Many parents remember Popeye the Sailor Man’s undeniably strong muscles and endless ability to save the day. He credited his strength and bravery to none other than spinach, and adults seized an opportunity to offer the green vegetable to their children. “You want to be strong like Popeye, now don’t you?”
The truth is that this kind of influence does work. With positive creativity and a little inspiration – such as from Popeye – the following tips can help teach our children how to eat more healthfully.
Tips for Toddlers:
Young children have the imagination to be creative when thinking about their food. Below are some ideas to help make your children excited about vegetables.
- Tell a story: Get whimsical and take your child on a veggie adventure. For example, pretend with your child that cauliflower clusters are the snow-covered hedges from Disney’s Frozen, or act like a giant or a dinosaur munching tiny broccoli trees. Those two vegetables contain nutritious fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.
- Design a picture: As the Halloween holiday approaches, use the opportunity to share orange-colored vegetables with your children by presenting them in a festive, edible way. You could place chopped or sliced carrots in the shape of a pumpkin, with two butter or parsley dots for eyes and sliced cucumbers for a mouth. You also could place sliced cucumbers in the shape of a flower, with carrots as the “grass” and snow peas as the “petals”. Carrots provide carotene and vitamin A, which are good for our lungs, and cucumbers are a great source of fiber and potassium.
- Create a character: Try using small cherry tomatoes, green olives, and cubes of mozzarella cheese shaped with toothpicks to tell the story of the Hungry Caterpillar. Tomatoes and olives are an excellent source of anti-oxidants.
Remember that it may take 15 exposures to a vegetable for a child to “decide” if he or she really likes or dislikes a vegetable. Be persistent, positive, and the biggest cheerleader for your kid when it comes to eating healthy foods.
Tips for School Age:
- Substitute the sweets: Keep your growing children healthy by substituting the chips and the cookies in their lunch boxes with a handful of carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers or broccoli. Include their favorite dipping sauce to spice up the flavor.
- Teach the benefits: In school, kids are used to learning how things work, so try explaining the advantages of eating vegetables and give specific examples of how they help children to grow. Sweet potatoes have beta carotene that helps hair to grow long and pretty, like that of a certain “magical-haired” princess. Have a soccer star at home? Baked beans, peas and sweet corn have complex carbs that can help sustain energy levels on the playing field.
- Play hide-and-go-seek: Another trick to get kids to eat more healthfully is to chop up the veggies and include them in their favorite foods. Some great meals for doing this are quesadillas, sandwiches, lasagna, smoothies, pizza and dips. Sometimes they won’t even know that veggies are present, and they may learn to love your new recipe.
- Help in the kitchen: Maybe that casserole has too many unknown ingredients to convince your children to taste it. Involve them in the cooking process so that they learn how vegetables look when you washed, sliced and put them into a dish. If your children are old enough to help, ask them to cut the bell pepper, using a plastic knife, so that they can see and smell it when it’s fresh. Let them experiment with what potatoes taste like when they’re raw and crunchy, and when cooked, and again when mashed and creamy. Next time you visit the grocery store, let your little ones select an interesting-looking vegetable and suggest a way to prepare it or an experiment of their own.
Tips for Moms and Dads:
As parents, we often worry about the health of our children and overlook our own. Here are a few quick, simple and healthy options to help parents get their daily dose of vegetables.
On-the-go salads: A great quick and healthy meal is a salad. For maximum health benefits, try to include these five vegetables in your next salad:
- Kale – This green vegetable is a powerhouse, containing vitamins A, C and K along with calcium. It also reduces the risk of heart disease.
- Spinach – In addition to its “Popeye” benefits, spinach strengthens your eyes and protects against macular degeneration.
- Onion – It’s a great source of antioxidants and fights prostate cancer.
- Red Bell Pepper – This crunchy, sweet vegetable contains vitamins A and K and has nutritional benefits that have been found to fight common diseases.
- Carrot – Whether shredded or whole, this multipurpose vegetable provides fiber, Vitamin K and lutein, which promotes eye and skin health.
Soups: Transform your favorite vegetables into a flavorful soup. Here are 50 Vegetarian Soup Recipes, which include some of these popular soup choices:
- Mexican vegetable soup
- Black bean soup
- Butternut squash
- White bean vegetable soup
- Creamy broccoli cheddar soup