Posts Tagged ‘ vegetables ’

How Melissa d’Arabian Will Make Your Kid Love Vegetables

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

This is a guest post by Parents staffer Brooke Bunce.

As Melissa d’Arabian, host of Food Network’s Ten Dollar Dinners, preps a row of different dishes for an ogling panel of onlookers (myself included), she whips out information and facts about vegetables faster than you can say “picky eater.”

“Only 28 percent of dinners have vegetables in them,” she explains while shaking a sizzling skillet of orange chicken. This statistic came as a bit of a shock to me, until I tried racking my brain for the last time I had a dinner that contained an abundance of veggies. Do the onions and garlic in pasta sauce count? I wondered ruefully.

Melissa, the winner of the fifth season of Food Network Star and a mother of four daughters from ages 7 to 9, is a resident expert when it comes to getting kids to try new foods. Along with her web series, The Picky Eaters Project, Melissa has also teamed up with Bird’s Eye Vegetables for the Step Up To The Plate campaign, a movement to push kids (and parents) to incorporate more veggies into their daily diet.

According to a report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 out of 10 children don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables. And we all know how tough it can be to make a plate of steamed carrots and cauliflower look appealing to kids, the toughest food critics of all. Sometimes pretending those broccoli florets are “trees” just doesn’t cut it.

So what’s the solution? Melissa is equipped with a full set of straightforward strategies and tricks to ease your child into unfamiliar veggie territory.

Add the familiar to the unfamiliar

To round out her plate of orange chicken, Melissa used a bag of stir-fry veggie mix, which contains veggies that her kids know and love, such as carrots and peas, to introduce other, more unfamiliar choices too, like water chestnuts and mushrooms.

“If you piggyback the new with something familiar, it makes kids more willing to try something out,” she says. “If it’s on the plate, chances are that they’ll try it eventually, maybe without even knowing it!” Plus, the chicken dish includes a sauce that uses fresh orange juice to create a flavor profile that kids recognize and enjoy. 

Develop positive relationships with vegetables (and food in general)

As a celebrity chef, Melissa is used to explaining what’s in the dish she’s serving. The same goes for her daughters, who “present” each dish before the family digs in. “If we have our kids just saying the words, talking about the food, they feel like they own part of it,” she says.

Moreover, Melissa has her kids help with dinner prep whenever possible. Even if they don’t eat everything that’s on their plate, it’s still worthwhile for them to gain positive memories in the kitchen, she explains. Her oldest daughter Valentine loves to prepare salads but still isn’t too keen on actually eating them. “This is OK though, because once she decides to try eating salad, she’ll be way more likely to actually enjoy it since she’ll remember always helping me make it,” Melissa says.

Help kids overcome their “fear” of certain vegetables

A major factor that contributes to picky eating is the fear of the unknown, Melissa says. “Always have something kids know and like on the table so they don’t get so freaked out about new foods,” she advises. “The victory is that there’s something on the plate they don’t like and they’re not freaking out!”

If they don’t eat something one day, the chance that eventually your kids will try it is significantly higher if they see it over and over again.

Recognize the small victories

Conquering the great vegetable challenge is all about recognizing the tiny successes, even if they seem insignificant at the time. All veggies are good veggies, as Melissa puts it, and it’s important not to gloss over those times when your kid takes a nibble of something new, even if he doesn’t instantly gobble it up.

Keep at it!

Most importantly, don’t think that change will happen overnight, Melissa says. The best strategy is to just remain patient and calm. “It’s a continuous work in progress,” she says. “It’s a balance between feeling good about vegetables and actually eating vegetables daily.”

Strategies for Picky Eaters
Strategies for Picky Eaters
Strategies for Picky Eaters

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5 Tips to Celebrate Food Day

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

This guest post by my esteemed colleague, Sharon Palmer, RD, is sure to inspire you. Known as The Plant-Powered Dietitian™, Palmer is the author of Plant-Powered for Life and The Plant-Powered Diet. Below she discusses Food Day, and shows you how to incorporate some of its principles into your family’s diet each and every day.

