).
Green light foods are those that you can go wild on. Eat away. These are all unprocessed plant foods – fruits, vegetables, beans, grains etc.
Basically, a food is considered processed if something good has been taken away or something bad has been added.
When it comes to eating the green light foods, sometimes a little yellow light addition can really help, especially with kids. In the end, if it takes a little yellow light food to get in an amazingly nutritious green light food, that is certainly better than no green lights at all.
For example, a drizzle of maple syrup on top of veggies is something we do almost every night and it has proved very successful. Another example would be a dab of ketchup on your baked potato.
These little tips and tricks are simple to implement, but even these are not always going to win over the most willful and picky of days. As such, I have 2 bonus tips for the parents:
Tip # 1: keep trying
I believe it takes up to 20 offerings of a new food before a child even tries it. So just keep offering your little one the broccoli and in time it will end up in a more beneficial place besides the floor. I have definitely seen this to be true with my kids, so take a breath and try again. The long-term goal is totally worth the wasted food and extra effort.
Tip # 2: give yourself a break
Raising humans who make good choices is no easy task. What you are doing for your child is amazing, but it is also hard. So, if its mac n cheese again tonight because you just need to breathe, go for it! You can get back on the health train tomorrow.
I hope this has been helpful. Please feel free to connect with me for anything regarding your health and happiness goals: firstname.lastname@example.org
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We’re all for saying thank you for the images: Header image – Engin Akyurt, Apples – Briam Cute, Peanut butter – cgdsro, Smoothies – Photo Mix, Traffic light tomatoes – Melk Hagelslag – all from Pixabay,