Vegetables are loaded with the nutrients kids need to grow, be strong and healthy, and perform well in school. But unfortunately, most children don't eat enough vegetables, says Ruth Frechman, MA, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. One way to increase vegetable consumption is to make them the star of the meal, she says.
Offer your kids their favorites along with the unfamiliar, and experiment with new preparations. Try roasting potatoes with cauliflower and onions. Puree butternut squash for a thick and creamy soup. For your little one, cut colorful vegetables into sticks, florets, circles and other shapes. Dip them in hummus or low-fat ranch salad dressing. Don't limit dipping to just raw veggies. Make a platter of two or three favorite steamed vegetables like broccoli, carrots and zucchini, and serve then with a garlic yogurt sauce or a marinara sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Kids love meal bars like potato bars, salad bars and nacho bars, and they're great ways to introduce new veggies. Fill bowls with toppings, and allow each family member to create his or her own unique meal. Try some of these.
- Potato bar: baked potato, chives, scallions, steamed broccoli, chopped tomato, salsa, diced avocado, sautéed mushrooms, diced roasted chicken, low-fat shredded cheese, Greek yogurt or low-fat sour cream
- Nacho bar: baked tortilla chips, diced roasted chicken, ground beef, kidney beans, black beans, low-fat cheese or sour cream, chopped cilantro
- Sandwich bar: whole grain breads, wraps and rolls, various lean meats, low-fat cheese, sliced tomato, bell pepper rings, cucumber rounds, lettuce, fresh basil leaves, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, hummus, mustard, light mayonnaise
A recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that serving larger portions of fruits and vegetables at dinner encourages kids to consume more of these nutritional powerhouses. So put out generous helpings, and be prepared to show how delicious vegetables are. "Parents are the most important role models," says Frenchman. Kids watch parents. They're more likely to follow your advice to eat their veggies if you follow your own advice too.
If all these efforts don't immediately boost your children's vegetable intake, take heart and be patient, encourages child nutrition consultant Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD, author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids. Never force the issue because that usually backfires. "You could win the small battle, but lose the war," she says, meaning that your kids might eat vegetables now, but never learn to like them. Simply continue to make veggies a part of every meal and offer them in a variety of ways. Eventually your children will realize what stars vegetables really are.