Employee & Community Health

Five tips for fitting fruits and veggies into your kids' meals

4/12/2018 by Rose Prissel, MS, RDN, LD

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It's one thing to say, "eat the rainbow", but it's another thing to fit enough — or more — fruits and veggies into your kids' meals. Here are five tips to make that happen:

Make them fun.

  • Buy mini carrots. 
  • Cut carrots, cucumbers and radishes, apples, pears and melons with an inexpensive "waffle" cutter to give them a fun, wavy edge. 
  • Cut yellow, orange or red sweet peppers into rings instead of slices. 
  • Scoop melons into balls and mix and match honeydew, watermelon and cantaloupe. 
  • Spend a few bucks on a spiralizer, which shaves apples, pears, cucumbers, zucchini, squash and more into long "noodles" that can be steamed and topped with pasta sauce. For fruit spirals, drizzle them with nonfat yogurt thinned with a little skim milk and a pinch of cinnamon. 
  • Keep dips like nonfat yogurt and salad dressings on hand for dipping and scooping with sliced fruit or veggies. 

Change them up.

  • Roast or boil cauliflower, mash with salt and pepper and serve instead of mashed potatoes. 
  • Cook a spaghetti squash, and when tender, lift out the long noodle-like strands and top just as you would pasta or rice. 
  • Switch it up and instead of white potatoes, opt for sweet potatoes: bake, roast, mash or serve as fries. 

Mix them in.

  • Making lasagna? Between each pasta layer, spread a veggie layer of shredded carrots or zucchini, chopped yellow or green sweet peppers or torn spinach. 
  • Add chopped fresh or frozen green beans to a soup or stew. Stir canned, fresh or frozen corn kernels into chili. 
  • Saute chopped green peppers and onions and sliced mushrooms to boost pasta sauce. 
  • Dress up tacos with sweet peppers, cucumbers or avocado. 

Puree them.

  • Easiest breakfast ever is a fruit smoothie: Combine frozen fruit (berries, peaches, pineapple) and a cup of nonfat milk in a blender and puree until smooth. (You can even sneak in a carrot.)
  • Cook carrots, potatoes, onions, squash and an apple; when tender, puree with salt, pepper and other seasoning and thin with vegetable or chicken broth for an easy soup. 
  • Stir pureed veggies into pasta sauce or tomato soup. 

Don't give up.

Okay, so your kids really baulk at fruits and vegetables. The rule of thumb is that you have to try something 10 times before you develop a taste for it. So don't give up. Keep exposing your kids to a variety of fruits and vegetables; tastes and reasons for disliking foods may change over time. Plus, kids tend to eat a food if their friends are eating and enjoying it. 

But when they turn up their nose, don't let them get away with just saying, "Eww, gross!" Have them explain what it is they don't like: Is it the taste, smell, texture? If they say it's too tart or too squishy or too stinky, then you can work at improving those "problems" for next time. Add a spice like cinnamon to sweeten something tart, keep sauces chunkier, to improve the texture, roast broccoli instead of boiling or steaming it. 

Two great references for recipes, buying tips and nutrition are Fruits and Veggies — More Matters and ChooseMyPlate

Rose Prissel, MS, RDN, LD, is a dietician at Mayo Clinic working in pediatric and adult nutrition, with a focus on preventive care, sports nutrition and weight management.