5 Vegetables a Day, the Easy Way

Five Veggies a Day

I thought my kids were getting plenty of fruits and vegetables, until a healthy habits survey at Caitlin and Ellie's annual check-ups revealed we were a serving short each day.

Not terribly slouchy, but why not get all the health benefits you can? Besides, I'd rather cement the habit before the teenage years when the girls will probably live on milk shakes and giant cookies at school (like someone else I know once did).

What to Do?
That left the question -- how? Fruit juice was out -- only Talie likes it, and who needs the extra sugar? The girls already have fruit at breakfast, lunch, and snack, and a vegetable at dinner. Adding more vegetables seemed to be the way to go. Predicting some flack at the dinner table, I went with a combination of open assault and sneak-attack.

You Can Be Honest
The first strategy was simple: Serve two vegetables at dinner instead of one. Surprisingly, no one balked at this at all. There's the occasional downside of food mixing, such as decorating the sweet potatoes with peas, but when the result is a kid who will suddenly eat sweet potatoes, I'm all for it.

You Can Be Sneaky
The underhanded approach came from the media hullabaloo about two new cookbooks by Jessica Seinfeld and Missy Chase Lapine. The books share a common theme -- pulverize and hide the veggies, and your kids will eat them. Though this seems deceptive and misses the point about educating kids about healthy eating, for five a day, I decided to try it.

Starting with something sweet seemed like a safe bet. I found a recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and for insurance, bumped up the chips from 12 to 16 ounces. Kingsolver's daughter, who developed the recipe, reported that a bunch of 11-year-olds gobbled these up with no clue there was zucchini lurking within.

My husband Matt's first reaction: "What are these green things in the cookies?" I kicked him. A minute later, Ellie alerted everyone, "Hey, there's green stuff in here!"

I came clean, and was met with shrieks of horror. My kids like zucchini, but messing with dessert is criminal. Still, the cookies vanished. The taste was different for sure, but not bad. And the next day, they tasted even better.

You Can Be Creative
Another night, I puréed a red pepper and added it to the spaghetti sauce. This went undetected, but it was no easy feat to hide the food processor and its contents with three kids parading through the kitchen. Who needs that stress? So I drew the line at stocking the fridge with a rainbow of purées, and instead, turned to some of the wise moms I know for more ideas. Here are their favorites:

  1. Serve veggies with dips, like honey mustard, low-fat dressings, salsa, even ketchup. This sweet curried dip got the thumbs-up at our house.
  2. Put lemon juice on the table and let your kids squirt on extra flavor.
  3. Mix veggies into something else that your kids like, such as mashed potatoes or chicken noodle soup.
  4. Make a trip to a farmer's market or linger in the produce section and let your child pick a vegetable that catches her eye.
  5. Leave cut-up cucumbers and carrot sticks at eye level in the fridge for easy snacking.
  6. Let kids get creative with a recipe like Mollie Katzen's SALAD PEOPLE.
  7. Get kids involved by growing your own veggies. Plan a pick-and-eat garden to start in the spring. These five vegetables are especially easy and work in containers, too.

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