I was raised from birth, on a whole foods, home cooked vegetarian diet. Eating my veggies came naturally because they were served up every day. But, most kids around were pickier than I was, and my mom often planned on plain baked potatoes for some of their visits. My own children have their food preferences, and thanks to lots of experimenting and nutrition reading, I've concluded its best to let them make their own decisions. We do have one golden rule. All food must be prepared in as fresh and whole a state as possible, and it must not contain added sugar, vegetable oil or flour. Simple.
Now, when I say eating veggies, I actually mean including more high quality, nutrient rich food into your child's diet. Vegetables, squashes, roots and green leafy foods top most people's list for what's healthy. Its always satisfying when our kids choose these, eatting up their salads or begging for broccoli. But remember that all essential vitamins and minerals can also be found in the fruit kingdom.
Well chosen fruits can satisfy all your child's requirements. Look here for a great index of nutrients found in fruits. Some people thrive on a complete diet of fruit alone, so there is no need to worry if your child chooses a meal of apples or fresh squeezed orange juice, over a lovingly cooked meal. Some great fruit choices for a wide range of minerals include: fresh squeezed citrus juices, all kinds of berries, bananas, avocados, peaches, melons and papayas.
However you choose to feed your children, here are some tactics to get extra vitamins and minerals into every meal.
1. Start by buying your child's favorites. Let her/him help you choose in the store, or brainstorm at home to think of foods they especially like. Buy a few of something unusual too, especially if you like it, so they can try it and perhaps expand their repertoire. Don't be offended if they refuse, or spit it out in disgust. Tastes change fast, and someday they may be serving it to their children.
2. Add a special ingredient. Choose something your child already loves and add it to a soup, casserole or salad. This builds interest in the meal and encourages your child to eat heartily. In our family we make olive soup. This is really a hearty lentil soup with brown lentils, celery, carrots, cumin, cilantro. When we add black olives, it becomes something special. Announcing olive soup, instead of lentil soup, makes the crowds come running.
3. Grate some vegetables very fine and add them to your cooking. Zucchini bread, apple sauce muffins or carrot cake are classic examples. We also make yam or potato pancakes with finely grated celery and chinese cabbage added, blackbean burgers with carrots and chick pea dips with parsley, celery or red pepper.
4. Eat your veggies raw. Raw carrots, snow peas, green beans, sweet peppers, broccoli and even cabbage or sprouts can be more appealing to children in their raw state. Offer some nibbles while you prepare the meal. Your child may be hungry already so it can be a perfect snack. They may prefer the raw vegetables to those cooked in the meal, so consider their snack as meal serving.
5.Offer a nutrient rich dip to go with raw vegetables. This can be a nutritious snack or even a meal. Nut butters, bean dips, yogurt, cheese slices, avocados and home made dressings go well with many types of vegetables and salad fruits. Use sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, lettuce, celery, carrots, raddishes, broccoli or cauliflower.
6. Serve each vegetable solo. Some children like to have everything separate on their plate. They may like cabbage alone, but if you mix it with carrots they won't eat it beacuse they don't like the flavor combination. You can easily accomodate this by cooking the vegetables one at a time. My children will also sometimes munch on lettuce, celery or carrot when they're a little distracted with something else, and just need a small snack.
7. Make a one dish meal. This may not work for the child who prefers everything solo, but it can be a good chance to introduce a new food for a more adventurous eater. Try jazzing up your favorite meals. Add broccoli to your pizza or spinach to a marinara sauce. Many casseroles, quiches, grain dishes and shephard's pies make a delicious and hearty meal that your child may enjoy without a side of vegetables or salad.
8. Fruit plates make beautiful and nutricious meals. Consider eating just one type of fruit or make a fancier mixed fruit salad. Stick to ripe, seasonal fruits for the least expense. Strawberries, peaches, plums and melons are great in the summer. Apples, pears, bananas and citrus are the cheaper winter options. Try something tropical and exotic like mango, papaya or fresh pineapple as a treat.
9. Smoothie it up. Serve a complete drink as a meal. Try a simple smoothie of pure fruit, like banana blended with water and a special addition of a few berries, peaches or pears. Try something more complex like banana, almond butter and dates, a fruit and yogurt mix, or a favorite fruit and milk (nut, seed, or raw dairy milks are our top picks.) Some children enjoy green monster smoothies where a few leaves of mild greens such as lettuce or baby spinach are added to a sweet smoothie. Fresh mint is also very nice.
10. Keep some trail mixes around as a fast snack alternative, or a travel meal. Simple mixes of nuts and raisins provide good energy for small children. Fancier alternatives include adding other types of dried fruits such as apricots, dried apples or cherries. A natural food store will have unsulfured varieties which, though costlier, are much better alternatives as they will be fresher and free from preservatives. You can also make tasty energy bars by pulsing dried fruits, nuts and dates together in a food processor. You can roll these into bars or cookies.
BONUS: Keep fresh and healthy food within eye sight. Leave a fruit bowl out on the table, the kitchen counter or a livingroom shelf. Many greens keep well at room temperature for several days. Display the greens in a vase of water and encourage nibbling. Grow a garden, indoors or out, where your children can pick their own food. Herbs like mint and basil will sprout from cuttings and make a fast kitchen garden. Tomtatoes and cucumbers grow well from pots, and of course, a huge variety of beautiful food can spring up from your back yard, with just a little bit of effort.
Enjoy your meals and keep a relaxed attitude. Even the pickiest of eaters will try something new when they get tired of their small list of favorites. It may take some time, but a patient attitude around meals will instill your child with a healthy attitude about food that will last a lifetime.