By Heather Short
People grow them, buy them, can them, sauté them and even dip them in ranch, but for toddlers, vegetables are scary tidbits of vitamins and nutrients on their plates.
As babies mature into toddlers, their taste buds evolve right along with them. Some hate the taste of vegetables while other children grow to love them. Most parents wish their children ate more of these nutrient-packed superfoods, but sometimes it’s an uphill battle the kids usually win. So, what is the secret to getting youngsters to eat more vegetables? As it turns out, there really is no secret. Every parent and child is different when it comes to eating vegetables. The key is figuring out how to make vegetables fun for your child to eat.
Eat veggies in front of them
Laytheater Brown, a certified family nurse practitioner, has been with Blanchfield Army Community Hospital for nearly 17 years and is now the mother of two adult children. Brown said when her children were young, the trick was to eat a bowl of veggies in front of them.
“When they saw what I was eating, they became curious,” she said. “Eventually, they came and helped themselves from my bowl.”
Vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors, many of which people find enjoyable. Throw a few different types of veggies in a bowl and put them within reach of your kiddos. They’re bound to get hungry or curious sooner or later.
Some parents find success by hiding vegetables in plain sight, meaning mixing them into the meal itself.
For instance, when making spaghetti, add diced vegetables, such as bell peppers, zucchini or squash, into the sauce as it simmers.
Another twist to pasta dinner is to make noodles out of vegetables. Spiralizers, which range from $20 to $100, create noodles from vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini or sweet potatoes. Get the kids involved and let them pick a vegetable to spiralize for their meal.
A great alternative to pasta noodles is spaghetti squash. When you cut open a spaghetti squash, the inside comes out just as you guessed: like spaghetti noodles.
Another way to “hide” vegetables is to add them in baked goods. There are many recipes in cookbooks and online that show how to add pureed vegetables to cakes, brownies and pies.
Vegetables are a good way to substitute other high-fat ingredients, like butter. Pumpkin can be used as a substitute for eggs in various recipes as well.
Zucchini is a popular vegetable to use when making breads, but how about adding beets to a chocolate cake? Or baking a chocolate avocado cake?
Try it at least once
For many parents, there is one simple rule when it comes to eating vegetables: Try it at least once. Some parents have found success in getting their toddlers to eat more vegetables by using this approach.
In many cases, once the child takes a bite, chances are they end up eating it again. If you tell your child to take at least two bites, eventually, two turns into four and four bites turn into a full serving of vegetables.
On the contray, other toddlers absolutely refuse to take that first bite, leading some parents to combat this with refusal of their own. A more stern approach is placing vegetables alone on a plate until the child eats them. Once the vegetables are gone, parents reward their child’s good eating habits with other foods. A more rewarding twist to the tough approach is adding “eating vegetables” on their child’s reward chart. This helps kids learn that eating vegetables is a good thing and that they may get a reward for trying something new.
The red, white and blue
Don’t be afraid to change things up and introduce your child to new and different vegetables in a variety of colors. Try to create vegetable dishes that differ from the usual by coordinating the color of the veggies with summer holidays.
For example, make a patriotic vegetable salad for Independence Day by using red vegetables, like beets, radishes, red peppers or red onions. Fill a vegetable dish with white vegetables, like cauliflower, mushrooms or white corn. While there aren’t blue vegetables to choose from, you can get away with using purple carrots, grilling up some eggplant or adding in purple bell peppers or jalapenos. Any vegetable you choose and any color you go with is an excellent and healthy choice for you and your family.
Roasted Spaghetti Squash Bowl
Makes 4 servings
2 small/medium spaghetti squash
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons – divided
Salt and pepper
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces crimini mushrooms, diced
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups chopped and stemmed kale
1 (26 oz) jar tomato sauce
1cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or two if they don’t fit). Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and soft yellow strands. Brush the inside of the squash with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the squash face down on the baking sheet and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the flesh easily pierces with a fork.
While the squash bakes, make the sauce. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium/high heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, garlic powder, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper, and cook for another 3 to4 minutes, until veggies begin to soften.
Add the chopped kale and cook for 5 minutes until it wilts. Add the sauce and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.
Once the squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the inside so the strands appear. Spoon enough of the marinara mixture inside each squash bowl until almost full. Top evenly with the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese and transfer them to the oven and broil until the cheese is golden and bubbly, for about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
— Recipe from Relish.com