Getting children of all ages to eat their vegetables can often be a daily struggle. However, green vegetables are an especially important part of every diet and are essential to support the rapid growth of a child. Here are a few ways to make them easier to accept.
why we should eat our greens
Green vegetables are some of the most nutrient-dense foods available, helping children learn, play and grow. Green vegetables are a significant source of vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as several B vitamins. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant needed to support bone growth and vision development, as well as our resistance to infection. Vitamin C is critical for iron utilisation and bone and teeth formation. It also works to support our immune system and fight infection. While you can always take a supplement like argentyn 23 to help boost your immune system, absorbing vitamin C through the food you eat is the simplest way to stay healthy. Another key function of vitamin C is to help our bodies excrete substances they no longer need. Vitamin E, a fatty acid found in plants, supports the growth, hydration and repair of skin and encourages the absorption of other vitamins and minerals. Vitamins B1, B2 and B5 are essential for energy production and are key nutrients, for liver detoxification, a critical process for all ages.
Not only are green vegetables high in vitamins, but they also contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. Green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, and rocket contain particularly high amounts of magnesium. Magnesium is found in all green vegetables, but is even more concentrated in spinach, silver beet and beetroot leaves. Magnesium plays an important role in energy production, muscle function, regulation of body temperature and calcium levels in the body.
Green plants such as silverbeet, spinach, peas and green olives contain non-heam iron, a form of iron that the body absorbs better in the presence of vitamin C. A diet rich in iron is needed to support a child’s developing immune system and their resistance to infection. Iron also plays a role in children’s ability to learn; affecting concentration and memory. The importance of potassium to our bodies is little known to most people, but it is crucial for maintaining the acid/base balance in the body and for maintaining normal muscle function. All leafy green vegetables are great sources of potassium. Green vegetables also provide us with both soluble and insoluble fibre which is critical to gut health. Not only does the fibre provide bulk to our stools, it also feeds friendly gut bacteria.
When people think of protein they usually think of animal foods, but plants also contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Many plant-eating mammals such as gorillas, chimpanzees and horses have huge muscle mass despite their plant-based diet. This can be attributed to the essential amino acids in plant foods, which the body uses for growth and repair.
Grating vegetables into a meal can increase a child’s green vegetable intake, especially if they are put off by visibly seeing the colour. Finely chopped broccoli, cabbage, spinach or parsley can be added into meat patties and meatballs, as well as breakfast muffins, omelettes and frittatas. Vegetable pasta (i.e. the vegetable is the pasta, rather than durum wheat) is becoming more popular and can be easily made out of zucchini by using a julienne peeler. Once the ?pasta’ is covered in their favourite sauce, children may be less likely to notice it is made out of a vegetable. Adding leafy greens into smoothies (such as the Real Food Chef Blueberry Green Smoothie, see sidebar) or into casseroles, soups or saucy meat dishes is also a great way to increase their consumption.
The antioxidant and calcium content of green vegetables makes them naturally bitter; similarly, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts can produce a sulphur smell when they are overcooked. To reduce the sulphur smell and bitterness of green vegetables which children often don’t like, it is best to lightly steam your greens, and add other flavours if needed.
Children are curious by nature, so sometimes all that is needed to entice a child to eat their greens is to change the way the food is presented to them. Try giving them raw rather than cooked vegetables or even letting them eat with their hands. Raw broccoli, beans, snow peas and celery are delicious served with hummus or pesto, and is often enough of a flavour change to encourage them to eat them. Generally, if a food is presented to a child often enough, it will eventually be accepted. Presenting the food numerous times in different situations and in different guises will increase the likelihood of acceptance.
Eating as a family is important from a young age. Liking or disliking a food can be a learned behaviour and children pick up the majority of their cues about food from their family and friends. Being a good role model for your child is vital. Eat with them and show them that you enjoy your vegetables and this will help persuade them to at least try theirs.
Involving children in the growing, selecting and cooking process can be a good way to not only get them more interested in eating what they’ve grown or helped prepare and cook, but an opportunity to teach them about the benefits of them as well. Try starting out with micro greens or sprouts, they are easy to grow and are nutrient powerhouses. Micro greens are often sweeter than other greens because they are the young forms of the plant. Micro greens or sprouts can be added to salads, added into sandwiches or eaten straight from the garden.
If you are struggling to get your children to eat their greens, try not to stress. It can take several tries and a lot of perseverance to get a child to accept a food, but eventually they will. Variety is the key. For many people, there are a few foods that they don’t like but they learn to love many others. It can be the same for your children and their greens.
blueberry green smoothie
- 150g of fresh spinach
- Approx 1 cup of water from a large, young coconut
- 1 medium banana, peeled, chopped and frozen
- 1 cups blueberries, frozen method
- Combine the frozen banana and blueberries in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until the ingredients are well chopped.
- Add the spinach to the ingredients and process until well incorporated.
- With the motor running, pour in the coconut water. Puree the mixture until it reaches your desired consistency.
By Dr Libby Weaver