Q: My kids hate vegetables. It’s a battle for them to eat anything green that isn’t covered in cheese. My husband is the same way. I know we need to eat healthier, but I don’t want to waste money on vegetables they won’t eat. Although I’m partially to blame for giving in and buying fast food and other junk, I know it’s time to change. How do I get the rest of my family to do the same?
— Frustrated Mom
A: A friend of mine offered an analogy that helps me avoid most fast food spots: Think of food as fuel for a car. Super premium gas serves a purpose, but it’s not essential for most vehicles. Cheap gas should be reserved for those days when you are coasting on fumes. If you load up on the cheap gas every day, eventually, it will catch up with you.
Ever pay for a rebuilt engine? It’s not pretty.
I commend you for taking action. Just remember that it took time for you to find the road less traveled. With a little patience, you may be able to transform your family’s palate, too.
I called on my friend and former colleague Meridith Ford Goldman, dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for a little backup. Goldman’s palate gets quite a workout each week as she tastes her way through mushroom polenta one night and Thai spinach wraps the next. Her teenage daughter, Harper, 13, serves as a willing dining companion, but Goldman admits that Harper shares your family’s fickle palate.
“When she was younger, it was hard to get her to eat anything that wasn’t brown,” Goldman said. Here are a few suggestions to turn the tide in your home:
Be patient: “Don’t get frustrated if your family isn’t eating right every single day,” she said. Instead, look at what they eat over the course of a week. If you are offering the right food, in time, they will eat it.
“I learned early on that pushing her has a very negative effect,” Goldman said. “Over time, Harper has carefully chosen new food favorites such as orzo and asparagus, which she loves fresh from the grill with a little lemon juice and few shards of Parmesan. She also loves tomatoes, especially in Caprese salad.”
Focus on family favorites: Purchase fresh vegetables from the short list of produce your family does like to eat. Since the weather is warming up, start with salads and dips that incorporate “family-approved” veggies. If your family only eats spinach in a creamy dip, make the dip and cut the sour cream over time. Try kid-friendly homemade honey mustard dressing on salads and as a dipping sauce. If they crave French fries, substitute sweet potatoes and try “oven-fried” French fries.
Fire up the grill: Most guys embrace the title of Grill Master. Challenge your husband to get perfect grill marks on meat, seafood and veggie kabobs that you assemble with the kids. Don’t forget the fruit. Pineapples and peaches transform into caramelized yummy goodness after a few minutes on the grill. Fruit kabobs also make a simple and healthy summer treat. Don’t forget the popsicles. Go retro and make fun versions for kids and adults featuring fresh herbs and chopped fruit.
Keep healthy options readily available: Kids can’t make good choices when the only options are chicken fingers and French fries, Goldman added. Buy frozen bags of fruit to use in smoothies that can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Add apples to the crisper in place of chips in the pantry. Slip a little sautéed spinach under the cheese in Sunday morning omelets or create a waffle buffet with an assortment of fresh fruit.
Make healthy eating a team effort: Take a family trip to your local farmers market and pick up produce together. Window-shopping may spark new interest among the troops. Farmers also have great tips on how to turn their produce into yummy meals that won’t end up in the trash. After the trip, gather around a table to chop, dice and store snack-size portions of your bounty in single-serving containers (preferably BPA-free ones). If anyone in the family has a green thumb, start a small garden and grow veggies or herbs to enhance favorite dishes.
Embrace the cheese: “I’m not one for blanketing everything with cheese,” Goldman said, “but I’ve definitely made my share of pasta and cheese dishes to introduce new veggies.” Her favorite combination: penne pasta with chicken sausage, goat cheese, garlic and tomatoes. “Sometimes I throw in some asparagus or spinach for good measure,” she said. Grated Parmesan also goes a long way on grilled or roasted vegetables.
Mix it up: Make sure you offer a variety of healthy options and your family will eventually migrate to what’s best. Incorporate a new grain (quinoa, anyone?) or vegetable on a regular basis, and encourage the entire family to offer recipe ideas. Don’t give up. If you expose your family to good eating habits, eventually they will get the message. Of course, an occasional ice cream sundae is something every girl needs and deserves. It just shouldn’t be the focus.
Somewhere down the road, your family will thank you.