“Where does this apple come from?” “What’s in the casserole?” The next time your kids ask you a question about food, embrace their natural curiosity. It’s not too early for all parents to give them a life-changing education about their food supply. And now is the perfect time to embrace your child’s inquisitive side, because Food Day is coming on Friday, October 24th.

What’s Food Day? It’s a national celebration of real, sustainable food in America. It’s a day to get involved in your food system by changing the way you eat for the better. After all, the typical American diet is linked with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and environmental degradation.

Every October 24th, thousands of events around the country help inspire all of us to kick-start a diet that’s good for our families, farm animals, and the environment. Check out the Food Day website to find an event in your own area. From farm tours to cooking classes, many events are perfect for family entertainment. And best of all, Food Day is a great way to get your family on track to eating better for the whole year.

In honor of Food Day, here are my 5 top tips to help you shift your family’s plate to real, sustainable food to promote optimal health and so much more:

1.    Swap animal foods for plant foods more often. You can benefit your family’s health—and the health of the planet—by serving up more meatless meals during the week. For example, you can serve veggie lasagna instead of meat lasagna, bean burritos instead of beef burritos, and an almond milk smoothie instead of an ice cream smoothie.

2.    Eat with the seasons. Try to avoid fresh produce flown in from across the world in the off-season. Instead enjoy what’s fresh, seasonal and local in your area. This time of the year enjoy winter squashes; root or tuber vegetables like turnips, potatoes, and beets; apples, pears, and citrus.

3.    Check out your local farmers market or CSA. Depending on your location, farmers markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) offer fresh, seasonal, sustainably produced fruits and veggies throughout much of the year. It’s a perfect way for your kids to taste and experience new kinds of produce that will inspire good health.

4.    Plan a garden. Let Food Day inspire you to plan a family garden—that can be anything from an herb pot in your windowsill, a tomato plant on the doorstep, or a section of your flowerbed devoted to edible plants. Get your kids involved by picking out seeds, growing vegetables, monitoring its progress, and harvesting the food. After all, if they grow it, they will eat it.

5.    Cut down on highly processed foods. When you eat foods as close to nature as you can—a peach, carrot or bowl of brown rice—you gain all of the health benefits from the whole food. But when foods are highly processed—made into chips, cookies, sugary drinks—you waste added resources to process the foods and rob your body of the nutrients it needs. Give your kids the benefit of whole, minimally processed foods every day.

How do you help your family eat more real and sustainable food?

Image of vegetables at a farmer’s market via shutterstock.

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New Study Finds Perks for Organic Crops

Monday, July 28th, 2014

A new review published in the British Journal of Nutrition and covered in a recent New York Times article suggests that organically grown crops may have an edge over their conventionally produced counterparts.

In their analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies published all over the world—70% in Europe—researchers found that, on average, organic crops/crop-based foods had higher levels of antioxidants, lower concentrations of cadmium, and a lower incidence of pesticide residues.

The review found that organically grown crops had an average of 17% more antioxidants (including polyphenolics) than those produced conventionally. In their review, the researchers cited several dietary studies that suggested consuming more foods rich in antioxidants—especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains—may protect against a variety of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. Antioxidants are believed to protect the body against cell damage caused by free radicals—substances in the body and in the environment (especially in smoke or pollution). When produced in the body in excessive amounts, free radicals can increase inflammation in the body and contribute to the development of disease.

Cadmium is a highly toxic metal that accumulates in the body (especially in the liver and kidneys). According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), cadmium is found in foods naturally and due to air pollution. Although the exact health benefits of lowering dietary intake of cadmium are unknown, the British Journal of Nutrition review found that, on average, organic crops had 48% less cadmium than non-organic crops. The researchers urge keeping cadmium levels in the diet as low as possible. They also note that the European Commission has set maximum residue levels in foods for cadmium as well as lead and mercury, also toxic metals.

Although the FDA acknowledges there are no regulatory limits for toxic elements like cadmium or lead in food, foods that are found to have higher than normal levels of such metals are brought to the attention of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN), who then assesses the potential hazards associated with cadmium intake at such levels.

