10 Ways to Get Your Kids Off Junk Food and Demanding Vegetables
Many of my health coaching 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 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 four adorable grandsons: Felix (age 7), Theo (6), Wolf (4) and Lincoln (2) (my granddaughter, Charlotte, is just a week old so she’s not eating yet!). The boys are very different eaters. Felix has broadened his tastes, Theo is very picky, Wolfie is the most picky, and Lincoln eats everything!
The list below features some of the ways I get all of these boys to enjoy veggies.
Here are ten easy ways to get your kids to eat more of the Good Stuff from the Vegetable Kingdom.
- 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 my picky grandsons 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. I love grating raw beets (skin removed) turnips, and carrots into salads to add an extra veggie boost. Try adding sweets like berries, apples, or any dried fruit to the salads. I also make a simple salad dressing with olive oil, lemon, sea salt and a little maple syrup, and kids seem to love it. Felix loves romaine spears with olive oil (we only use Olea Blue for an extra nutritional boost), grated parmesan cheese, and lemon juice.
- 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, but be careful of the sugar content in ketchup, and always opt for a natural brand that doesn’t contain corn syrup. (I have recently made my own ketchup with this recipe to avoid eating sugar.) Here’s our recipe for sweet potato “fries.”
- Crunchy Shiitake Sticks. Shiitake 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 then cut the tops into matchsticks pieces. Coat with olive oil and sea salt and roast in the oven at 350 degrees. The result is a delicious crunchy snack or side dish that will be a huge hit with both adults and kids. Here are just some of the health benefits of shiitake mushrooms.
- “Green” Smoothies. All of my grandsons love smoothies, if your child resists a smoothie if it has a green color you can experiment with different ingredients to change the color. I make sure to include plenty of antioxidant-rich berries so the finished smoothie is purple or blue. What the children don’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. If you cook with meat and want to add protein you can add chicken or ground beef. I often dice cucumbers and grate carrots to put in the wrap as well.
- Shell Peas. These can be challenging to find, but if you can find them fresh and in season, kids love to shell them, discover the tiny peas, and eat them raw. And did you know that peas are high in protein? If you want to cook the peas, just have the kids shell them and steam them and add a little ghee or butter. I also sometimes add fresh pea to a pot of brown rice at the very end of it’s cooking time (this is especially delicious with a little tamari added).
- Mini Peppers. Most grocery stores sell bags of mini organic red, yellow, and orange sweet peppers. They are so sweet that the kids love them–Wolfie was reluctant to try them, but we encouraged him by doing a blind taste-test game where he guessed which color he was eating. You can make a dip, although my grandchildren just eat them plain. (Here is a dip that I love.)
- Roasted Seaweed. When Maia and Graham were little, I would buy Nori sheets and roast them on the gas range or wood stove for a snack. Things have changed and become so much more convenient for busy conscious moms like us! Roasted seaweed is great when the kids want a salty snack, and here is one that I like because it is made with extra virgin olive oil rather than sunflower oil like other brands.
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 [email protected] and we can schedule a 30-minute Healthy Eating Strategy Session.
Suzanne, Certified Holistic Health Coach
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When would be a safe age to be giving them raw milk cheese? Personally i don’t think the risk is worth it but helpful to know and letting people know they shouldn’t give their 6 month old raw milk cheese…
This is a question for your pediatrician. It is controversial because there are people that say that cheese is aged and that makes it safe and they’re others who say no it’s raw and therefore possibly contaminated. And still others who say even pasteurized cheese could be contaminated. Personally, I wouldn’t give a 6 month old dairy food. There are so many other things to eat at that young age like fruits and cooked vegetables.
I think these ideas are great and I am very much so for a healthy lifestyle, but a friend and I were just debating the whole “hiding veggies in things” and I was curious as to your opinion. My feeling is I believe in using veggies in recipes of course and eating them as is, but I was reading that one reason toddlers do not like veggies, even in a family (like mine) with zero junk, is that breastmilk is so sweet they naturally transition to sweeter food, and this is because biologically, greens are VERY hard for children under three to digest. They also don’t absorb the iron as well from non-heme sources. I read one well known naturopath that had done research showing that children under three need VERY little greens and mostly still need fat and mainly the sweeter colored foods (fruits veggies). Just was an interesting take is all.. I was putting organic spinach in eggs, hiding broccoli in food, etc and I noticed my daughter’s digestion was bogged. Once I stopped all that and just did baby lead weaning things got much better with her digestion…. food for discussion ! Just an interesting take for parents that are very concerned about their child getting “greens”…. !
Hi MJ, After raising two children on organic healthy food and now seeing my grandchildren and how they eat, I agree with you! I always have been into the idea of giving children healthy choices and then letting them choose what their body needs. They will gravitate toward the right food and eat what they need. I am not an advocate of sneaking greens into kids, although I do admit to adding romaine lettuce into smoothies at times. Kids generally don’t like bitter greens but my 3 year old grandson likes romaine lettuce wraps with goat cheese, romaine lettuce with a parmesan, lemon, and olive oil dressing and he will eat kale chips sometimes. My children always liked steamed broccoli. The advice I give my daughter about her son not eating veggies is that as long as he eating fruit and other plant foods, don’t worry. He will eat greens when he’s ready. Your motherly instincts are good!!
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