Healthy Eating for Kids – A Progressive Approach to Healthy Nutrition

Malnutrition: The New Childhood Epidemic in the U.S.

People hear malnutrition and their minds immediately go to developing countries in which people do not have access to the sustenance needed. Malnutrition, a broad term used to describe undernutrition and overnutrition, is a huge and very serious problem in various parts of the world.

Many think that those in the U.S and other economically stable parts of the world are immune to the issue. We are fortunate to have access to the food needed to survive but malnutrition remains an issue. Although true, please be clear that the source of the problem is different. Developing countries face malnutrition due to a lack of resources while the cause for us is largely poor habits. The problem is bad and to make things worse, the issue is largely impacting children. They are not eating enough nutrient dense foods, more specifically vegetables and fruit.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been improvements in fruit intake but the problem remains a big one when it comes to vegetables. This is expected since fruit is naturally sweet in flavor which appeals to children but the vegetable intake statistics are shocking. In August of 2014, the CDC reported that the amount of whole fruit children between the ages of 2-18 consumed increased by 67% from 2003-2010. This is a step in the right direction but a very disappointing 90% did not meet the recommended numbers for vegetables between 2007 and 2010. The daily recommendations are not difficult to meet but those numbers are not being reached. Refer to the chart to learn the recommended daily serving of fruit and vegetables children need by age.

 

kids-hate-vegetablesThe federal government is making the effort to improve the problem. The government is doing this by funding states and communities to promote healthy eating in schools, ensuring that school districts serve healthy lunches and giving low-income families easier access to fresh produce through programs like WIC and SNAP. Training is also being provided to child care workers and school staff concerning buying, preparing and servinghealthy food for kids. Unfortunately, the government’s efforts, especially in schools, are being wasted. In 2012, before such changes were put into effect, researcher Sarah Amin examined school lunches and student behavior. After taking a closer look, she found that although vegetables were offered, children either didn’t take them or when the mandate was in effect, wasted 56% more than before. You may be wondering why so many steps are being taken to address the problem. The answer to that question is nutrition. Proper nutrition is required to keep children in good health, combat obesity (also on the rise) and it impacts school performance. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that 16% of children age 6 to 19 are overweight. According to the CDC, “childhood obesity has quadrupled in adolescents and more than doubled in children in the past 30 years“. The most frustrating reality is the fact that changing dietary habits is easy to do. Since that is the case, why are children not eating more fresh produce?

 

Parents, It’s Up to You

Those with children have to make an effort to promote healthy eating habits. The best way to lead is by example but additional steps are required. As a parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that your child’s nutritional needs are met. If poor habits have already developed, it is up to you to reverse them. The key to that reversal is learning how to get kids to eat vegetables.

 

25 Proven Ways to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables

Below are 25 tricks and methods to increase a child’s fruit and vegetable consumption.

No.
Method
Effectiveness Score
1. Get Kids in the Kitchen
Inviting your kid(s) in the kitchen will increase curiosity about food and encourage tasting and snacking on healthy options.
 
Ease, children slowly develop a taste for veggies and get to interact with their parent(s).
None
8.0/10
2. Lead by Example
Kids eat what their parents eat. Practicing what you preach is how to get kids to eat vegetables.
 
Eating nutritiously will instill good eating habits and avoid confusion. Children don’t understand it when parents encourage fruits and vegetables but mom or dad doesn’t eat them.
None
10.0/10
3. Hide and Never Seek
Hide vegetables in hearty stews and soups to make them more appealing. Mix those vegetables with other healthy food for kids. Add a lean protein like chicken, turkey or beef and they will never notice. Pureed soups are also an excellent idea.
 
Ease, convenience, affordability and there will be leftovers. As a plus, such meals will develop a child’s palate.
Cook time is required and there will probably be a trial and error period.
8.0/10
4. Add a Little Sweet
Combine vegetables with something sweet. Celery and peanut butter are a popular duo.
 
Ease, convenience and children slowly develop a taste for fresh produce.
Method does use sugar.
7.5/10
5. Cheese It Up
Add melted cheese to anything and kids will eat it up.
 
Ease, convenience and children slowly develop a taste for fresh produce. Cheese is also a good source of calcium which strengthens bones and contains protein.
Cheese does contain fat and sodium but this is not a problem if eaten in moderation.
8.5/10
6. Make Vegetables Fun
Make fun vegetable plates by using veggiesto make funny faces and cute characters.
 
