Want to improve your family’s diet? Make vegetables and fruits a little easier to swallow.
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You can read every “healthy eating” or nutrition book under the sun and you’ll see a range of recommendations. Some folks say no grains. Others say no meat. Still others say no dairy, no sugar, no gluten, no whatever. It can be really confusing.
When I was in third grade, the 3-2-4-4 daily nutrition guideline was drilled into my head. Three square meals a day should render you three servings of dairy, two of meat, four of vegetables and fruits, four of grains and starches.
Of course, you know that this has changed — several times over! The government’s recommendations for nutrition varies over time.
Science is no help. Eggs used to be bad, and soy was good. Now, soy is questionable, and eggs are back in style.
If you’re a parent wanting to feed your family well, it can be really perplexing. However, in all the reading I’ve done and in talking with doctors and nutritionists, I’ve found that everybody has one thing in common. Vegans, paleo, zone, adkins, ad nauseum, they all agree that we should…
Eat more vegetables and fruits!
Fresh produce has vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, and all kinds of great things our bodies need. And nearly everybody will recommend that you eat lots of it.
I kinda want to say, Duh. God created life in a garden and told Adam and Eve to eat the plants.
So, if we know that vegetables and fruits are good for us, why is it so hard to work them into our diets, particularly those pesky vegetables? I’m gonna guess it’s one of these reasons:
- Fresh produce is very perishable making it more expensive/difficult to ship and store. Ever stock up with good intentions only to open the crisper drawer two weeks later and see some science experiments gone bad?
- Take-out and fast food typically are not centered around fruits and vegetables. Yes, I know McDonald’s sells salads, but who really craves a salad from McDonald’s?! Restaurants aren’t a whole lot of help either. Gone are the days that a couple sides of vegetables were included in the entree.
- It’s easier to pack a box of crackers or a bag of chips than it is to prepare fresh produce for lunches and on-the-go-eating.
- Since we’ve gone away from our agrarian roots, a lot of us don’t have a wide experience with fresh produce. We don’t know what to do with some of this stuff!
- It takes time and effort.
Working fruits and vegetables into our diet doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult, but it does take a little time and effort. But, I know that we can do it.
This post is mostly focused on vegetables since those seem harder for most kids to swallow. They are at my house.
We visited friends in December. One night we went out for dinner with the grandparents and arrived back at our friends’ home as they were finishing supper. My kids were stunned that Jessika had made roasted vegetables for supper. That was the main dish! And it looked and smelled delicious.
I teased my meatatarians that we were going to send to Jessika for a week in the summer so that they could learn to eat vegetables. I was only half kidding. She’s obviously doing something right at her house!
I want my kids to be okay with the occasional meatless meal (one that’s not solely pasta or beans and rice) and enjoy the variety of flavors that vegetables have to offer.
I’ve since made this Jessika’s Roasted Vegetables many times as a side dish. I cook up two big pans of it and serve a small meat “main” dish as well as a salad. (Grab the recipe here.) While I have my work cut out for me to get all my kids to embrace more veg, I’m intent on dispelling their fears.
Here’s how it’s working so far:
1. Make it more available.
During the Pantry Challenge, my family pretty much ate up all our reserves of crackers and convenient carbs. I found that my 9yo leans on those items whenever he’s hungry. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily, but I do want him to have different, more nutritious options.
Instead of restocking, I’ve tried to make our snacks be fruits or vegetables first. This means I’m buying lots of carrots (one cheap seasonal snacking veg) as well as apples, oranges, or bananas. Winter isn’t exactly the prime time for peppers and cucumbers which they love, so I’ve had to be more creative.
For meals I’ve made sure to include several different vegetables in addition to our starch and meat. If there are many varieties at play, then no one is stuck with a veg he hates. I’ve also made stir fries, lots of roasted vegetables, and even served a salad bar meal.
Since getting a kick in the butt from reading French Kids Eat Everything, I’ve dished up for the 12 and under crowd, making sure there was a bit of everything, and insisting that they taste each thing. I’m not stuffing it down their throats, but I’m not wimping out, either. And wouldn’t you know, Mr. Picky recently decided that he likes spinach!
