How to Help Vegetarian (and All) Kids Eat Their Vegetables 37696

More and more families are now beginning to turn to plants, rather than the typical beef, poultry, fish, or pork options when choosing "what's for dinner." This is certainly a step in the right direction for the health of our children. In a nation-wide poll conducted among 2,030 adults in U.S., it was found that 47 percent of the population eats vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time.

But, one area where even vegetarians can fall short is getting enough veggies every day. As a plant-lover and plant-based advocate, it makes me sad to say that children and their parents are crowding out health-promoting, energy boosting vegetables to make room for overly-processed snack foods and soy-based meat substitutes on our dinner plates. Only 26 percent of adults eat a full serving of vegetables three or more times a day. That's a pretty alarming statistic for a food group so well touted for such powerful disease fighting properties – especially considering that children lead by the example of their parents. And the studies prove it. According to a 2009 study by researchers at Ohio State University, only 22 percent of children between the ages of 2 to 5 years meet government recommendations for veggie intake.

In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture advises that half–yes, half–of your child's plate be filled with fruits and/or vegetables at each meal. This certainly leaves less room for the overly processed microwavable meals that tend to crowd their dinner plates. Keep in mind that the "whole" point of a plant-based diet is to reap the nutrition rewards of whole foods. So, load your child's plate with veggies, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and simply pass on the faux, overly processed chicken nugget.

Here are 5 plant-friendly and kid-friendly ways to prove that eating vegetables is not only easier than you may think, it's also delicious, and even fun!

1. Breakfast is an easy one. Pass on the sugary breakfast cereals, frosted breakfast pastries, and overly sweetened "fruit" punch. Instead, mix onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers into a morning veggie omelet or breakfast pita, prepare a homemade black bean burrito with salsa and avocado, or toss in a few handfuls of spinach into your little one's morning fruit smoothie. The options to go "veggie" for the first meal of the day are endless.

2. Stock your fridge. Store pre-cut veggies in your fridge. Many vegetables are nature's perfect finger foods –and when paired with hummus (see my recipe here), guacamole, or even a peanut butter yogurt dip, they make for a naturally delicious, filling and convenient snack.

3. Experiment. Make it a habit with your kids to experiment with one new vegetable each week. It could be as simple as baking sweet potato fries, roasting Brussels sprouts, or as bold as stuffing a winter squash with whole grains, herbs and chopped nuts.

4. Change the plate. Rather than centering your child's meal on the protein component, focus on the veggie first. Load up their plate each night with two different kinds of vegetables. If you prepare more vegetables, everyone at the table will be more likely to eat them.

5. Transform your family favorites. Do your kids love pizza? Load up on the veggie toppings, such as arugula, tons of marinara sauce, or even broccoli. Is spaghetti night a hit in your household?  Add spinach or mushrooms to your homemade tomato sauce. And move over plain ol' macaroni and cheese. Add peas, cauliflower, or even kale to your favorite recipe.

How do you encourage your kids to eat their vegetables?

Check out our food guide full of nutritious recipes and fun tips! Then see the 20 fail-proof snacks that kids love.

Image of mother teaching daughter to cut cucumber via shutterstock.