Children develop an interest in vegetables and are compelled to explore.
It does take some additional time for mom/dad to prepare.
7.0/10
7. Implement the One Bite Rule
Research shows that children have to be introduced to a food 8-10 times before they accept it. Insisting that they take at least one bite will increase exposure.
 
Children are slowly introduced to vegetables and good habits are developed gradually.
Requires some time.
9.0/10
8. Use the Reward Method
Reward children with something small like a sticker or good ol’ praise even if they only take one bite.
 
Positive reinforcement assists in developing healthy habits and boosts confidence during the process.
None
9.0/10
9. Use the Bribing Method
Give kids incentive to eat their vegetables by bribing them with dessert. No veggies, no dessert. It’s that simple.
 
Some disagree with bribing but this method helps children learn the meaning of dietary balance.
Method does bribe with a sugary treat but sugar is fine in moderation.
7.0/10
10. Limit Their Unhealthy Options
Limiting access to unhealthy options will direct a child’s attention to healthier ones. When hungry, children will eat anything that looks tasty.
 
This eases them into eating vegetables while improving decision making.
Depending on the child’s age, not having their favorites may cause some upset.
7.5/10
11. Take the Kids Grocery Shopping
A trip to the grocery store will get children excited about food and open their eyes to all the choices out there. As a plus, they will love looking at all the different colors.
 
Grocery shopping gets kids more involved and acquainted with the wide variety of food available.
None
7.0/10
12. Create Colorful Plates
Children are drawn to bright colors so create plates using vegetables with bold hues. This combined with a colorful table setting will spark their interest and increase the chance of giving the food a try.
 
Fun, easy and helps them see vegetables in a positive light. Color variety also ensures that children get their daily nutrients.
None
7.5/10
13. Start a Vegetable Garden
Kids are more inclined to eat vegetables they helped grow.
 
This idea is fun, educational and interactive.
Requires some time.
8.0/10
14. Play with Portions
Kids will eat when they’re hungry so play with portions by composing healthy meals for kids that are mostly vegetables and keep the presence of favored foods low. Aim for meals that are 50% vegetables.
 
This method indirectly promotes healthy eating habits.
There may be some resistance and may take time for some children to get used to.
8.0/10
15. Replace Snacks with Vegetables
Swap potato chips with kale chips, cookies for fruit and replace sugary snack bars with cheese and veggie kebabs.
 
This teaches children that there are healthier alternatives that taste just as good.
A little more time and effort is required to prepare healthy snacks.
7.0/10
16. Add a Little Butter
Butter gives healthy food for kids a delightfully salty taste that they love. Quickly sauté and you’re done!
 
Butter enhances the flavor of vegetables.
Butter adds extra fat and salt.
7.0/10
17. Finely Shred
Use a grater to finely shred vegetables into various meals or use a mandolin to thinly slice.
 
This trick is easy and masks the natural flavors of vegetables while maintaining the texture that kids love.
A little more time and effort is required.
7.0/10
18. Wrap Them Up
Packing vegetables in pita wraps or wrapping them in thinly sliced meats within a wrap or sandwich will increase consumption without resistance.
 
The taste of the vegetables are masked by the other ingredients.
A child may go through the food and pick out the vegetables prior to eating and discard the produce.
7.0/10
19. Bake Them In
You can add vegetables like sweet potato, pumpkin, eggplant and carrots to sweet treats like muffins, cakes, and sweet bread.
 
This trick is easy and actually enhances the flavor of baked goods.
Baked goods do contain sugar. Baking does destroy many of the vitamins and minerals so do keep skins intact if possible since they retain nutrients.
8.0/10
20. Experiment with Spices
Prepare cooked vegetables with kid-friendly spices like the slightly sweet cinnamon and cardamom. Clove, nutmeg, and ginger are delicious as well.
 
Spices offer additional health benefits.
None
8.0/10
21. Garnish with Vegetables
Garnish each meal with a small palm full of healthy vegetables.This slowly introduces children to vegetables and improves taste by pairing veggies with complementary flavors.
None
8.0/10
22. Make a Stir Fry
Stir fries are cheap healthy meals that transform the taste of vegetables by combining them with a number of kid-friendly flavors.
 
