Eating Nature’s Rainbow

veggies

Lately, a few moms have asked me about getting or “sneaking” the veggies into their kids’ meals. The state of the Standard American Diet and conglomerates have pushed these essential healthy foods aside. We’ve been so accustomed to a meat and potatoes (mainly in the form of french fries) diet. Most times, you’re hard-pressed to even find a fresh vegetable on a kids’ menu!
By eating fresh vegetables, especially all the green, leafy ones, you can naturally crowd out the foods that can make you sick. Nutritionally loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, there are plenty of ways to make children “learn” to love them! Toddlers are especially at a great age to start them off with healthy eating habits, and, like with anything else, setting a good example with your own diet will help encourage kids to not make a fuss.

My kids are older, and they’ve always been good with vegetables, but I’ve seen kids painstakingly eat (and dramatically almost “gag”) on raw vegetables, in order to get the dessert. Once, I challenged kids (mine and a friend’s) to see who can eat the most green beans at a Chinese restaurant – they love a bit of competition, even when it’s getting the greens in (we had to order another plate!) Even the littlest of them love a “challenge” especially when parents (my great friends) are struggling to feed them. All I do is ask if I can eat their food, and pretend to be ready to be fed. It’s like a game, and, of course, the child wins. They would rather finish up their own meal, than to share, and are proud of their own accomplishment, sneaking mouthfuls of veggies away from me. It works every time.

Cooking at home is ideal, as you have control over the quality and freshness of ingredients; the flexibility of using a variety of ingredients and flavors; and the piece of mind that you and your family are eating healthily.

If your child has an aversion to vegetables, here are some ideas to add (“sneak”) them into some favorite foods.

smoothie

1. DRINKS
Have a juicer or blender? Fresh fruit-based juices and smoothies are a great way to add vegetables in. With all the natural sweetness, adding some kale, spinach, celery, red cabbage or carrots will go unnoticed. The more you do this, the easier it will be to continue to add more vegetables in, cutting back on the sweetness.

2. OMELETS 
Veggies in the morning? Having a selection of prepared vegetable fillings to choose from  empowers kids to create their very own meal. Mushrooms, spinach, onion, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes…colorful choices for a colorful and healthy start to the day.

soup

3. SOUP
Easy to make, soup is a great start to any meal. High in nutrients, you can ensure that essential vitamins and minerals are being consumed with every spoonful. Babies start out on solid foods with a plethora of pureed vegetables, so why not continue from there and keep this as an essential part of your family’s lunch or dinner? Any vegetable will work with a simple soup base of onion, celery, water and teaspoon of salt. You can make a smooth and delicious cauliflower soup (try the purple one sometime!) beetroot, or butternut squash soup.

Chicken noodle soup is also an all-time favorite and a great stock to add any and all vegetables to. Making soup from scratch is just a matter of chopping up vegetables, adding either some chicken, plenty of water and a teaspoon of salt. I find that using the leftover carcass of a roast chicken is the best way to make use of the bones which adds a lot of flavor to the broth (using a soup bag will save you from fishing them out before serving). A good rule of thumb is to try to incorporate at LEAST five vegetables, of a variety of colors. I always add a cup or two of greens (peas, zucchini, broccoli or shredded leafy greens like spinach or kale) ten minutes before serving, so that they retain their vibrant green color and are not over-cooked.

potato pancakes

4. POTATO-VEGGIE PANCAKES
Need an alternative to the beloved french fry? Potato pancakes with chopped onion, shredded carrot, zucchini, or summer squash is already getting 4 more vegetables consumed without sacrificing the familiarity of starch and the beloved potato.

5. RAGU/SPAGHETTI SAUCE
Whenever I make a traditional meat sauce, I always add chop up a couple of carrots and celery sticks for added nutrients and flavor. You can do this by hand, BUT if you have a very picky-vegetable eater, blend the sauce, before adding the meat so that there aren’t any vegetable pieces to pick out.

