Pass the Peas and Carrots, Please! (You Can Get Your Kids to Say This Too!)
There is no shortage of ice cream-, candy- and cookie-loving children. We don’t have to teach our kids how to like cookies. Yet the foods we want them to eat, the foods that actually nourish those little bods, are a different story. Remember that first go at it with green peas? I'm sure it wasn't pretty. And if you're not quite there yet, get your cleaning solution and cameras ready; you're in for a messy treat. Don’t get too worried, though, when the peas go flying or dribble down that onesie. The first "yuck" isn’t just happening in your home — it’s happening all across the nation, and it doesn’t end with first-time peas. Broccoli gets a double "yuck," and Brussels sprouts, well, they’ve been called some pretty nasty names. It doesn’t mean we’re bad parents or that our kids are terrible eaters when they shun these healthy goodies. It's actually no one’s fault. No one is truly born a chard and cabbage fanatic.
We're all born with a natural taste for calorie- and sugar-heavy foods like carbs and fats. We can blame (or thank) our ancestors for that. Cavemen couldn’t just walk around picking and eating all kinds of leaves and berries. Many of the plants they were exposed to were poisonous, so they had to be weary of certain tastes like bitter and sour. Instead, they ate the safe stuff (AKA sweet tasting) that would give them the calories they needed to live active caveman lives. Translation: Don't blame yourself for your kids' veggie-hating ways. Blame your ancestors. We are programmed to like sweets. For real.
Vegetables are an unbeatable source of nutrients sans calorie overload. We all want to provide as much nutrition as we can to help our children grow and thrive and, of course, protect them, right? Vegetables help take care of this. Studies continue to show the benefits of plant-rich diets. Antioxidants and phytochemicals in vegetables aren’t just fancy words; they are a tough line of defense for the body and brain. So how do we veggify our homes? With most of the country eating way too few fruits and vegetables, it’s up to us as parents to be ambassadors. Avoid the tricks and grow pure veggie lovers with these tips:
Be a veggie chef. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make cooking and eating vegetables the norm in your home. Highlight the variety and beauty of vegetables with delicious meals and snacks. Leftover broccoli in an egg scramble, and sliced red pepper with a pita and hummus for snack are examples of the ways veggies should just be a normal part of every (OK, almost every) meal. Don't bug your kids about eating their greens. Save the nagging for homework. Simply do the veggie work. Add the veggies left and right without all the chatter about it. Let it be, and kids will learn lasting healthy habits.
Take advantage of texture. Veggies can be a challenge for kids who are picky or sensitive. The heartiness of kale or crunchiness of a pepper may make some kids squirm, and others might get grossed out by the mushiness of tomatoes. Expose them to all types of food textures as early and often as possible so nothing is too new or frightening. To transition already-picky eaters to try putting tomatoes in a wrap with turkey or to add radish to avocado toast, capitalize on the type of texture they do like. Got a pretzel lover? Cucumbers sprinkled with some lemon juice and salt may be a great choice for a satisfying snack instead.
Add good fats and flavor. There is a reason most of us have fond memories of chomping into ants on a log. For those of you who don’t, this delicacy involves sticking raisins onto celery with peanut butter and cinnamon. Fat, protein and spices are a great complement to vegetables. The flavors complement each other and the veggies become a bit more, dare I say, fun? Spreading hummus on carrot sticks or layering cheese on cucumber rounds adds delicious flavor and additional nutrients. Don’t shun the fat.
Offer, offer and repeat. Research shows that tastes preferences take a while to develop. New foods take time to love, even for the most-adventurous eaters. How many foods do you like as an adult that you didn’t dare look at as a kid? Don’t get pushy, but keep offering veggies over and over and over again. One bite may lead to an "I hate it," but 12 to 15 bites later, you may hear an "I love it!"
Peas and carrots seem to be Oscar worthy in the eyes of many kids. If you have a peas and carrots lover, try the recipe below to get him or her interested in something new.
Heat the oil is a medium saucepan. Cut the onion and zucchini into 1/4-inch pieces, and cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Add the chopped onion, zucchini and salt to the pan, and stir over medium heat until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Lower the heat, add the edamame, peas, carrots and corn to the pan, and stir over medium-low heat for about 1 minute. Transfer the cooked ingredients to a large bowl, let cool, and toss with the tomatoes and lemon juice. Season with black pepper.
Keri Glassman is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. She is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, the Health and Wellness partner for JW Marriott, was Lead Nutritionist for Turner’s health and wellness entertainment brand, upwave and the Nutritionist and Judge on the healthy cooking competition show, “Cook Your Ass Off”. She has authored four books and is regularly featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live.