10 Ways To Get
More Veggies

My friends are always asking me how I get my kids to eat so healthfully. I tell them that fruit and vegetables have been a part of nearly every meal I've ever fed my children, and I've learned that persistence pays. But even I have had to use some psychology to keep my kids on the healthier path.

For example, my 20-month-old daughter decided one day that Sprite was the only thing she was ever going to drink again. The words of Steven Covey -- he of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People fame -- popped into my head, and I decided I needed to change her bad eating habits sooner rather than later. At that age, seven days of milk, juice and water was all it took for her to forget all about carbonated sugar water.

As our children get older and consume thousands of calories in snacks every day, there's an ever-growing need to ensure their diets are well-rounded. For older kids, a few weeks might be required to make a real change, but what's most important to remember is that no matter what age -- even yours -- it's never too late to make a healthy new habit.

If you have a picky eater, or think your kids will never get their recommended daily five servings, help is here!

10 ways to sneak in extra fruits & veggies

1. Teach by example

Eating your own fruits and vegetables will reinforce that it's an important part of a daily diet. Just like you, your kids aren't going to like every fruit or vegetable -- and that's okay. Just make sure they give everything a try. Your favorites well may become theirs.

2. Eliminate options

If they have a choice between a cookie or a piece of fruit, nine out of ten kids will pick the cookie. Get rid of all the empty calorie snack foods and replace them with healthier options. If some cut fruit or some sliced veggies with dip is front and center in the fridge, and there isn't a sugary snack in reach, chances are they'll opt for the produce rather than go hungry.

3. Make it part of the routine

Serving fruits and veggies at mealtime should be part of your every day routine. Fresh fruit should complement nearly every breakfast, vegetables nearly every dinner (raw or cooked) and at lunchtime, why not try a little of both?

Fresh vegetables make a great snack when children breeze in and out of the kitchen. Leave a dish of cut up peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, celery, baby carrots or snap peas on the countertop as a fly-by snack for kids who pop in and out of the kitchen mid-afternoon or after school. Also keep a big bowl of whole apples (already washed) and oranges on the table.

4. Mix them in

There are so many dinner options that include veggies, it's usually pretty easy to slide in a serving or two at dinner time. For example, fajitas include fresh peppers as part of the recipe, while mushrooms and spinach can be part of lasagna or other pasta dishes. The typical store-bought bag of frozen "mixed vegetables" -- peas, beans, carrots and corn -- make a great addition to pot pie or soup.

If fruits are your challenge, there are also lots of recipes that include those. Two of my family's favorite fruit-enhanced dinners are pork chops with pears or apples, and a peach salsa which nicely accompanies scallops, shrimp or fish. (See recipes for these two dishes below.)

5. Follow their lead

Take a cue from your child's taste buds. If your daughter lives on peanut butter, make ants on a log (fill celery sticks with peanut butter and top it with raisins) for a yummy fun treat you will have fun making together. If it's peanut butter and jelly she's after, use your own fruit preserves on the sandwich instead of sugar-filled jelly.

If your child is a tortilla chip fanatic, give him a side of guacamole or mild salsa to squeeze in some servings of vegetables. If you usually serve ranch or onion dip with potato chips, leave room on the serving platter for plenty of baby carrots, celery sticks and cucumber slices for healthier dipping options.

Kids love the silliness of "macaroni and trees" -- simply make your favorite macaroni and cheese, then add some bite-sized pieces of cooked broccoli.

Often kids find one food they just love, and want to eat it at every meal. If that food happens to be a fruit or vegetable, go with it and serve it up as often as they want.

For example, my 20-month-old daughter decided one day that Sprite was the only thing she was ever going to drink again. The words of Steven Covey -- he of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People fame -- popped into my head, and I decided I needed to change her bad eating habits sooner rather than later. At that age, seven days of milk, juice and water was all it took for her to forget all about carbonated sugar water.

As our children get older and consume thousands of calories in snacks every day, there's an ever-growing need to ensure their diets are well-rounded. For older kids, a few weeks might be required to make a real change, but what's most important to remember is that no matter what age -- even yours -- it's never too late to make a healthy new habit.

If you have a picky eater, or think your kids will never get their recommended daily five servings, help is here!

6. Fruit for dessert

You can make all sorts of deliciously simple desserts with fruit. Popsicles can be made by freezing fresh fruit (chopped or pureed) mixed with juice, while a homemade smoothie made with juice and frozen fruit could rival that from any smoothie shop.

Berries, pears, peaches, apples or cherries can be turned into a decadent ice cream or yogurt topping (just mix 1 cup of fruit with 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon sugar, then warm on the stove stirring constantly until a syrup forms).

Almost any kind of fruit would serve well as the main ingredient in a crumbly warm cobbler, and humble bananas and strawberries -- frozen whole or sliced -- make a sweet, no-fuss treat.

Let your kids snack on a variety of dried fruit, ranging from the chewy (like raisins, prunes and apricots) to the crispy (freeze-dried apple and berries or banana chips). And don't forget about fruit leather, made from pureed fruit dried in a thin sheet. A couple more treats your kids might enjoy: Tropical Fruit Dip and Rolled Fruit Wraps.

