Thursday, June 30, 2016

Encouraging Kids to Eat Their Veggies

You want your kids to eat their vegetables.  I get it.  Most parents feel the same way.  Apparently, however, most kids don't eat a lot of vegetables.  (If you read nothing else from the link, you should click through for the charts of "most frequent vegetables eaten by toddlers" and check out 21-23 months old.  I'll wait.)  My kids eat a lot of veggies, though.  Even G was beginning to eat a few before she left.  Below are my tried and tested tips for upping your children's veggie consumption.

Play the long game.    It doesn't really matter if your child eats that carrot today or not.  What matters are your child's life-long eating habits.  You are in for the long game here.  Focus on the long term outcome of raising an adult who can nourish herself with a wide variety of plant-based foods.  Playing the long game means you don't have to sweat the details of what crosses your toddler's lips today, which frees you up to...

Put aside pressure tactics.  While bribery, praise, coercion, bargaining, "forcing," and other pressure tactics might work in the short-term, they are counter productive in the long-term, because they send the wrong messages and teach the wrong habits.  (For more on the bad habits that pressure fosters, check out It's Not About Nutrition.)  If nothing else, pressure makes mealtimes unpleasant by turning meals into a battle ground where food and eating become matters of control.  Allow your child to eat or not eat; put your focus on offering a variety of good foods for him to choose.  What kind of variety?

Serve a wide selection of veggies.  Even if your child loves carrots and seems to hate everything else, put a rotating selection of different vegetables on the table.  If you're serving different kinds of veggies, you can model eating a variety of veggies.  Keep in mind, too, that tastes change, so what a child rejected a year ago may appeal to her now.  In addition...

Prepare vegetables in multiple ways.  My kids all love to eat frozen peas still frozen, but only one enjoys them hot.  Raw bell peppers get gobbled up, while sauteed bell peppers get snubbed.  Vegetables vary considerably in taste and texture depending on how they are prepared, so give kids the opportunity to see the many sides of broccoli.  Serving a variety of vegetables prepared in a variety of ways will sort of force you to...

Serve veggies often.  The fact is, kids can't choose to eat what isn't available.  Simply serving vegetables more often gives your children more chances to eat them.  There are two benefits here.  First, more chances to eat veggies means eating more veggies.  Even if they only eat one bite, if there's a vegetable at every meal every day, that's a fair amount of vegetables over the course of the week.  Second, having veggies on the table at every meal normalizes vegetables.  Soon your kids will be looking for the vegetable on the table at home, and when they're choosing their own items from fast food menus in the not-to-distant future, they'll feel strange that there's no vegetable options to make their McNuggets into a meal.  A considerable help in increasing your frequency of serving veggies is to...

Pre-prepare veggies.  When you're hungry, and they're hungry, you're going to choose the easiest option for getting something on a plate.  When the carrots are already pealed and cut up, they're literally as easy to serve as crackers, so you're much more likely to serve them.  The simplicity of getting pre-prepared vegetables on the table will allow you to serve vegetables more often.  Pre-preparing also helps you to...

Serve veggies when everyone is hungry.  There's an old saying: "Hunger is the best seasoning."  If your kids are starving 20 minutes before dinner and the thing presented to them is a platter of fresh or roasted veg, they're pretty likely to at least give it a shot.  When you put that platter out, make sure to...

Talk about taste.  Nobody is convinced by, "Mmmmm, it's yummy.  Try it!"  Nobody.  Talk about the vegetables that you serve using vividly descriptive words.  Eggplant Parmesan is crunchy, salad dressing is tangy, roasted carrots are soft and caramelized.  When you talk about taste, make sure to...

Emphasize enjoyment.  It is more important for kids to hear about how good (i.e. tasty) vegetables are  than for them to hear about how "good" (i.e. nutritious) vegetables are.  Regardless of what people know about nutrition, they are more likely to eat for pleasure than for nutritional benefit.  I don't make roasted beets because they're high in folate; I make them because they're sweet and chewy.  I don't crave cucumber because it's got a balance of electrolytes; I crave it because it's juicy and refreshing.  Help children to learn that vegetables are tasty food choices, and they'll want to eat them. As far as habits are concerned, it's a better deal for your child to eat one happy bite of tomato than to choke down a whole plate full in misery, because the happy bite sets her up for a lifetime of voluntarily choosing to eat tomatoes.  It's also easier to enjoy vegetables if you...

Make vegetables delicious.  Somehow we've got this idea that "guilty pleasures" should be laden with fat, salt, and sugar, but virtuous foods should be devoid of the trifecta of deliciousness.  I would rather skip the goldfish crackers and put their extra fat directly onto my cauliflower in the form of mayo and cheese.  I don't care that steaming is the most nutritious, it's also flavorless!  Boil your veg in chicken stock, saute it in butter, dress it with sesame oil and lime, salt early and often.  In short, spend the time and effort to make your virtuous veggies as succulent and satisfying as dessert.  If you're making dessert, though, you could make those spinach brownies and...

Add extra veggies to foods kids already enjoy.  If they like potato salad, throw in 2 more ribs of celery. Try smothering their pork chops in caramelized onions.  Mix butternut squash puree into tomato based spaghetti sauce.  Order peppers or olives on your next pizza.  As you add more veg, however, be sure to...

Serve veggies openly.  I do not advocate "hiding" extra vegetables in your kids' food.  They'll learn not to trust you and to be afraid of negative surprises in the food you prepare.  On the contrary, when you make the spinach brownies or add broccoli to their omelette, let your kids know.  Remember the goal is the long-term outcome of eating vegetables voluntarily, and if they don't know there was eggplant in that dip they loved, they'll never know to search out delicious eggplant.