The British Journal of Nutrition review also revealed that the frequency of occurrence of detectable pesticide residues was four times higher in conventional crops than in organic crops. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pesticides are chemicals intended to kill unwanted insects, plants, molds, and rodents. The AAP believes that even low-level exposure to pesticides among children is concerning, especially because “they encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.” In fact, in its policy statement on pesticide exposure in children, the AAP cites evidence associating early life exposure to pesticides with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.

Even though the British Journal of Nutrition review has gotten a lot of positive press, not everyone agrees (as evidenced in this article by AG professional) that its conclusions are definitive or that such results should ultimately dictate people’s perceptions or purchases when it comes to organic versus conventional food. Eating and buying food is very personal, and it’s up to parents to decide what’s best for their families based on personal preferences, nutrient needs, budgetary and time considerations and other factors.

In the meantime, kids should at very least be encouraged to meet current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, especially when it comes to foods that many fall short on including nutrient-rich vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Until we know more, focusing more on helping kids get closer to meeting current recommended intakes for produce and whole grains rather than pitting organic and conventional foods against one another is a great first step towards helping them meet their nutrient needs that support optimal growth and development. MyPlate recommends 1 to 2 cups fruit, 1 to 3 cups vegetables and 1.5 to 4-ounce equivalents whole grains daily, depending on your child’s age and gender.

Still, if you can afford and choose to provide your family with mostly organic foods, you’ll likely reap at least some benefits (eg lowering pesticide intake) by doing so.

To learn more about organic food, check out my Scoop on Food post, Should You Buy Organic Food?

Do you buy organic foods?

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image of a variety of fresh healthy foods via shutterstock.

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Hiding Vegetables in Food: A Good or Bad Idea?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

In a New York Times article, Stealth Vegetables, Michael Moss points out two seemingly opposite strategies by the food industry to get everyone to follow moms’ advice to eat more vegetables: making them more attractive and easier to integrate into meals, and hiding them in other foods via precooked purees.

When I shop at the grocery store, I often buy lots of whole produce. But I also love to take shortcuts by buying some of the vegetables my family loves already prepped in some way—it definitely helps me save time when feeding my family. Some of our favorites in the produce aisle include shredded cabbage, carrots and lettuce and shaved Brussels sprouts, and frozen or canned low- or no-sodium vegetables. Although many of the fresh, ready-to-use options are more expensive than vegetables sold in their whole forms, they can be a viable option—even once-in-a-while—to get dinner on the table and vegetables into your kids’ mouths.

Purees are another option. In his article, Moss mentions Green Giant’s 100% Veggie Blend-Ins. To promote the new product, the company has partnered with with Jessica Seinfeld, author of Deceptively Delicious. The book features traditional recipes kids enjoy that are “stealthily packed with veggies hidden in them so kids don’t even know!” according to the book’s description.

Another bestselling book by Missy Chase Lapine, The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals, includes recipes that disguise so-called superfoods (including vegetables) inside kids’ favorite meals to get them to eat more healthfully. Chase Lapine also created Sneaky Chef Purees that are available in Whole Foods Market and other retail outlets.

David Grotto, a registered dietitian nutritionist, author and spokesperson for Hooray Puree—another vegetable puree option—says, “The reason I’m affiliated with Hooray Puree is that for as many years as I’ve been an RD(N), I don’t think we’ve made any real headway in getting kids—especially those of lower economic status—to eat more vegetables. That’s one reason why I like to incorporate vegetable purees to fill short gaps between recommendations and consumption while helping children to eat more vegetables—and build a healthy relationship with them.”

Purees can certainly provide a wonderful, nutritious boost to everything from smoothies to baked goods to lasagna to chili and other foods. There’s also evidence that using them to enhance meals can increase vegetable intake in young children. A small 2011 study by Penn State researcher Barbara Rolls, PhD found that adding puréed vegetables to favorite foods led 3- to 6-year-olds to consume almost twice as many vegetables (and 11 percent fewer calories) over the course of a day. The preschoolers also accepted the dishes enhanced with vegetables as much as the dishes served in their regular form. Also, feeding the children entrees enhanced with vegetables didn’t reduce their intake of vegetable side dishes. The researchers concluded that “Although covertly incorporating vegetables into foods can have a beneficial effect on children’s vegetable intake, it should not be the only way that vegetables are served to children.”