6. DUMPLINGS or EMPANADAS
Anything wrapped up and sealed in a sheet of dough are also great flexible and veggie-friendly vehicles. Just add, cook and season your vegetables, the same way you would the meat.

fried rice

7. FRIED RICE
Using rice as a base, it doesn’t take much to make a substantial meal. Usually I chop up whatever meat that is left over from a previous dinner, and add a variety of freshly chopped leafy green and cruciferous vegetables as well as a few handfuls of frozen ones. In most Chinese restaurants, the ratio of rice to other ingredients is 90:10, but at home you should aim for 50:50, or even try to go for 60% good stuff to 40% carb.

baked treats

8. BAKED TREATS
I wouldn’t say it’s the ideal way to hide veggies, but adding carrot, pumpkin, zucchini and even beetroot to homemade muffins and cakes is a sweet way to integrate the vegetables, no questions asked.

For kids who love vegetables, here are two great all-veggie recipes that they will have fun helping to prepare. At any age, kids always feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they have helped make food for themselves and the whole family.

kale

KALE CHIPS
They are deliciously light and crunchy, full of vitamins and a far better alternative to any factory-processed snack. Kids, even toddlers can help every step of the way.

Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C).
Wash and dry the leaves. Make sure they are thoroughly dry! Tear leaves off from the center rib, and tear into 3″ pieces &-8cm) pieces.
Put the pieces in a large bowl, pour in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1/8 tsp sea salt. Using your fingertips, toss and coat each leaf (all the nooks and crannies) evenly.
Place on baking trays lined with parchment paper, without letting any pieces touch each other.
Bake for 9-12 minutes, until lightly crisp. Rotate the baking trays after 5 minutes (top to bottom, front to back). Keep an eye on them for the last few minutes, and take out the pieces that have turned crisp. If the leaves turn brown, it can be very bitter, so keep checking them! Serve immediately or let cool completely and store in an airtight (if you have any left!) for up 1 day.

ratatouille's ratatouille

RATATOUILLE’S RATATOUILLE
Yes, from the brilliant Pixar film. It’s impressively beautiful and your toddler will learn how to follow a pattern at the same time! Best for you to do the chopping and the children to assemble this one.

3/4 cup (180ml) Pomi tomato puree
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp dried basil or oregano
1⁄2 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 Asian eggplant/aubergine
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow/summer squash
2-3 small plum tomatoes
1⁄2 red bell pepper
Few fresh basil or parsley leaves
Sea salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).
Pour tomato puree, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the dried thyme into a baking dish. Stir in the chopped onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
Using a mandolin, thinly slice the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes and red pepper (clean out the seeds). Of course you can use a very sharp knife and lots of patience to do this. Just try your best to make them thin, about 1/8′ (3mm) thick. The thinner the slices, the more delicate this dish is.
Make mini-stacks of the slices in sequence: Eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, red pepper. Eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, red pepper….
Arrange a few stacks at a time into prepared baking dish in a concentric spiral from the outer edge to the inside, fanning them out a bit so that you can only see the slightest bit another. “Stand” them up a little, so you can fit as many vegetable slices in as possible, but you may still have some leftover veggie slices. Save the smaller rounds for the middle.
Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with fresh thyme, basil or parsley leaves.
Cover the dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside the dish, on top of the vegetable. You can easily do this by placing a parchment sheet on top and tracing out the appropriate size with a pen. Make sure to cut inside of the line!
Bake for 40 minutes-1 hour (depending on how thick your vegetable slices are), until vegetables are soft, but not limp.
The best way to ensure using vegetables is to buy them, lots of them. Buy everything, in a spectrum of colors and flavors. Ideally it’s best to buy organic or local, but as long as you’re buying and incorporating them into most meals, it’s a great start!

Christine is a mom of two veggie-loving kids (who, yes, it’s true, sometimes fight over green vegetables). She will become a certified Holistic Health Coach in August 2014. Follow her blog or instagram for the recipes and more ideas and tips.