A version of this post appears on our blog on The Huffington Post.
–By Suzanne (“Nana”), Certified Holistic Health Coach
Many of my clients are moms, and they often ask me about encouraging their kids to eat more healthfully—and in particular about the challenge of getting little ones to eat vegetables! As a mother and now a grandmother, I have lived this challenge myself. Children have different needs and taste preferences just like adults do, so it’s important to respect these while still not allowing them to only eat processed, sugar-laden foods (this is especially tempting these days as there are so many options for organic, “natural” junk food!).
I have two adorable grandsons: Felix (age 3.5), and Theo (almost 2). They are very different eaters. Felix is very discriminating and Theo loves food of all sorts. The super healthy ideas below please both of them!
Here are ten easy ways to get your kids to eat more of the Good Stuff.
- Kale Chips. If not for this crunchy, flavorful snack, I doubt Felix would have ever tried kale. I make mine in a dehydrator, but an oven works fine, too. Here are our recipes for both kinds. You can add nutritional yeast—which is full of B vitamins—for a cheesy flavor.
- Salads. Yes, even Felix will try salads if I make them the right way. You can experiment with mincing the veggies really small or even grating them to make them easier to chew. Try adding sweets like berries, apples, or any dried fruit. I also make a simple salad dressing with olive oil, lemon, sea salt and a little maple syrup, and kids seem to love it.
- Sweet Potato “Fries.” What child doesn’t love French fries? Sweet potatoes, full of fiber and beta carotene, are more nutritious than their white cousins, but even regular potatoes, if sliced and baked instead of fried, make a great snack or side dish and are certainly better than the greasy alternative you’ll get in a diner. Theo loves to dip his in ketchup. (Be careful of the sugar content in ketchup, and always opt for a natural brand that doesn’t contain corn syrup). Here’s our recipe for sweet potato “fries.”
- Crunchy Shitake Sticks. Shitake mushrooms are known for their immune-boosting and cancer-preventing properties, and they are also a great source of iron. Slice the tops off of the mushrooms and roast them after coating with olive oil and sea salt. The result is a delicious crunchy snack or side dish that will be a huge hit with both adults and kids.
- “Green” Smoothies. Both of my grandsons love smoothies, but Felix is predictably fussy about the color; if it’s green, he won’t taste it. So, I make sure to include plenty of antioxidant-rich berries so the finished smoothie is purple or blue. What Felix doesn’t see is that I add spinach and baby romaine for added greens, neither of which changes the taste of the smoothie (kale will, by the way). You can add banana, dates, and frozen mixed berries to the blender with a little water, and for added protein I add hemp seeds, flax seeds, or chia seeds. I love giving the boys veggies for breakfast or dessert! I keep a bag of mixed berries, a bag of wild blueberries, and frozen bananas in my freezer at all times. (I let the bananas get really ripe because they are then more antioxidant-rich, peel and chop them, and put them in a freezer bag). Here are some of my smoothie recipes that will please even super picky eaters!
- Buttery Winter Squash. There are so many varieties of squash, all of them rich in cancer-inhibiting carotenoids, and many of them quite delicious. Delicata is my favorite for kids because it is especially sweet. You can slice it into sticks and bake it as is, and it’s a great finger food. A little butter and maple syrup make it especially decadent, but some children will eat it even without. Other kid-pleasing squashes are butternut, buttercup, and acorn.
- Romaine Lettuce Wraps. Maia’s created this for Felix because he loves goat cheese and would eat it by the log if she let him. Instead, she wraps romaine lettuce leaves around the soft cheese and rolls it up for a tasty finger food. Despite its mild flavor and relatively light color, romaine is actually a super healthy green—full of folate and vitamin K.
- Trail Mix. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashew pieces, walnut pieces, raisins, and a few carob chips tossed together in a bag make a great on-the-go snack for kids. Carob is sweet and Felix thinks it’s a candy treat. It’s not a super healthful food, of course, but a good chocolate alternative, as it’s generally sweetened with barley malt. When paired with nuts and seeds, kids get a heavy dose of important omega-3 acids, protein, and fiber. Here are some of my other favorite recipes for delicious carob treats.
- Mochi. This Japanese treat is made from pounded sweet rice, a variety of brown rice that is naturally sweet. When bought pre-made, mochi is a super easy whole grain snack for kids. You can buy it in the refrigerator section of the health food store, cut it into squares, and stick it in the oven, and kids love to watch it puff up. You can serve it with apple butter or fruit-sweetened jam. (Believe it or not, I used to make mochi from scratch by cooking pot of rice and then literally pounding it until it was the correct consistency and then baking it in sheets. You would never find me doing this now—how times have changed!)
- Sliced Apples & Pears. Well, duh, we all know that sliced fruit makes a nutritious snack, but I’ve discovered a few fun additions that make it more appealing to kids. Felix loves to dip his apple or pear slices in fresh squeezed orange juice for added sweetness or almond butter for a more filling treat. I also top apple wedges with a slice of raw milk cheddar cheese for a protein-rich snack that brings me back to the years I lived in Vermont!
These are some of my favorite ideas for kid-pleasing healthful snacks. If you have any questions about preparation or would like other ideas, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can schedule a complimentary 30-minute Healthy Eating Strategy Session.
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