Vegetables and Kids: Common Challenge
What will a parent do when vegetables are greeted with a chorus of “yuck” by their kids? For one reason or another, kids, including teens, often come up short on vegetables. Evidence indicates that eating enough vegetables and fruits is a marker of good nutrition.
The strong flavors of some vegetables make them more challenging for some kids’ palates. With several unpressured tries, over time, even kids who are supertasters and find some flavors too strong, can learn to enjoy them. As a parent you can turn “yuck” into “yes”, starting with being a good role model yourself.
Trying new foods should be about discovery, not punishment. Remember that kids’ food preferences change. Here are some tips to work vegetables into your child’s meals and snacks.
Introduce new vegetables without pressure. Let your child see them and talk about them at the store and the home. When he is ready it is time to taste. It may take many attempts before tastings turn to liking new vegetables.
Add veggies to foods your child already enjoys. Add shredded carrots, peas, or zucchini to burgers, chilis, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, or spaghetti sauce. Or use them as pizza toppings.
Offer raw finger-food veggies. Many kids prefer crisp, uncooked vegetables in mini sizes with herb flavored yogurt dips.
On the other hand, cook some vegetables to make it appealing to your child. Steam and stir fry in small amounts of water to keep their bright colors and crisp textures.
Add extra veggies to your ready-to-eat soups
If the child doesn’t like a new vegetable say that it is okay, and he can try it another time. Remind him that their taste preferences will still change, which is part of growing up.
Vary your Veggies
Raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated, whole, cut up, mashed, or juiced - no matter how you like them, a wildly colorful and bountiful array of foods fits within this food group. In fact, vegetables belong in five subgroups, based on their nutrient content:
- Dark green leafy vegetables
- Red and deep orange vegetables
- Starchy vegetables
- Beans and peas
- Other vegetables
The more variety and color you eat, the better.
Why do we need to eat Vegetables?
More than a colorful garnish on your plate or a crisp texture in your sandwich, vegetables are loaded with nutrients, vital for your body’s health and maintenance. Eating a variety of vegetables as part of healthy eating pattern may help reduce the risk for some chronic diseases.
Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients. Unless you add sauces and other seasonings, most are naturally lower in fat and calories. None has cholesterol.
The nutrient content of vegetables’ subgroup differs somewhat, which explains the importance of variety:
- Dark green leafy vegetables: beta carotene (forms Vitamin A) as well as Vitamin C, folate calcium, magnesium and potassium
- Red and deep-orange vegetables: Beta carotene (which forms Vitamin A). Some others have more Vitamin C, many are rich in folate.
- Starchy vegetables: in addition to their complex Carbohydrates , Vitamin B6, Zinc and Potassium.
- Beans and peas (legumes) protein as well as thiamine, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, Zinc, potassium, and fiber.
- Other vegetables: it varies!
Important Health Benefits:
The Vitamin C found in vegetables not only helps to heal wounds and keep teeth and gums healthy but also aids iron absorption. The Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections. The Vitamin E works as an antioxidant. The folate helps form red blood cells and may help reduce the risk of some birth defects. The potassium, as part of overall healthy eating, may help maintain healthy blood pressure and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss. Finally, the fiber may help maintain digestive health and possibly fill you up with calories.
Vegetables in an overall healthy diet are linked to reduce risk of many chronic diseases, including stroke and heart disease. Some vegetables may be protective against certain cancers.
Eating vegetables by the cup are lower in calories than some other higher calorie foods and may help you cut down on calorie consumption.
Vegetable Group: Ten Quick Tips
Eat more veggies. Vary the types and colors their nutrient and phytonutrient contents differ.
- Enjoy your vegetable favorites and eat more of them! Fresh veggies are especially delicious in peak season and they cost less, too.
- Broaden your vegetable repertoire, perhaps with seasonal vegetables. Besides green beans, broccoli and corn, try okra, snow peas, or Brussel sprouts. Shred fresh Spinach, broccoli stalks, for slaw.
- Make the vegetable dish the focus of your meal. Start with familiar dishes like vegetable lasagna, vegetable stir fry, and then get more creative with vegetarian (meatless) main dishes.
- Try different greens such as lettuce and include dark leafy ones such as beet greens, kale, romaine lettuce and Spinach in salads.
- Enjoy more beans and peas in soup (split Peas or lentils), salads (such as kidney or garbanzo beans) and side dishes (baked beans or pinto beans) or eat them in a main dish. They have a split personality – count them in either the vegetable group or the Protein foods group, the same bowl of beans, can’t count for both.
- Snack on raw veggies. Keep cleaned broccoli and cauliflower florets, red and green pepper strips, cucumber and celery sticks, or baby carrots in d fridge, ready for a quick nibble. They taste great with a low-fat dip or dressing.
- Add color, flavor and appeal. Top pizzas and toss pastas with chopped or sliced vegetables such as zucchini, carrots, broccoli, and bell peppers. Top sandwiches with a layer of spinach, and slices of tomatoes, zucchini or cucumber or try portobello mushrooms as a topper. Top baked potatoes with vegetable salsa or stir fried veggies.
- Drink your veggies. Make smoothies with shredded carrots, broccoli, pureed pumpkin or any vegetables you like. Or enjoy 100 percent vegetable juice, perhaps just tomato juice or a mix with other vegetables such as carrots or a mix of fresh fruit juices.
- Eating out? Order vegetables as a starter or side dish. Or order a main dish salad or vegetarian dish. Ask for a slaw or garden salad rather than fries with fast foods.
- Blend pureed cooked vegetables, such as pumpkin, carrots, potatoes, or beans and use the puree as a thickener in stews, soups and gravies.
Proper food handling of veggies enhances their flavor without intensifying the aroma.
First eat them soon after buying whether raw or cooked. Second, cook them quickly, just until tender crisp. Third, eat leftovers within a day.
Parents, let’s remember to incorporate these veggies in every meal, especially nowadays to increase our immunity. At a time like this, one can never be too careful – and what better way to make sure you’re safe and healthy than an upgrade in your meals!
About The Expert
NIEVES C. SERRA, Nutritionist-Dietitian
Ms. Nieves Serra, a registered Dietitian, took up AB major in Nutrition and minor in Home Culture in St. Scholastica’s College (SSC) Manila in 1960. After her graduation in 1964, she took up the ten months Dietetic Internship program at FEU Hospital. She was the only one in her batch at SSC who took the Board Exam, passed it and practiced in the country. She took up M.S. Foods and Nutrition and MBA without thesis from Philippine Women’s University, Manila.
Her career has been devoted to hospital work in the Dietary department of private and government hospitals for a span of 46 years, and 41 years teaching nursing, HRM and nutrition students. She was also a cafeteria concessionaire for 6 years in various industrial companies, a lecturer/speaker in seminars and conventions and a member of various associations such as PASOO, and PHILSPEN.
In 1992, she was awarded the Outstanding Nutritionist-Dietitian of the year by Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC), and was a past president of Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines or NDAP (1988), NDAP Life member (2007 to 2011), and held various positions from 1966 to the present. She is married to her profession, a devout Catholic, and follows the Benedictine motto of her school, St. Scholastica’s College, “Ora et Labora, which means work and pray being a loyal Scholastican and a loyal NDAP member.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.