There it is: my top twelve ideas for encouraging kids to become life-long vegetable eaters.  Do you have any to add?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Food from St. Louis

Let's talk meals!  I said yesterday that I didn't really cook on our trip, but I'll admit that my "not cooking" is the same as many people's "cooking."  I prepped as much as possible before leaving (cutting up carrots and celery, premixing the vinaigrette, etc.)  I also designated Monday night as my big night in the kitchen, although I only spent about half an hour throwing together the crisp and boiling the pasta for Tuesday and the eggs for Wednesday while I scrambled the eggs for dinner that night.  However, your mileage may vary.

Sunday- Father's day
Breakfast at home: waffles, strawberries, whipped cream.
Lunch picnic: Cherries, carrots, celery, crackers, peanut butter.
Dinner at a restaurant: We were supposed to go to a brewery.  Turns out breweries in MO are closed on Sunday.  Lesson learned.

Breakfast at the Airbnb: Oatmeal with walnuts and raisins.
Lunch picnic: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grapes, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes.
Dinner at the Airbnb: Scrambled eggs with cheese, corn, carrots, cantaloupe.  (This is the most unintentionally orange meal ever.  Also, so many C's.)

Breakfast at the Airbnb: Rhubarb crisp (baked the night before while we ate dinner), peaches.
Lunch picnic: Pasta salad (made the night before: penne pasta, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta cheese, cucumber, and a dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.) celery, granola bars.
Dinner at the Airbnb: Quesadillas, refried beans from a can, salsa from a jar, bell peppers.

Breakfast at the Airbnb: Cereal, trail mix, milk
Lunch picnic: Hard boiled eggs, leftover pasta salad with lots of extra tomatoes, grapes.
4 PM picnic: Cherries, crackers.
7:30 PM at home: Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cucumbers, peppers.

Packing list
Cherry tomatoes (3 meals)
Celery (2 meals)
Carrots (3 meals)
Cherries (2 meals)
Grapes (2 meals)
Bell peppers (2 meals)
Corn (frozen is fine)

Prepared Foods
Trail mix
Oatmeal (mixed with raisins and walnuts)
Peanut butter
Refried beans
Rhubarb crisp topping
Granola Bars

Quesadilla cheese
Feta cheese
Eggs (2 meals)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Home from St. Louis

We just took a vacation.  The first of two planned for this summer!  Wild, I know.  We spent four days down in St. Louis, MO, and it was a wonderful time.

Sunday we traveled.  Packing up the kids to get out of the house for something like this always takes twice as long as I think it will.  It didn't help that the kids had made no fewer than 30 Father's Day cards for their dad, all of which had to be opened before we could load the car.

It's a 5 hour drive, so we stopped at a playground for a picnic lunch at about the half way point, and rolled into St. Louis around dinner time.  We walked around the famous Gateway Arch, although it's a major construction zone right now, and then went out for mediocre pizza and excellent beer.

We stayed at an Airbnb.  It was our first experience doing so, and we were delighted.  It was so nice to have a kitchen.  I didn't really cook, but I prefer to slap together quick and easy meals than to take three kids out to eat twice a day.  Also, it was awesome to have multiple rooms.  One night L went to bed in the big bedroom, V went to bed in the little bedroom, Z set up a nest in the kitchen, and Husband and I stayed up late chatting in the living room.  All for 2/3 the price of a single hotel room.  I'm hooked.

On Monday we went to the St. Louis Zoo.  It's consistently rated as one of the top five in the country, and it was easy to see why.  They do a tremendous job balancing the need for animals to live in somewhat natural environments, the need to keep people and animals safe from each other, and the desire of zoo visitors to actually see the animals in the zoo.  There were quite a number of "talk to the keeper" types of experiences all throughout the day.  Also, the garden plantings were gorgeous.  I know nobody goes to the zoo to see the flowers, but these were truly exceptional.  To top it all off, the zoo has free admission!

We tried to cram it all into one long day.  In retrospect, it would have worked better for our family to plan an extra day in town and spend two long mornings at the zoo, followed by lunch, naps, and playground time.  We missed quite a few animals, and everyone was exhausted and cranky by the time we got back to the Airbnb for dinner.

Tuesday we went to the City Museum.  It's like nothing you've ever seen.  I keep calling it a recycled junkyard art installation playground.  There are enormous slides, a three story rebar climbing maze jungle gym, ball pits 15 feet square, a rabbits' warren of caves constructed from concrete, an indoor skate park with no skateboards, a tiny circus, a Ferris wheel on the roof, and more.  The whole place is eye-popping, weird, and exciting.  Z, V, Husband, and I loved it.  L is two, so his experience was more mixed.

His comment after riding the Ferris wheel was, "I not crying."  He rode the tiny train, but at the end of his first lap he said, "I no like it!"  He then proceeded to wail "I NO LIKE IT!" during the entire second lap.  The ride operator let him out after that, so he didn't have to do the third lap.  He told me, quite seriously, "I no like it" as soon as I picked him up.  He slipped on a slide and scraped his ear.  He was scared of the circus.  He didn't like when other kids were in the ball pit with him because they kept bumping him.  And he got lost for a few minutes in the caves.  He really did enjoy exploring the rebar maze, the tree house, and the caves, though, as long as I stayed right behind him.

Wednesday we spent a few hours at the Science Center and Planetarium.  To be honest, we were all tired, so half a day of half-hearted looking was enough.  We drove home with movies and snacks to placate the masses.

It was a wonderful vacation, all things considered.  I'd recommend St. Louis if you're interested a not-too-stressful trip with your kids.