While I think adding purees to foods children already like or to new recipes kids can grow to love is wise, I’m not a fan of tricking kids to eat certain things. I think it’s really important for children to know what vegetables and other ingredients are in their food; that helps them learn about the many forms in which vegetables can be eaten and how vegetables served in different forms can taste different. For example, they may find that they like sweet potatoes when they’re baked into French fries instead of when mashed, or prefer cooked onions, broccoli and carrots over raw versions. The bottom line, as always, is to help our kids meet their daily quota for vegetables—1 to 2.5 cups daily for most, depending on their daily calorie needs—in any way we can, and to choose our battles in the process.

I asked a few moms who are also registered dietitians to share their thoughts on hiding vegetables. Here are their colorful answers:

“I’m not a fan of sneaking veggies into kids’ food because it doesn’t teach them how to eat and enjoy the actual food. It also can confuse children; for example, if they get a cookie made with squash at home and are told it’s healthy, they may think all cookies are healthy. I’m all for adding vegetables to dishes, like spinach to mac-n-cheese or mushrooms to a bolognese sauce (both of which I do), but in this case children see the vegetables and are given the opportunity to actually taste them and also sense their texture.”

~Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN of Nutritioulicious and mother of 2-year-old twin girls

“Sneaking veggies into foods has a short-term benefit—your kids will get more nutrition into their bodies at that meal. But long term, it’s not very helpful and doesn’t teach them any valuable habits (you can bet your child won’t be pureeing his own cauliflower into mac-n-cheese when he’s away at college!). What’s more, once your child catches on to what you’re doing, he may feel angry and mistrustful about it. Kids need to learn about the taste and texture of vegetables. I’d rather serve the real deal and have my kids only take one or two bites than hide purees in food. That being said, if you want to go the sneaky route, go ahead—but just be sure you serve actual whole veggies on the side. Or if you want to make black bean brownies or zucchini muffins, let your child in on the secret too!”

~Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, and mother of two boys, ages 9 and 5.

“I say “nay” on hiding veggies in kids’ food. Hiding is deceptive and does little to foster a child’s love for vegetables. That said, I’m all for “weaving” a variety of vegetables into recipes just as you would any other nutrient-rich ingredient. I love adding pureed pumpkin to muffins and pancakes, mashed black beans to brownies, and shredded carrot or finely diced red bell pepper to taco filling. Adding veggies boosts the nutritional GPA of your family’s diet, and serving veggies—in all their glory—with meals boosts it even further. “

~Liz Weiss, MS, RD, co-creator of MEAL MAKEOVERS, a mobile recipe app for busy families and mother of two boys, ages 19 and 15.

“I have never hidden veggies in food, but I am not opposed to it. I have always offered my kids veggies in a variety of ways: pureed, as part of soups; in smoothies; as part of dips; roasted with olive oil and salt; and just plain raw. In my opinion, good nutrition matters most and takes precedence over form.”

~ Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and mother of three kids, ages 19, 18 and 15.

“It actually can work to hide veggies in kids’ food. I believe that fitting those veggies into every meal as much as possible is an important goal. If you hide veggies like pureed, grated, or finely diced carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, and greens in smoothies, muffins, casseroles, soups, and more, you can amplify the nutritional power of these dishes. However, it’s important that kids learn to like the taste of veggies on their own, too. Even if you’re kids are picky, introduce fruits and vegetables at each meal. Just place a small portion on their plate at each meal to make them more familiar.”

~Sharon Palmer, RD, author of Plant-Powered for Life and mother of two boys, aged 17 and 15.

“I am a fan of boosting the nutritional potential of all meals; blending and pureeing vegetables in sauces, dips and smoothies is a great way to do that.  However, I caution parents from doing only that in order to get plant-based foods in their child’s diet.  We want to raise our children to consciously make better decisions on their own when we are not around, so it is critical that they experience those individual foods in obvious ways starting when they’re very young. Show the color on the plate!  We know that if you do that, they are more likely to balance their plates in a similar way when they are away from home given the choice. Hiding the foods does not teach them to choose power foods.  This works very well for my daughter and my son. They have very different flavor palates. Although one is more initially accepting than the other, repeated exposure presented in a variety of ways continues to expand their food preferences.”