7. Let 'er dip!

Ranch dressing, caramel sauce and peanut butter can be found in individual serving sizes to help your kids partake of carrot sticks and apple slices. There are several flavors of dressing on the market, and with persistence, you are bound to find a dressing that your child will enjoy.

Start your child on salads by offering a bowl with a very small amount of shredded lettuce topped by whatever fresh vegetables they may like, along with a few croutons. Put the dressing on the side, as picky eaters often do not like their foods mixed together, and let them start dipping.

8. Be creative

Experiment with different shapes -- kids love things that are silly and wacky. For example, apples don't always have to be sliced into wedges. Cut them widthwise into thin "wheels" or run a veggie peeler around and around to make long spirals of apple. Similarly, cut a half banana into quarters lengthwise to make sticks, while oranges can be sliced in half and eaten like grapefruit. Fruit also makes a great "face" garnish for pancakes and waffles.

Make fruit kabobs by spearing cut fruit onto wooden skewers (be sure the ends are blunted), or simply poke a few pieces of fruit with a toothpick or cocktail stick -- like what might be served with a tropical cocktail.

Use vegetables to make a face on individual pizzas or on bagels spread with cream cheese. See below for an easy pizza dough recipe that can be used for one large or four small pizzas.

9. Spice, spice, baby

Almost every child's taste buds yearns for salty or sweet tastes. If you enjoy your cooked vegetables unseasoned and can't understand why your children won't partake, try spicing theirs up with a little teriyaki sauce or some butter and Parmesan cheese. One mom I know puts a dash of salt and pepper on steamed broccoli to give it a little more pep.

10. Play with your food

Kids have always known how to have fun with their food! Here are some parent-friendly places to begin.

Artichokes are the ultimate action veggies. Show your kids how to use their teeth to scrape off the soft fleshy part on the bottom of each leaf, after dipping it into melted butter or a savory sauce. (Need some preparation tips? Visit the California Artichoke Advisory Board site.)

You have even more playful options on the fruit front. The pomegranate is coming back into vogue now that word's out that it is high in vitamin C, folic acid and antioxidants. Your kids won't care about that, but they'll just have fun eating the bright red candy-like seeds.

Using an old fashioned hand-juicer can also be a fun activity for the younger set. Let them squeeze their own orange or grapefruit juice for breakfast! In the afternoon, they can squeeze a few lemons, add some water and with some sugar or Splenda to make their very own lemonade.

As your children grow and their tastes develop, you will have put them on the path toward keeping fruits and vegetables as a part of their healthy diet for years to come. Good luck, and remember: Be persistent, be consistent, and be creative.


Recipes

Fun and Yummy Pizza

Ingredients:
Pizza Crust (see below)
Tomato Sauce
Mozzarella Cheese
Toppings such as: Diced olives, pineapple chunks, diced green peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni slices

Pizza Crust:
1 1/4 cups flour
1/8 oz. dry yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup very warm water (120-130 degrees)
1 T vegetable oil

Directions:
1. In a medium bowl, stir together half of the flour, the yeast and the salt until well blended. Add water and oil.

2. Mix by hand until almost smooth. Gradually stir in remaining flour to make a firm dough. Cover and let set for at least 15 minutes. Generously prick dough with fork.

3. Preheat oven to 400. Generously grease a baking sheet. Separate dough into four equal portions if desired. Roll out dough on sheet. Place in middle rack of oven.

4. Prebake for 10 to 12 minutes or just until edges of crust begin to turn a light golden brown (eight minutes if baking four small crusts). Remove from oven. Let crust cool.

5. Give each child a small bowl and spoon to spread tomato sauce on pizza crust. Let them sprinkle the cheese and use ingredients of their choice to make faces on their pizza.

6. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Peach Salsa

Serve the following with grilled shrimp, scallops or whitefish marinated in soy sauce.

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups diced peeled peaches (about three large)
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped green onions
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp salt

Directions:
Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate for at least one half hour.

Pork Chops with Pears
This dish is so elegant that I serve it for Christmas dinner. Even better is the fact that it takes only ten minutes to make.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 thin cut boneless pork chops
1 tablespoons dried sage
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 T flour
2 pears, peeled, cored, thinly sliced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp dried ginger

Directions:
1. Season pork with dried sage, salt and pepper. Coat pork with flour.

2. Cook pork in oil in large skillet over high heat until brown, about three minutes per side. Transfer to plate.

3. Drain fat from skillet. Reduce heat, add pears and cook for two minutes until warm.

4. Stir in wine, sugar and ginger, making a gravy from the pork gristle. Increase heat to high and boil until pears are tender and syrup is thick, about 5 minutes.

5. Return pork and any accumulated juices to skillet. Simmer just until cooked through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

Note: According to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, one serving of fruit means one medium piece of fruit, 1/2 cup mixed fruit or 3/4 cup fruit juice. On the vegetable side of things, you need one cup of raw leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup cooked or chopped raw vegetables, or 3/4 cup vegetable juice to make up a serving.

Tags: food alternatives food tips kid-friendly food vegetables for kids

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