The vegetables can still be identified so kids will see vegetables as something they like and want often. Stir fries are also low in fat and vegetables retain nutrients with this cooking method.
Stir fries tend to be high in sodium and sugar but both can be controlled with a healthy stir fry sauce.
9.0/10
23. Freeze It
Make fruit and vegetable purees, pour into an ice cube tray, add a stick, freeze, and serve.
 
Kids get a healthy treat that they can and will grab anytime.
None
9.5/10
24. Juice
If they won’t eat vegetables, they will drink them. Juice veggies with some fruit to mask the taste.
 
This trick is easy, foolproof and can dramatically increase a child’s vegetable consumption.
Not everyone has a juicer.
10.0/10
25. Fruit and Veggie Blends
Blend vegetables like spinach, kale, carrots and broccoli with fresh fruit, yogurt and a little agave and voila, your child is getting the nutrition he/she needs.
 
Ease, convenience, and affordability.
Aside from adding sugar in the form of yogurt and agave (which you can omit), none.
10.0/10

 

Knowledge is Progress

get-kids-to-eat-more-vegetablesThe only way to develop a proper plan of action is truly comprehending the reason why the problem exists. Children don’t eat enough vegetables because they do not like them. Vegetables do deliver flavors that appeal to the taste buds of a child but children’s palates are often underdeveloped. This is usually caused by not being exposed to sufficient variety. Let’s think of the foods kids love. Items like chicken nuggets, ice cream, and peanut butter go over well. Now think about the flavor of these foods. They are very simple in taste, texture and smell. Taste buds naturally prefer sweet and salty. Vegetables, on the other hand, are very complex. The taste and aroma of each and every healthy vegetableare affected by complex natural chemical combinations. Greens like spinach and kale are slightly bitter, earthy and vegetal while peas, carrots, and beets each offer their own unique sweetness. As for allium vegetables like onion and garlic, their pungent flavors indicate a greater presence of natural chemicals.

The texture of certain vegetables is also off-putting to children. Younger ones prefer soft while older ones appreciate some crunch. The most common complaint concerning children’s vegetable consumption is the texture. Meals made with vegetables are either too crunchy, mushy, soggy, gritty or creamy. The only way you’ll know what texture he/she prefers is by asking. Once parents have an answer they can prepare vegetables in a way that appeals to their child. Steaming and roasting are a great way to soften vegetables (you can also go with greens that are naturally soft or avocados which are technically fruits but served asvegetables). As for grilling and stir frying, both methods maintain some bite andraw is best for crunch.

Color may also be a reason children do not like vegetables. The most problematic of them all seems to be anything green and plant like. Dr. Annie Wertz and Dr. Karen Wynn, two psychologists at America’s Yale University, decided to explore this reluctance. Dr. Wertz and Wynn did this by observing 47 eight to 18-month-old children. After presenting them with realistic looking plants and other objects, they found that the children often avoided the plants much like they would avoid plant looking vegetables on a plate. Based on the findings of the study, Wertz and Wynn determined that this may be programmed behavior to avoid being harmed or poisoned by plants. Today plants do not present much of a threat and are encountered on a daily basis but “survival”mechanisms that have survived human revolution may be the root of the avoidance. Fortunately, that avoidance is reversible by teaching children that the foods are safe and delicious.

 

Blend Vegetables into Sauces

blend-vegetables-to-saucesThose having difficulty getting their child to eat the recommended daily amount of vegetables must try mixing them into tasty sauces. Doing so is easy and will benefit the whole family. To blend vegetables into sauces, start with an idea for a meal requiring a sauce. The most popular and easiest is pasta. To make a veggie-packed tomato sauce, start by sautéing onions, garlic, finely chopped carrot and celery. Follow by adding chopped tomatoes, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, puree and you have a vegetable packed sauce. Remember that vegetables can be blended into almost any savory sauce with the help of a blender or food processor. Start with a base recipe or just an idea, select vegetables similar or complementary in taste, cook them down, blend, season and serve.There are so many advantages to taking this approach, one being the options. Parents can easily make a very mild salsa, tomato sauce for pasta, enchilada sauce, or mushroom sauce that kids will love. Blending works so well because one, the vegetables are not visible and two, it combines them with the very palatable sweet and salty flavors. As stated, taste buds naturally prefer sweet and salty. Combining those naturally accepted flavors with veggies assists in developing a taste for these foods. Melding veggies with sweet and/or salty items also increases the nutrition value of a meal or snack without as much persistence and encouragement. If it looks good and smells good, children will eat it and ask for seconds. Effectiveness Score: 10.0/10

