1. Talk to your Kids about it. In our blog on why kids should eat their greens, I talk about the inspiration for this series — a conversation with my son that highlighted to me where I’ve failed as an educator and a mom… I never told him why to eat his greens. I modeled it and I provided it, but without the vital addition of information and dialogue, the greens on his plate ranged from yummy addition to his meal to the symbol of mama oppression — one more rule to follow in a world of rules — ‘just try them.’ Keep the conversation age-appropriate and honest. With the explanation that they help him to feel healthy, have energy, and grow, he eats them with relish. It actually empowers him to feel like he’s doing something good for his growing body, something that helps him run faster, play better, enjoy activities more. And the process of empowering him may be fundamentally more important than any food group.
2. Balance the Bitter. Sometimes the flavor of greens can be a bit bitter for young palates. Try chard, spinach and lacinato kale for something a little milder – mustard and dandelion aren’t great starter greens. Another way to rectify the bitterness of greens is to accessorize…Not into following recipes? Throw some peanut butter or almond butter together with a little bit of maple syrup and olive oil. It balances the bitter (and everything tastes better with nut butter!). Another option: steam your greens with a handful of currants and maybe some shredded carrot. This added sweetness delivers a little treat with each bite.
3. Juice it. Either juiced or blended (Mommy’s ER recipe HERE) whole in a high-powered blender, most kids we know will drink kale, cucumber, parsley, celery, spinach or all of the above when turned into a refreshing drink. The trick here is to keep a sweet, watery fruit in the mix — such as green apple, or coconut water. [The pic is of my older son drinking The Green Basic at The Plant in San Francisco: kale, apple, celery, parsley, lemon — with enough apple to keep it sweet, the celery and parsley make it mild and refreshing]. We just stopped at Bliss Cafe in San Luis Obispo that mixed up kale in a Vitamix with banana, green apple, protein powder and water. I couldn’t get my smoothie back from my son, honestly.
4. Eat Them Yourself. Everything I read and experience reminds me that, as parents, we lead by example. This point was driven home to me with uncomfortable clarity the other day when my son, in an uncustomarily bad mood announced that the reason was that he hadn’t been able to ‘work out’ that morning (where has he heard this before???) They are sponges, we all know this, and not just for the bad stuff. I may have gorged on PopTarts and Oreos at first as a Freshman in college, but after a startling 10 pounds, I was back to eating the balanced way my parents had modeled for me.
5. Keep it Consistent. Habits don’t change overnight. I’ve heard that it takes 3 exposures to anything to decide we really like it (whether its music or marketing). Advertisers use this to their advantage, why not parents? If your child is used to skipping the green veggies in favor of other fare, keep the message positive, but keep them coming. If one prep doesn’t work, try another. I’ve always thanked my father for respecting my inherent childhood dislike of lima beans and zucchini. He just presented me with other options — keeping me feeling healthy and empowered around my food choices. I carry that feeling with me as a grownup, and use it to guide the Mommy’s ER messages. Your child will learn from you how to eat and prepare greens, even she or he doesn’t take to them immediately. Sometimes, kids will eat the salad but not the cooked greens or vice versa. Allowing them to have their preferences keeps the association with veggies positive and nourishing. Allowing them to help you in the garden growing their own makes it even more appealing…I’m no green thumb, so that’s a different blog entirely – one that my husband or Maddie — or you, dear reader — will have to write.