Preparing vegetables your children will love
I grew up not liking any vegetable I ate. My parents always served them and I was expected to eat them, but I never found one I wanted to eat. Eventually I developed the tactic of taking a bite of vegetable and then filling my mouth with the main course so I wouldn’t have to taste the vegetable. This continued into adulthood. I knew they were good for me, so I didn’t stop eating them altogether, but I had never really enjoyed a vegetable. During a healthy eating challenge at work, I started tracking the number of servings of fruits and vegetables I ate each day and thought maybe if I just ate more vegetables I would grow to like them. Well, this didn’t work for me either. Thus began my search for a way to cook vegetables that would make them more enjoyable, rather than just the same two tolerable vegetables I rotated in the meals I prepared every night. I’m writing this post about preparing vegetables for your children, but really I was the guinea pig in trying these methods. I didn’t want my children to despise vegetables either so I explored other options. So far my daughter isn’t a big lover of vegetables (my son seems to be faring well at this point) and I’ve found these tips helpful for her too. I recently took a free online child nutrition class through Stanford University that was really informational and had great cooking demonstrations. I was introduced to new ways to prepare vegetables and learned a lot of tips for encouraging children to eat healthy. Some of what I share comes from this class. And as always, as you start incorporating new behaviors into your home, utilize Effective Communication to talk with your children about what changes you’ll be making and why. Children are more willing to try new things when they are prepared for a change.
Roasted vegetables are easy to prepare, require little effort, can be used for almost any vegetable, and you don’t need a recipe. I’ve grown to love roasted vegetables because they are soft and flavorful and give a break from the usual steamed or boiled vegetable.
First preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Then cut the desired vegetables in small pieces and mix with olive oil. Be generous with the oil so that every piece is coated to add flavor and ensure the vegetables won’t dry out during cooking. Season with a generous amount of salt and fresh ground pepper. These are usually all the seasonings I add, but you can add any other seasonings you enjoy. Place the pieces on a baking sheet, making sure that there is plenty of room in between each piece. Roast the vegetables until they are tender and charred on the edges. For thin, softer vegetables this takes about 15 minutes, but for bigger root vegetables it could take as long as an hour.
I found a great article called, “How to roast any vegetable” that gives examples of vegetables that pair well together, suggested cooking times, and more tips.
Adding white sauce to steamed vegetables
Adding a white sauce or a cheese sauce to the traditional steamed vegetable gives variety and children love the added flavor. It’s simple to make and takes little time. You can also make enough at one time to save for another meal.
White sauce recipe
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
1 cup milk
- In 1½ quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until
- mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.
- Gradually stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; boil and stir 1 minute until sauce thickens.
- Add cheese, if desired.
Green smoothies were my first breakthrough to eating the recommended daily amount of vegetables. I still make them frequently at breakfast or for an afternoon snack for my family. My children love it, it’s easy to carry around, and is consumed quickly. You need adequate time to cut the fruits and vegetables, but it’s not difficult. There are so many green
smoothie recipes out there, and in reality you can just use what produce you have in your fridge, but these are the ingredients I always like to have on hand as a base for the drink, and then I add to it.
Green smoothie recipe
1 cup spinach
Juice of 1 lemon (can include rind for more fiber)
Juice of 1 lime (can include rind for more fiber
½ cucumber, with peel
1 cup berries (fresh or frozen)
Then I add anything else I have on hand or what is on sale at the store, such as banana, peach, plum, grapes (a few grapes can make it really sweet), celery, and kale. I also like to include yogurt. Apple juice, orange juice, or milk can help thin out the smoothie.
Add any juices first then blend with spinach. This helps break down the spinach and will result in a green drink that is less grainy. After the spinach and juice is sufficiently blended, add the produce containing more liquid to the bottom and the harder produce on top. This way, by the time the harder produce gets to the bottom of the blender there is plenty of liquid to help break it up. Blend the drink for several minutes until smooth. A grainy smoothie tends to turn kids off to drinking it, so try to get it as smooth as possible.
Smoothies are a great way to get children involved in food preparation. They like to add the next ingredient and it’s fun to watch the drink change color and texture as you add. Buy some fun straws to go with the drink. My daughter loves choosing the color of straw while the smoothie is blending.
Greek yogurt dip
Greek yogurt dip is a healthy dip option to encourage eating raw vegetables and is perfect for lunches and to have on the counter for snacking. It has added protein to give your child energy and to help them feel full longer.
You can just buy plain greek yogurt and add a dry ranch packet or french onion packet and mix it up. Or, I found a simple homemade recipe that doesn’t have all the added preservatives and unknown ingredients.
Greek yogurt dip recipe
18-ounce container 2% greek yogurt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 large shallot (2 tablespoons chopped)
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
- Finely mince the shallot.
- Measure 2 tablespoons of the shallot, and mix together with all remaining ingredients. Store in the refrigerator.
Stir Fries, skillet meals, and soups
Another way I started exploring eating vegetables was through stir fries, and from there I tried to find other ways of including vegetables in the main course so as not to eat them alone. These meals have added sauces or broth to flavor the vegetables. One thing my child nutrition class strongly encouraged was not to hide the vegetables. They suggested that children should see what they are eating and learn to enjoy the healthy options so they will choose to eat them later. There are endless recipes for stir fries, skillet meals, and soups so I’m not going to include specific recipes, but here is a video for the basic steps of how to stir-fry. The endless variety is what makes these type of meals so nice for eating extra vegetables and using what’s already in your kitchen.
Some extra tips for getting your children to enjoy vegetables
- Buy produce that is in season (cheaper and tastier).
- Explore new vegetables.
- Start a home garden and have your children help grow and pick the vegetables. This would be a great addition to a chore chart.
- Have children help pick the vegetables at the store or farmer’s market.
- Let your children see you enjoying vegetables.
- Don’t force them to eat the vegetables. I believe a child should try every vegetable you cook, and sometimes I tell my daughter she needs to eat a certain amount of the vegetables before getting more of a food she likes, but if they truly don’t like it or are completely opposed to trying don’t force them to eat it. The more they are exposed to the vegetables the more likely they’ll be to try it in the future. Offering rewards, such as dessert or staying up a few minutes later, can also encourage them to try something new.
- Include your children in the food preparation. They can begin learning to cut vegetables with a small plastic fork, cut scallions with scissors, stir the sauce, add oil, etc. You can use the same skill of Preventive Teaching to teach your child how to prepare food in the same way you teach behavioral skills.
If you have any other tips or recipes share them below!