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Vegetables: Foods Your Kids Can Love

Focused on Health - August 2011

by Amy Capetta

kids and vegetablesIs your little one a picky eater? Does he or she refuse to eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans?

If so, your child’s diet may be short on some of the best disease-fighting nutrients.

Plant-based foods provide vitamins and minerals that help strengthen your child’s immune system. And, they help protect the body’s cells from damage that can lead to cancer later in life, says the American Institute for Cancer Research.

“If your child is hooked on chicken nuggets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we’ve got good news,” says Rhea Li, a research dietitian at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. “It is possible to break this one-meal-only habit and get your children to fill up on a variety of nutritious foods.”

Sneak in more nutrients

kids and vegetables“If you encourage kids to eat different foods, eventually they will try something new,” Li says. “Research shows it may take up to 20, even 30, tries. It takes practice and patience, but it will happen.”

A simple way to improve your child’s diet is to play hide-and-seek with their food. “It’s all about being creative — and a little sneaky!” Li says.

Try these tricks to sneak in more nutrients:

  • Puree vegetables: Puree some fresh vegetables in the blender. Mix them into a sauce, like tomato or cheese sauce.
  • Hide it: Chop fruit or vegetables and include them in your next baked mixture of bread, muffins, casseroles or meatloaf.
  • Make a smoothie: Blend fruit with milk, yogurt and ice to make a refreshing drink. Use fun straws to make it an even more tempting treat.
  • Make frozen pops: Freeze fresh 100% fruit juice into ice pops for a quick and healthy snack.

Put your kids in charge of snacks

kids and vegetablesStruggling to steer your kids away from processed snack foods? Empower them to get creative and whip up these fun snacks from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • Personal pizzas: Top whole-wheat English muffins, pita bread or bagels with tomato sauce, low-fat cheese and your kids’ favorite vegetables. Cook in the toaster oven.
  • Fruity butterflies: Use carrot sticks or celery for the body. For the wings, use thinly sliced apples with peanut butter. Decorate with halved grapes or dried fruit.
  • Ants on a log: Use celery, carrot sticks or cucumber for the log. Add peanut butter, then top with raisins or dried cranberries.
  • Homemade trail mix: Have your children mix up their favorite nuts, sunflower seeds, whole-grain cereals and dried fruit.

Plan healthier meals

The best way to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables is to make sure they’re eating home-cooked meals. But, whipping up three healthy, homemade meals per day is tough for most busy parents.

Luckily, with a few cooking shortcuts, you can make quick and well-rounded meals that your entire family can benefit from and enjoy. Try these options.

Breakfast:

  • High-fiber cereal, like real oatmeal or cold cereal. Serve with milk (low-fat for anyone age 2 and older).
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Yogurt with fresh fruit

Lunch:

  • Carrots or celery sticks with a low-fat dip like ranch dressing or yogurt
  • Whole-wheat bread with peanut butter
  • Whole-wheat bread with tuna and low-fat mayo or mustard

Dinner:

  • Whole-wheat pasta with tomato sauce (mix pureed vegetables in sauce)
  • Tacos made with corn tortillas and stuffed with lean ground turkey, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and salsa
  • Turkey or veggie burger topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese and guacamole.

So, what are you waiting for? “The earlier children taste nutritious, cancer-fighting foods, the sooner they will get used to eating — and even liking — them!” Li says.

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