Here’s my secret to getting lots of vegetables on the table that the kids will eat. I’m often asked by people who are shifting to more plant-based meals – what do I make for dinner? We all know that we should be eating more whole grains, legumes (beans and lentils), fruit and vegetables but the question is how to get started.
When you go to restaurants and look at the kids’ menus, usually the options are limited. There may be burgers and fries, hot dogs and fries, pizza, chicken fingers and fries and grilled cheese sandwiches. You’d be lucky to get a carrot or celery stick on the side of the plate.
If this is what our kids are used to eating, they’re not getting the fruits and vegetables their bodies need to grow strong and healthy.
Some kids genuinely don’t like vegetables. I get it. I find it hard to imagine anyone turning down a fresh cut mango but I guess some kids aren’t fans of fruit either. But I’m an optimist and I think they may not have tasted the fruit and vegetables that they like yet.
When my son was in Kindergarten, his class had Fruity Fridays. One of his teachers would bring in a different kind of fruit each Friday for the kids to try. She cut them all up and had huge garbage cans in the middle of the room. The rule was they had to try it. They didn’t have to like it and they could spit it out but they had to taste a new fruit each week.
That teacher did those kids a huge favour by teaching them to experiment and try new foods. The strides that were made on Fruity Fridays were noticeable at home too. He applied the same rule to dinner as he did to tasting fruit – that he had to give it a try.
My son would be excited in the grocery store produce aisle pointing out fruit we’d never tried but he knew them. At the end of the year, he brought home a book that he had made to chronicle all the different fruit he tried. And for each fruit, he circled a happy face, straight face or sad face.
I like the spirit of discovery and adventure that was fostered in Kindergarten. Try it at home. Encourage your kids to eat more vegetables and try new ones without putting a lot of pressure on them and turning meals into nightmares.
Here’s my method. Make a whole grain – something your kids will eat (I have used brown rice but it doesn’t matter what you use). While your rice is cooking, slice some vegetables into thick slices or chunks (I’ve sliced eggplant, sweet potato, broccoli, onion, mushrooms and carrots).
Make sure you’ve included vegetables you know your kids will eat and include some they may not eat. Toss them in olive oil and bake them at 425 until they’re done, flipping once. It takes about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the slices and chunks. They’ll probably be done at the same time.
Spoon the rice in a bowl for each person and arrange the vegetables on a large platter in the middle of the table. Make sure you have a few vegetables you know your kids will eat. Cucumbers are often an easy win. The point is to have a variety on display. My kids like olives so they’re included.
Open a can of chickpeas or other beans and rinse them. Add them to the platter. When the kids come to the table, let them choose what they want. Encourage them to try a bite of anything new.
Have something on the table for them to sprinkle over their meal – if I put seeds on the table, the kids will use them. Hemp seeds, for example, don’t have much noticeable flavour but they’re another source of vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats. Nutritional yeast is another flavour enhancer that my kids love.
For the grown ups, it helps to have a nice sauce or two. I topped my meal with a tahini sauce and hot sauce and it was delicious.
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend well. It will keep in the fridge for a few days.
If you’re always eating delicious vegetables in front of your kids, they’ll see you enjoying nutritious food. It might take time for them to become interested in their vegetables but don’t give up. Keep eating them in front of your kids.
Tell them about the benefits of eating nutritious foods. Talk to them about eating a rainbow. Teach them about the importance of eating well-balanced meals. Give them the opportunity to surprise you – they will.
That’s my secret. I eat delicious, nutritious meals in front of my kids every day. They see me enjoy my vegetables. And they know it makes me really happy to see them enjoy theirs.