The salad bar was really interesting to observe. I included diced ham and turkey, garbanzo beans, cheese, and hardcooked eggs for protein, as well as a variety of greens and vegetables. Several children were really excited about this option, making their plates very stylish. Others kept their meats separate from their salads. The latter are those I have to encourage to eat vegetables, so that was interesting to me.
Obviously, it helps to observe your child’s habits and preferences. If you know they will gobble down Caesar Salad or Veggie Dippers, like my vegetable-hater, make those more often and easily available. But, don’t cow to what they think they don’t like. Keep offering plentiful options.
2. Make it seasonal.
In most cases, produce tastes better when it’s in season. Eating tasty, in-season produce will help your kids like it better. Liking it leads to eating it more often without a fuss.
Seasonal produce is also cheaper to purchase. Take a gander at your stores sales flyers to see what’s on special, being sure to match that up with what you know to be in season in your locale, within reason.
Currently, the front page of my Ralphs ad features strawberries, apples, and oranges for great prices. I’m not touching the strawberries because I know they have to be imported. Even California doesn’t have strawberries this early. Apples and oranges are good to go, though, as are broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and cabbage.
I save money and eat tastier fruits and veg when I buy it during its peak. Check out my weekly Grocery Geek posts for ideas on whole, fresh foods to buy on a budget.
One way for our family to enjoy seasonal produce has been to subscribe to an organic produce co-op. We get 2 to 4 deliveries a month: a box chock full of fruits and vegetables that are grown in California. That picture just above? That’s what’s in season in the Golden State. Don’t be fooled into thinking that strawberries are in season in January!
Check out what sources of fresh, seasonal produce are available where you live. This might be the farmer’s market or a CSA or even a smaller grocery store that stocks food from local growers.
(I know that it’s a frozen tundra in some places and fresh produce in winter is more expensive. I get that. Stock up on good quality frozen vegetables and fresh, cold weather crops for now. Tuck the rest of this advice away for the growing season in your neck of the woods.)
No matter the season, you can find great ways to use fresh, seasonal produce.
3. Make it different.
They say that it takes something like 14 to 21 tries for a person to get accustomed to a new and potentially distasteful food. Don’t give up on broccoli if you’ve only fed it to your kids once or twice. Keep at it, but consider how to prepare it in different ways.
In her book, French Kids Eat Everything, author Karen Le Billon started her girls out with new veggies by serving pureed versions and soups. I’ve seen in my own kids that juicing the vegetable, mixed with some fruits, helps them become better accustomed to the foreign flavor.
Cooked vegetables are super tasty when steamed, roasted, or grilled. Experiment with the seasonings. A drizzle of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can really bring out the flavor of things.
There are also lots of other ways to do up vegetables besides cooking them as a side dish. Consider blending them into a soup, tossing them in salads, folding them into quesadillas or enchiladas, stirring them into sauces, or just plain hiding them.
Scroll through these Good Cheap Eats recipes for vegetables for ideas on how to prepare them in different ways.
4. Make it easy on yourself.
If vegetable prep is a chore for you, chances are you won’t do it. Remember that science experiment growing in the crisper drawer?
Don’t decide to go big guns. Take baby steps. Buy a couple bags of carrots and apples this week to provide as snacks and with meals. Next week, prep a salad bar. The week after that, chop a ton of veg at one time so that you can incorporate it into meals easily throughout the week.
And make sure you’ve got good tools! That’s FishPapa’s #1 rule. You have to have the right tools for the job, otherwise, you’ll hate it. Consider these tools of the trade:
Tools of the trade
These tools and gadgets can help make your job go quickly and easily:
- salad spinner – I’ve used this exact one for 20 years. I’m on my second, so I’d say that’s good service for the amount of use we put it through.
- vegetable peeler – My mom insists on a paring knife, but I use this. Love it! I asked hubs about his “must-have” tool in the kitchen and this was it.
- vegetable brush – This is the one we use to scrub potatoes or for fruits and veg that we’re going to make juice with.
- colored cutting boards – I use colored cutting boards for my produce; white for meats. In this way, I can better avoid cross-contamination.
- a good chef’s knife – We’ve had this one for almost 20 years. We received five million sets of Pyrex (obviously there was a sale that month), so we exchanged enough Pyrex to get a starter set of Henckels. There are less expensive knives, but this has served us well.
Vegetables can be a wonderful addition to your family’s diet. Preparing them doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Serving them doesn’t have to be a battle.