 

Try Dips and Dressings

Tortilla chips with guacamole dipping sauceAnother way to get children to eat their vegetables is by serving them with dips and dressings. This method is a very effective one for those trying to determine how to get kids to eat vegetables. It takes away the vegetal taste of the produce while allowing them to be eaten raw which is when they’re most nutritious. Give a child a plate of broccoli and he/she will turn it away but serve broccoli with cheese sauce and they are ready to dig in. It is the same for salad. Adding that additional layer of flavor in the form of Caesar dressing or ranch takes away from the vegetables making it more appealing to children. There are even dips like artichoke and spinach dip that are loaded with vegetables already! Serve a dip loaded with vegetables with veggie sticks and you have a tasty snack with tons of nutrients.

Besides taking away from the flavor disliked by most children, dips and dressings make eating vegetables more interactive and encourages children to develop a positive view of vegetables. When enjoying vegetables with a dip or dressing they touch the produce, experience it in its raw form, and grow accustomed to the various textures.That interactivity is how to get kids to eat vegetables. They like eating with their hands, playing with their food and getting a little messy. It helps them learn about food variety and identification. A study done by researchers at the University of Iowa suggests that messy eaters are fast learners. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Dips and dressings are catalysts for healthy eating. Increased knowledge of food will boost curiosity and openness. That openness increases awareness of all the foods out there and that, along with parental effort, directly translates to kids eating more vegetables on a daily basis. Effectiveness Score: 10.0/10

 

Breaking Nutrition Barriers

Below are 20 of the toughest vegetables and fruits to get kids to eat. Included in this list are the health benefits of each as well as what to and how to serve them so children will love them!

 

red-vegetables

The Red Group

Beets
Health benefits: These healthy vegetables boost the immune system, are a good source of potassium which promotes healthy muscle function and keeps the liver and kidneys healthy.

Serving Suggestions: Beets are unlikely to go over well if presented raw or sautéed despite the lovely color so they are best served in a smoothie. Perhaps a beet and blueberry smoothie? Although true, it won’t hurt to try incorporating them into a salad finished with a honey dressing or serve roasted beets with a yogurt dip.

Sweet Peppers
Health benefits: Sweet peppers have a high concentration of vitamin C as well as lutein for healthy eyes and the very important beta-carotene.

Serving Suggestions: Bell peppers are best eaten raw but taste delicious when incorporated into various soups, stews and sauces. You may find that your child loves thinly sliced peppers on sandwiches, lightly sautéed or served with a creamy garlic sauce. Parents can also sneak them in when they roast meat, poultry and fish. Another great idea is stuffed peppers.

 

Green Vegetables and Fruits

green-vegetables

Arugula
Health benefits: Arugula boosts bone health, brain health and is a rich source of phytochemicals.

Serving Suggestions: Peppery arugulais most appealing to children raw (just add it to a salad with a light dressing or vinaigrette). It can even be added to pesto (spread the pesto on toast), or served with lean chicken/beef.

Asparagus
Health benefits: Asparagus is high in vitamins A, C, E, and K, is a great source of fiber and ispacked with antioxidants.

Serving Suggestions: Asparagus and a simple lemon vinaigrette are a great pairing as well as a creamy Greek yogurt based dip.They are best served sautéed with salt and black pepper or roasted in a hot oven for about 15 minutes.

Avocados
Health benefits: Avocados are high in healthy fat. They contain both alpha-linolenic acid and oleic acid,both key fatty acids, as well as an array of vitamins and minerals.

Serving Suggestions: Kids will go crazy for a delicious bowl of guacamole with homemade tortilla chips. Make sure to load it with diced tomato, finely chopped onion and don’t forget the lime!

Brussels Sprouts
Health benefits: Brussels sprouts contain high amounts of vitamins C and K. They are also a good source of choline, copper, potassium and the brain health promoting omega 3 fatty acids.

Serving Suggestions: Brussels sprouts are best roasted until brown and crisp. They can then be served alongside a number of healthy meals for kids that include a protein. To up the flavor and add a touch of sweetness, drizzle them with homemade teriyaki sauce.

Collard Greens
Health benefits: One cup of these greens provide 21% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C and deliver macronutrients including protein and complex carbohydrates. Collard greens also contain fiber.

Serving Suggestions: Kids will eat collards sautéed in butter, lightly seasoned and served with a creamy sauce for dipping or there is the option of stirring a creamy sauce into the greens.

