10 Tips to Jumpstart your Kids into Eating More Fruits & Veggies & a recipe

Today’s blog post comes from Sharon Palmer, RD. Sharon Palmer is a registered dietitian, nationally recognized nutrition expert, food and nutrition writer, and author of The Plant-Powered Diet.  Throughout her career, Sharon has helped thousands of people find their way to a wholesome, sustainable eating style for life.  She enjoys visiting the farmers market and preparing plant-based meals for her two sons and husband. Check out her  website  for more  recipe ideas.

As parents, it’s not uncommon to want our kids to eat their fruits and veggies – and it’s not news that eating them is linked to good health. There’s a reason for the phrase, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” There have been hundreds of research studies backing up this claim for decades. They all lead to one conclusion: The healthiest diet on the planet is a plant-based diet—an eating style that focuses on plants instead of animals. Earlier this summer, I published The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health, Beginning Today (The Experiment, 2012), which I hope will inspire your entire family to push up the volume on fruits and veggies, as well as other plant foods like whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds in your diet.

The great thing about making the transition to a more plant-based way of eating is that it doesn’t involve complicated instructions. To simply help jumpstart you and your family to optimal health and wellness, here are 10 plant-powered kid-friendly steps.

  1. Don’t rule out the grey area. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines defines a plant-based diet as a diet that “emphasizes plant foods.” For some families, a plant-based diet may consist of no animal products. For others, it might be a more gradual process of shifting away from the traditional Western diet that is high in animal products towards more plant foods. It’s a simple shift towards more whole, unprocessed foods that come directly from plants.
  2. Ease into it. If meat is a staple in your household for every meal, you have room to cut back. Create a family goal for how many meatless meals you want to eat. You could start out slowly by having one completely plant-based meal per week, or even having an entirely meatless day.  My family’s favorite is pasta night!
  3. Wake up “veggie”. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to skip on the meat. With so many delicious breakfast foods, such as whole grain cereals and breads, fruit, and even vegetables (baked tomatoes and sautéed mushrooms!), you’re little one will be too busy eating buckwheat pecan pancakes with peaches to even notice the bacon missing from the table.
  4. Let your little helpers help you. Getting your kids involved in the kitchen is the best way to teach them healthy eating habits. Including them in meal preparation is not only fun, it’s a great way to introduce them to new foods and flavors. And don’t forget to take pictures! These are the moments you’ll treasure long after the meal is done.
  5. More of the good stuff. Visit your local supermarket or farmer’s market and feast your eyes on all the things you can enjoy as a family: a rainbow of delicious fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It doesn’t hurt that so many of these foods are nature’s perfect convenience foods. It doesn’t get much easier than grabbing a banana or washing a small container of berries for a healthy on-the-go snack.
  6. Use the crock-pot. Using your crock-put or slow-cooker can be fast! Combine all ingredients in the morning, turn it on and leave it until dinnertime.  One-dish meals such as chili, stews, and hearty soups are one of the simplest ways to prepare veggie-filled meals kids love.
  7. Change the plate. When planning your menu, start with the vegetable or whole grain component. Meat doesn’t always need to be the “center of the plate” at meal time. Try focusing on delicious plants, such as kale, broccoli, carrots, brown rice, and lentils.
  8. Stretch it out. Cut down on the amount of meat you consume by taking one individual portion of meat or chicken and using it to flavor an entire family-size meal of kids favorite foods such as stir-fry, casseroles, or pasta dishes.
  9. Enjoy a family night out! Some cultures know how to do vegetarian right – so visit a local Mexican, Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese restaurant as a family. Observe how dishes are prepared and then take home a few culinary tricks or ideas with you.  Let your little culinary adventurer gobble up curry, Thai noodles, and veggie tacos!
  10. Invest in a good veggie cookbook. A cookbook can give home cooks valuable ideas for how to put together simple, delicious meals. If you need an easy and delicious starting point, try the Southwest Black Bean Quinoa Salad recipe below from  The Plant Powered Diet. You can also watch me  (Sharon) prepare it here.
(Photo Credit: SharonPalmer.com) 

10 Tips to Jumpstart your Kids into Eating More Fruits & Veggies & a recipe
The jewel-like black beans shine in this crunchy, zesty salad. Serve it with corn tortillas and vegetable soup for an easy, refreshing meal.
  • 1 – 15 oz can black beans, no salt added, rinsed, drained
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa (according to package directions)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fresh mango
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or 2 tsp dried if not available)
  • 1 small fresh jalepeno pepper, seeded, finely diced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  1. Mix beans, quinoa, corn, pepper, mango, onion, cilantro and jalapeno together in a mixing bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin, chili powder and turmeric together. Toss into salad mixture and chill until serving time.
  3. Makes 6 servings (about 1 cup each)


Sharon’s book The Plant Powered Diet is available at Amazon.


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