~Angela Lemond, Pediatric and Family Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and mother of two kids, ages 10 and 7.

“I do not like to “hide” vegetables in the food I cook for my children. However, I do use vegetables to naturally boost the flavor of many dishes my kids enjoy like soups, chili and Mexican fare (hello salsa!). If my child asks if vegetables were used, I answer honestly. But I also explain why and how they are used. I try to get my kids involved in the cooking process and allow them to choose healthy recipes from cookbooks so they gain a full understanding of how a dish is created.”

~ Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen and mother of 3 kids, ages 11, 9 and 7.

“Yes, I think hiding veggies in baked goods is great…zucchini bread anyone? My kids are all grown now, but I never had any qualms about hiding healthy food so it gets into their bodies!”

~Janet Brill, PhD, RD, author of Blood Pressure Down and mother of three kids, ages 26, 24 and 18.

What do you think? Should you sneak in veggies or is it a bad idea?

Image of chocolate cake and carrots via shutterstock.






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5 Myths About “Going Vegetarian”

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

In celebration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month, I’m thrilled to share this wonderful guest post for The Scoop on Food by Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™.

Obesity rates among children aged 2 to 5 years old have reportedly plummeted by 43% over the past decade. This is huge news considering the efforts we’ve been taking as a nation in recent years to fight the obesity epidemic. There’s no denying there’s been an increased interest in food and nutrition, but as a registered dietitian who promotes the power of plant foods, I believe the improved health of our children may be linked to an increased emphasis on such foods. We can thank the growing list of best-selling vegetarian cookbook authors, vegetarian and vegan celebrities, and even our former president, Bill Clinton for giving the “veggie” lifestyle a whole new reputation. Even Jay Z and Beyonce adopted a vegan diet for 22 days this past winter.

While plant-based eating is slowly gaining momentum, many myths surrounding the “veggie” lifestyle still linger–especially when it comes to providing our children with optimal nutrition for their growing minds and bodies. Here are 5 misconceptions surrounding feeding our kids a vegetarian diet, debunked.

Myth: Children will not be satisfied with plant-based meals.

Truth: Your children will hardly miss the meat when you focus on all the whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes available in the plant world. Start with breakfast, for example: pile your child’s breakfast plate with fresh berries, whole grain cereal topped with toasted walnuts, homemade quick breads, or buckwheat pancakes with peaches or pears. The options to go “veggie” for the first meal of the day are endless.

Myth: It’s impossible to feed children vegetarian snacks throughout the day.

Truth: Store pre-cut veggies and fruit in your fridge, and chopped nuts and dried fruit (with no sugar added) in your pantry for snacks. Many plant foods are nature’s perfect finger foods and make for naturally delicious and convenient snacks. What’s not to love?

Myth: Children will not get enough protein if they don’t eat meat.

Truth: It’s a widespread misconception that it’s difficult to get enough protein from plant foods. We now know that it’s very simple to obtain all essential amino acids from plant-based sources such as legumes, soy, nuts and seeds. Incorporate a good quality protein at each meal or snack and your children will easily meet recommended protein intakes.

Myth: Children will not get enough calcium if they don’t eat dairy.

Truth: It’s important for growing bones to get adequate amounts of calcium–and two to three servings per day of green leafy vegetables, almonds and broccoli should help you and your children reach the daily recommended calcium goal. You can also add calcium-fortified foods such as tofu, orange juice, or plant-based milk alternatives to the mix.

Myth: Preparing plant-based meals is laborious, complicated and boring.

Truth: Plenty of kid-friendly and plant-friendly recipes are as simple as could be! And thankfully, gone are the days when vegetarian diets are considered to be about as hip and tasty as munching on alfalfa sprouts and chomping on seeds. Think: whole grain pitas filled with cucumbers, bell peppers and hummus, whole grain spaghetti with marinara sauce, and even a classic peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Image of girl cooking with vegetables via shutterstock.

Do your kids follow a vegetarian diet? If so, do you have concerns?

For vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) recipe inspiration, check out our Food & Recipes Guide!

How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: Vegetarian Meals
How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: Vegetarian Meals
How to Eat Healthy During Pregnancy: Vegetarian Meals

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