By now we all know the advantages of eating lots of fruits and veggies. But applying it in real life, especially with kids, can be a challenge. Of course, we want our kids to eat healthy foods like fruit and vegetables, but what are we to do as parents when our children flat out refuse?
In my experience as a dietitian, and as a mom, the goal is not to get kids to eat that piece of broccoli right now, but rather to help kids learn to like fruits and vegetables as a regular part of their diets. So instead of forcing “just one bite”, negotiating vegetables for desert, or sneakily hiding fruit and veggies in their food, I prefer to offer these foods to kids in a variety of ways to help them get more familiar, and eventually learn to love fruits and veggies. Think about it. You probably don’t want to eat plain, raw broccoli most of the time. But how about roasted broccoli with garlic and parmesan? How about broccoli cheddar soup? Just like you want your food to be flavorful, kids benefit from flavor and different methods of preparation, too. And keep in mind that it may take many exposures to new foods for kids to accept them, so keep trying!
Here are some delicious, kid-friendly ways to increase the fruits and vegetables in your family’s diet:
Blend into smoothies. Many kids (and adults!) love smoothies, and they’re so easy to pack nutritious foods into. Blend frozen fruit and even vegetables like spinach, riced cauliflower, or zucchini into smoothies with yogurt and milk for a nutritious snack.
Stir or blend into sauces. You can pack a surprising amount of veggies into sauces like bolognese or cheese sauce. Grate or very finely mince onions, mushrooms, zucchini, or bell peppers and cook into spaghetti sauce. Or blend cooked and pureed butternut squash or pumpkin into cheese sauce for mac and cheese with a nutritious boost.
Grate into pancakes or baked goods. I love grating apples, carrots and zucchini into pancakes (like my Apple Cinnamon Oat Pancakes) and other baked goods, like my Zucchini Bread Baked Oatmeal and Carrot Apple Breakfast Cookies. Bonus – let your kids help you make these treats, and they’ll be more likely to try them.
Serve with dips. Kids love dips. Serve cut-up fruit and veggies with a favorite dip for a snack. Hummus, guacamole, yogurt dip, and even ranch dressing, are all good options to help kids enjoy produce.
Add to favorite foods. Use familiar, favorite foods to introduce kids to more fruit and veggies. Add chopped spinach, onions, or mushrooms to a quesadilla, add cooked chopped broccoli into a grilled cheese, or stir frozen peas into mac and cheese, for example.
Mix into ground meat. Dishes like meatballs, meatloaf, and chili are great opportunities to mix in some veggies! I love adding finely chopped mushrooms and onions to meatballs and meatloaf because they blend right into the texture of ground meat. You can even mix in something sweet, like in my Chipotle Turkey Apple Chili.
Sweeten things naturally with fruit. I love using fruit to add natural sweetness to muffins, pancakes, snack balls, and oatmeal! Mashed bananas, applesauce, berries, and dates are all great for sweetening foods naturally, while also giving a little nutrient boost.