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How to Get Your Kids to Eat Dark Leafy Greens

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Published: July 01, 2020

Reviewed: February 25, 2020

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There's a reason you hear so much about eating dark leafy greens. Vegetables such as kale, chard, collard greens, arugula and spinach are bursting with nourishing health benefits. However, many kids turn up their noses and are reluctant to eat them.

Discover how to prepare these nutritional superstars in ways that are healthy and appetizing.

The Nutritional Benefits of Greens

The USDA's MyPlate specifically recommends adults and children over 9 years old eat one and a half to two cups of dark green vegetables per week. Nutrient-dense dark leafy greens are jam-packed with healthy plant-based compounds, plus lots of vitamins and minerals with just 10 to 25 calories per half-cup serving. The family of dark green leafy vegetables delivers many nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, folate, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, iron and potassium. 

These nutrients perform a variety of functions in the body, including promoting good vision, supporting immune function, acting as antioxidants that may help prevent certain cancers and regulating blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol.

I Bought Leafy Greens — Now What?

Fresh greens can be stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for three to five days. While some bagged greens from the grocery store are already washed, not every variety has been cleaned.  For example, leafy greens from a farmers market may have dirt and sand in the leaves. To clean your greens, submerge the leaves in a large bowl of cold water and swirl the leaves to allow the dirt to sink to the bottom of the bowl. Then, lift the leaves from the bowl and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.

Another cleaning option is a salad spinner to quickly clean and dry greens. You also can blanch large batches of greens, and store them in the freezer for future use. For quicker cooking, remove the tough stems by folding a stack of leaves in half lengthwise and running a sharp knife along the stem.

4 Tips for Kid-Friendly Leafy Greens

People often get intimidated by cooking and eating darker varieties of greens due to their intense flavors.  Try these tips for enhancing the flavor of different varieties to make them more enticing:

  • Overcome the bitterness of collard and mustard greens by braising them at a low temperature for an extended period of time, and adding a pinch of sugar at the end of cooking. Remove the tough stems to reduce cooking time and avoid over-cooked greens.
  • For kale, be sure to choose the right variety. Tougher curly kale is best for adding to soups or stews or for braising. Tender lacinato and baby kale are best in salads.
  • Preserve nutrients by sautéing greens, rather than boiling. Sauté blanched greens with olive oil, onion and garlic to add flavor. Add chopped nuts for additional heart-healthy fats. Sprinkle lemon zest over the sautéed greens to brighten the flavor. Do not use lemon juice as it will turn the leaves brown.
  • Make a salad with tender greens such as spinach or baby kale. To expose kids to dark greens, try tossing together a salad made half with familiar lettuce and half with a dark green one. Add a citrus-based dressing, which will help balance the strong flavor of the greens and aid in the absorption of iron found in the greens.

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