Green Beans
Health benefits: Green beans are excellent sources of vitamin K whichpromote bone health, have an impressive antioxidant capacity and supplies the body with silicon which is a mineral required for healthy connective tissue.

Serving Suggestions: Children will enjoy baked green beans tossed in butter or a cheesy green bean casserole but they definitely will not reject green bean fries accompanied by French onion dip or hummus.

Spinach
Health benefits: Spinach is high in fiber, vitamins A, C, E, K, folate, calcium, and iron.

Serving Suggestions: Spinach is most appealing to children raw (just add it to a salad with a light dressing or vinaigrette), pile it on sandwiches, include in a pasta sauce, soups, stews or blend into a smoothie.

 

Yellow and Orange Fruits and Vegetables

yellow-vegetables

Pumpkin
Health benefits: Pumpkin, along with the seeds, boosts vision, maintains a healthy heart and improves sleep.

Serving Suggestions: Pumpkin can be turned into a tasty pie or muffins sweetened with raw sugar/honey. It can also be roasted and served alongside a number of main courses or dipped in something like a white bean and garlic dip.

Melon
Health benefits: Melons are high in important vitamins like vitamin A which promote healthy teeth and lycopene, an antioxidant that prevents cell damage.

Serving Suggestions: Melon is best served in a fruit salad or sliced.

Carrots
Health benefits: Carrots are high in beta-carotene and fiber. The healthy vegetables also have many kid-specific benefits that include boosting immunity, promoting oral hygiene and preventing constipation.

Serving Suggestions: Carrots pair well with any dip or sauce. Give barbecue sauce a try or a little thousand island. You can also roast the carrots and make a dip with the roasted carrots and serve with whole grain crackers. They can easily be turned into chips or fries as well.

 

White and Brown Veggies and Fruits

white-and-brown-vegetables

Onion
Health benefits: The chromium in onions regulate blood sugar, the phytochemicals improve immunity and keep the heart healthy.

Serving Suggestions: Onions can easily be turned into French onion dip that children will devour, hidden in various other dishes and added to salads for both nutrients and taste. Go with sweet onions.

Radish
Health benefits: Radishes are high in fiber, folate, riboflavin and potassium.

Serving Suggestions: Radishes have a bold note so mellow that flavor with a creamy dressing your child likes. Thinly sliced radishes and cream cheese may become a new favorite snack.

Cauliflower
Health benefits: This cruciferous veggie provides adequate nutritional support to the body’s detox system and contains a wide array of essential nutrients.

Serving Suggestions: Parents cannot go wrong with cauliflower and melted cheese sauce. It can also be mashed to take the place of mashed potatoes.

Mushroom
Health benefits: Mushrooms prevent common illnesses by improving immunity. They’re also rich in iron, calcium, and antioxidants.

Serving Suggestions: Mushrooms can be used to make a mushroom sauce for sides like mashed potatoes or main courses. Sautéed and lightly seasoned is good as well, perhaps with a little chicken stir fry sauce? Pizza, of course, with homemade tomato sauce is another option likely to change a child’s view of the fungus. Many even like dipping mushrooms in guacamole.

Beans
Health benefits: Beans are packed with protein, complex carbs and fiber. As for nutrients, they contain an array of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals including magnesium, manganese, and zinc.

Serving Suggestions: Kids will eat all the beans they need when turned into a refried bean dip.

Lentils
Health benefits: High in protein, folate, iron, and zinc.

Serving Suggestions: Curry sauce (minus the heat) and lentils will soon be one of your child’s favoritecheap healthy meals. Kids will also like lentils cooked in tomato sauce. You may even want to sneak some spinach in.

 

Shades of Purple

purple-vegetables

Eggplant
Health benefits: Rich source of vitamin B6, thiamin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and dietary fiber.

Serving Suggestions: Eggplant is made for dipping! Cut them into thick sticks, lightly batter, bake and serve with dip. They can also be cubed and added to almost anything or thinly sliced and used in eggplant parmesan with pesto or tomato sauce.

Turnips
Health benefits: Turnips have tons of vitamin C and calcium while the greens contain vitamins A, C, and K as well as beta-carotene.

Serving Suggestions: Turnips are like a healthier potato. They can be mashed, added to hash browns that can then be used to make a hash brown casserole with ranchero sauce (just tone down the heat) or mix with potatoes for scalloped potatoes to serve with dinner.

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