Sneaky Cooking–adding veggies to family meals

By Shauna Schultz, RD

Most people acknowledge that adequate vegetable intake is important, yet most children and adults fall short of recommendations. United States Department of Agriculture data shows that about 85% of Americans ages one and older fall short of vegetable recommendations. In addition to poor intake, quality is less than desirable with potatoes in the form of French fries making up 25% of children’s vegetable intake. This is important because preferences for nutrient-poor vegetables can create challenges when offering new or nutritious choices.

While children’s preferences present their own challenges in general, that doesn’t mean you are stuck with serving the same two or three vegetables until your children leave home. In fact, the sooner you influence food choices, the likelihood of promoting healthy eating habits long-term is increased.  Remember, you are the parent and as such, you decide what to eat, when to eat, and where to eat while your child decides how much to eat. You can certainly honor their preferences, but they should not dictate food choices. The following ideas and tips will help you promote healthy eating habits that are appealing and fun – even for picky eaters!

Get Creative with Veggies!

Spiralize zucchini into noodle dishes or substitute entirely. Spiralizers are inexpensive and fun to use for carrots, beets, cucumbers, etc.

• Add spinach and kiwi to smoothies – the kiwi gives you an excuse for the green color!

• Grate carrots, squash, and beets into pasta sauce for a nutrition boost. Cooked red lentils blend right in as well as add protein and fiber.

• Serve a medley of potatoes to boost nutrition – try unpeeled purple potatoes, yams, or purple-fleshed sweet potatoes. Try mashing yams and spreading on quesadillas.

• Swap spaghetti squash for pasta noodles and serve with basil, olive oil, and garlic.

• Leave cut-up vegetables where children can grab them. Try cherry tomatoes, bell pepper slices, carrot sticks, and cucumbers.

Mealtime Solutions

• Introduce new vegetables with familiar foods and at the beginning of the meal when children are hungry.   

• Do not bribe or force intake – this will not set up a preference for healthy foods. Rather, create a stress-free environment where everyone eats the same.

• Make vegetables fun and cut them into fun shapes or create ‘silly face’ hummus wraps or pizzas.

• Give children ownership by involving them in shopping, meal planning, and preparation.

• Most importantly, try and try again. It may take more than ten times before a new food is accepted.

Remember, you are the best teacher – lead by example and healthy eating habits become normal. Finding a way for the whole family to enjoy vegetables lays the foundation for future health and wellness.

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