As parents, getting our kids to eat healthy foods is regularly on our minds. Not only does a variety of foods provide an abundance of vitamins and minerals needed for proper growth and development, it also helps strengthen the immune system and helps to establish healthy eating patterns for later in life.
But just because you make it, doesn’t mean they’ll eat it.
I know this from first hand experience. My oldest son is a very good eater, but I’ve had to get extremely creative with my youngest son. In this article, we’re going to look at some super practical ways to get more vegetables and high quality foods into our kids’ diets without spending 30 minutes cutting up fruit into tiny pieces to make palm trees and bunny faces (although that would work, I just don’t have time for it!)! Let’s take a look at some smart ways to get your kids to eat more veggies.
Use Zucchini to Your Advantage
Zucchini is a nutrient dense food that is really easy to hide in other foods due to its subtle flavors and it’s well worth giving it a try because it’s packed with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium.
To use in smoothies, shred or cube a large zucchini and place it on a lined baking sheet in the freezer until frozen. Once frozen, store in freezer bags. Use ½ cup frozen zucchini in any smoothie recipe in addition or to substitute a banana. It will provide the same creamy texture that the banana does, but a different nutritional base and won’t be detected because the flavor of the zucchini takes on the other flavors in the smoothie.
Below is one of my most popular smoothie recipes with zucchini added:
Peanut Butter Smoothie
½ cup frozen zucchini
¼ cup oats
1 pitted Medjool date
¼ cup peanut butter
1 tbsp raw shelled hemp seeds
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup almond milk
Add ingredients to a high speed blender and blend for several minutes until consistency is thick and smooth.
Another way to sneak in this nutritious veggie is to shred it and place it in your homemade or store bought marinara sauce. Hiding it requires one small extra step but it’s worth it.
In a large saucepan, mix in 1-2 cups of shredded zucchini into your sauce, but before heating either transfer the sauce in batches into your blender or use a hand-held immersion mixer to completely blend the zucchini into the sauce until creamy and unnoticeable, then heat. Surprisingly, this doesn’t change the taste at all, but add a lot of nutritional value!
Use Oatmeal as a Vehicle for Healthy Fats
Homemade oatmeal can be a vehicle for all sorts of extra goodies and superfoods, but I focus mainly on using it to get added high quality fat into my kids’ diets.
In each batch of oatmeal I make, I add in organic coconut oil, ground flaxseed, and chia seeds. To make it really appealing to the kids I’ll also add in frozen blueberries or Enjoy Life brand mini chocolate chips and small swirl of local honey.
Organic coconut oil has so many health benefits. The lauric and capric acid found naturally in coconut oil are amazing for gut health and I often ask clients to use it daily as they would a supplement because of its benefits and natural healing abilities. Beyond that, coconut oil aids in childrens’ brain development and heart health. It’s also great for the immune system as it contains anti-pathogenic properties, which can help kill off unwanted invaders.
Ground flaxseed, a food source loaded with omega-3 fats, is also a great source for fiber and protein, which makes this an impressive whole food and one I try to sneak in wherever I can. Adding it into oatmeal has been a success, but I also add it into muffins, smoothies, and breadcrumb mixes without anyone noticing!
Like the flax seeds, chia seeds, are another omega-3 fat source high in protein and fiber. They can be eaten whole or ground (you can do this at home with a coffee grinder), but they have the freaky ability to absorb 27x their weight in water so if you have swallowing issues, be sure to allow them to soak prior to eating. I put them in oatmeal and muffins, but my youngest also enjoys them sprinkled on top of a banana with peanut butter, which is also one of my favorite snacks.
Serve Avocados as Dessert
My oldest son will literally sit down with a whole avocado, sprinkle some pink salt on top and eat the whole thing. I realize this approach doesn’t work for most kids, including my youngest. Because avocados are filled with nutrients, including more potassium than a banana, I’ve gotten creative and have since started to serve avocado as a dessert.
Chocolate Almond Butter Pudding
Makes 3 servings
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
Scant 3 tbsp cocoa powder
¼ cup almond butter
Combine all ingredients into your blender and blend until creamy and smooth. Divide into bowls and add fresh fruit as topping (or some kids will prefer to have it without).
Lead with whole foods as snacks
From an early age, I’ve always led with veggies and fruit as snacks. We go on a lot of road trips so I always pack a cooler of finger foods that can be eaten with lunch or as snacks. The kids now know that if they want the turkey stick or popcorn, they need to eat a snack bag of carrots and cucumbers first.
I use this same strategy at the dinner table. I know my youngest will scarf down the chicken and potatoes first and then claim he’s too full to eat whatever vegetable I’ve served so to overcome this issue, I started giving him the vegetable as an appetizer of sorts. I would ask him to come to the table first and give him the vegetable separate from the rest of his food. This is not ideal long term, but it helped to
condition him to eat his vegetables as part of his meal instead of leaving them for last.
I realize each kid is different and some of these suggestions will work for you and your family and others may not, but hopefully this encourages you to have hope and to keep thinking outside the box when it comes to feeding your picky eaters!