Eating more fruits and vegetables is one of the central tenets of a healthy diet.
And because meat and dairy typically require more resources to produce than vegetables, eating lower down the food chain is also one of the easiest ways to green the impact of your food. (As food writer Michael Pollen puts it “Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much.)
It’s relatively easy, of course, to make changes to your own diet. But how do you go about encouraging children — many of whom are notoriously picky eaters — to put down the hot dog and reach for the broccoli instead?
Even if you’re not trying to raise 100 percent vegetarian children, there’s little doubt that children will benefit for years to come if they can develop a taste for plant-based foods.
Here are a few ways to help make that happen.
Connect to the source
Children often live in a world of mass marketed, processed foods. Try reconnecting them with the source of their food — either through visiting the farmers market, volunteering at a community garden or growing some of their own at home. Not only is this an opportunity to taste fruits and veggies at their freshest, but you can also introduce children to varieties they might not otherwise get to sample at the supermarket, and get a breath of fresh air in the process.
Make it easy and attractive
When foods are in easy reach, and displayed attractively, people are more likely to eat them. This has been shown to be true in school cafeterias. When fruits and vegetables were displayed prominently and with care for presentation, more kids ate them. When brownies were given prominence, more brownies were consumed. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it is scientific fact.
Try applying the same principle at home — create attractive displays of fruits and veggies and let kids know that they can help themselves. In the meantime, while I would never encourage you to ban sweet treats, it’s worth keeping in mind where and how they are stored at home because that will influence how often they are eaten. Keeping them out of sight is a great way to reduce temptation.
Teach them to cook
Children love to get their hands dirty — so encourage them to participate in the kitchen. They’re much more likely to try something if they had a hand in preparing it — especially if they grew it themselves too. You don’t even have to turn the oven on. My daughter recently made an American flag out of fruits and yogurt at her preschool. Sadly, we didn’t get to try it because she gobbled it all up on the spot.
Play with your food
I am not a big fan of “hiding” veggies in other food items. Children should learn to love vegetables for the taste, not be tricked into eating them or come to believe they are some kind of chore. Nevertheless, creative recipes that incorporate veggies in fun and interesting ways can be a reminder that veggie-based foods can be every bit as delicious as meat, dairy or grains.
This Spicy Butternut Squash and Black Bean Burger recipe is currently on my “must try” list:
Take a dip
Ranch is not the only dip that will get kids to eat their veggies. We’ve tried everything from hummus to salsa to cucumber-yogurt dips with much success (and mess!) Many of them offer considerable nutritional benefits in their own right — benefits that are multiplied if you serve them alongside veggie sticks to dip with.
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