Many families are becoming more interested in plant-based eating, but there’s something still missing from most kids’ and grownups’ diets: plants! If you’re hungry for clever and creative cooking strategies for adding more fruits and vegetables to your family’s everyday meals and snacks, I’ve got you covered with these four delicious and doable tips.
According to Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RDN, President and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the Have a Plant campaign, there was no increase in fruit and vegetable consumption between 2003–2004 and 2015–2016. People are using highly processed substitutes like veggie burgers to replace meat instead of increasing actual produce consumption, and 90% of consumers, including kids of all ages (except 2–5), are still eating far below recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables.(1)
Why? On the Liz’s Healthy Table podcast, I spoke to Julie Nordgren, MD, pediatrician and author of The New Family Table who says that for many families, picky eaters are the biggest barrier. “Most families I see feel stuck. They know their kids should be eating more fruits and veggies but feel frustrated that their kids have developed other preferences and habits…It can be frustrating to keep serving them and having them go to waste.” Holley Grainger, MS, RND, owner of Cleverful Living, identifies another issue: “Parents also are challenged with not knowing how to incorporate produce, especially vegetables, into a meal. Many lack the confidence and cooking skills to try new things.”
A common solution is to “sneak” veggies in, but as Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN and owner of McDaniel Nutrition says, “I think it is empowering for a kid to know what they are eating, and to feel they have autonomy of their choices.” Instead, consider weaving (AKA incorporating) more fruit and vegetables into meals and snacks so they are front and center instead of an afterthought. The main thing to remember, if you’re helping your family become more plant-based, is to emphasize the “plants” part of that equation. According to Kapsak, “Research shows that people who consume fruits and vegetables more days per week, also consume more per day. This phenomenon strongly punctuates the benefit and necessity of making fruits and vegetables a staple in meals and snacks and, subsequently, a daily habit.”(2)
Check out these four easy ways you can successfully weave fruits and vegetables—fresh, canned, frozen, dried—into your family’s busy days:
Start with Breakfast
Breakfast is a prime opportunity to weave in more produce. In the morning, hand a hungry, just-woke-up child a piece of fruit immediately—think “fruit first.” Naturally sweet smoothies are a sure-fire hit: “Honestly, [my kids] don’t eat much spinach if it was offered as a salad or sautéed, but they have no problem enjoying it in a smoothie,” says Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN. Click here for Jennifer’s time-saving frozen smoothie packs.
Re-imagine Packed Lunches
I’m a big fan of sandwiches, but consider swapping them for pasta and veggie salads, cute Bento lunches filled with produce, and Mason jars stuffed with salads. Holly Grainger, MS, RDN, says not to disregard leftovers. “Try preparing foods like spaghetti sauce and meatloaf with shredded or diced carrots, onions, peppers and celery mixed in and send as leftovers in the lunchbox.” For a veggie-packed lunch recipe, Grainger recommends her easy Beefy Burrito Bowls with beans, tomatoes, and corn.
Use Vegetables as Vessels
Julia Nordgren, MD, author of The New Family Table, recommends using vegetables as vessels “because it really shows how fun and versatile vegetables and fruits are.” Use roasted spaghetti squash for “bowl” meals, halved avocados as a vessel for tuna fish or chicken salad (which is a great after-school snack idea), or lettuce leaves as wraps, as in Nordgren’s veggie-filled Tofu Lettuce Wraps, which you’ll find right here on my blog!
Establish New “Rules” for Fruits and Vegetables
As a dietitian and mom, we tend to follow rules, but sometimes it’s a good idea to break them or establish new ones! For example, using fruits and vegetables in unconventional, new ways can broaden their appeal. You can grill peaches, pineapple, avocado, cabbage, and corn on the cob; make fruit pizzas; shred carrots and add them to turkey meatballs, beef tacos, or Sloppy Joes; extend ground beef or turkey with mashed beans or chopped mushrooms for blended burgers; or infiltrate snack time with fruits and veggies versus chips. Says Kapsak, “Rules make everything substantially less fun. Families don’t have to eat the same fruits and vegetables all the time. They can work together as a team to try different and new ones.”
My Turkey & Carrot Meatballs with Zucchini Noodles are a playful and delicious way to weave veggies into old favorites, and you can find the recipe here on the blog.
Tell me about your best sneak-free tips for weaving ore fruits and veggies into everyday meals and snacks.
- NHANES, What We Eat In America. 2013-2014; 2015-2016
- Produce for Better Health Foundation. Novel Approaches to Measuring and Promoting Consumption, 2017. Available at: https://www.pbhfoundation.org/