March is National Nutrition Month! It’s the perfect time to size up our plates and ask, “Is my plate in shape?” “Is half of it filled with fruits and vegetables?” Fact is, most plates in the United States don’t have enough veggies on them even though nutrient-packed, vitamin-rich foods like vegetables are essential for healthy adults and kids alike. They are especially important for growing kids, which is why I’m excited to share 8 family-friendly ways to enjoy more vegetables.
Try these family-friendly ways to enjoy more vegetables. It can be easy. It can be delicious. It can be fresh and healthy.
These work just as great for fun “Breakfast for Dinner” nights with the kids
- Make omelets or frittatas, and let the whole family have a say in which veggies go in (from a pre-selected range of healthy veggies picked by you, the nutrition gatekeeper). Some ideas for what to include: chopped broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, tomatoes or onions with low-fat sharp cheddar cheese.
- Try veggie-packed pancakes with grated zucchini, carrots, and potatoes, combined with an egg, some flour and a little milk. Pan sauté with just enough vegetable oil. Offer non-fat strained plain yogurt, tomato sauce, or salsa on the side.
Anytime Snack Ideas
Great for after school, before dinner, or anytime
- Two words: Carrot Chips. I kind of wish I’d invented them because I think they’re brilliant. We carry organic ripple-cut carrot slices (“chips”) that are perfect for dipping. They’re a great low-calorie sub for nutrient-poor salty chips. For a dip I like to offer hummus, a blended white bean dip, or a non-fat strained yogurt with mixed herbs.
- Dedicate an area of the refrigerator that is within easy reach for the kids as a “free zone” where they know they are always allowed to grab a healthy snack. Candidates for the “free zone” might be apple slices and 1 oz cheddar cheese chopped into bite-size cubes, blueberries and 1 oz almonds, bell pepper strips or baby carrots and individually packed hummus.
- Keep cut vegetables handy for mid-afternoon snacks, side dishes, lunch box additions or a quick nibble while waiting for dinner. Ready-to-eat favorites: red, green or yellow peppers, broccoli or cauliflower florets, carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers, snap peas or whole radishes.
Lunch and Dinner Ideas
Great for weeknight dinners or weekend afternoons when the family has time to be in the kitchen together.
- Pita Party! Kids love participating, and this is just as true in the kitchen. Plus, when they have a hand in making their own food, they’re more likely to eat it, even when it includes new foods for them! Put out the components, give them guidance, then let them assemble their own pita pocket sandwiches. I like to offer whole-wheat pita pockets, hummus or non-fat strained yogurt, carrot and cucumber slices. They also look up to you more than you know, so if you show how much fun it is to eat right, they’ll really pick up on that positive energy (but this goes both ways: if you give off subtle signs that you don’t like a food, they’ll pick up on that, too).
- Family Pizza Night. Make your own buffet of healthy pizza toppings and let everyone choose their own toppings. I like to start with our whole-wheat pizza dough to portion out into individually sized pizzettes for everyone. For sauce, I like to offer our slow-cooked tomato sauce. For toppings, I include chopped broccoli and cauliflower florets, roughly chopped kale or bok choy, tomatoes, and baby spinach leaves, and everything else thinly sliced, including: mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, red onions, and fresh jalapenos (seeds removed to keep them on the mild side). I usually go cheese-less, but for those who like to partake, I also have out a shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese.
- Sprinkle in the love. You may want to choose to do this one on the sly, or let the kids participate in what gets added in. Add grated, shredded or chopped vegetables such as zucchini, spinach and carrots to lasagna, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce and rice dishes. For a variation on the theme, top a baked potato with beans and salsa or broccoli and low-fat cheese.
In addition to filling half your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, here are a couple more ways to get your plate in shape:
- Fill about a quarter of your plate with whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, bulgur or buckwheat.
- Use lean protein, heart-healthy seafood, or vegetarian proteins like beans or soy foods for a little less than a quarter of your plate