Grown-ups know that vegetables are one of the most important parts of a diet as they are rich with minerals and vitamins. These nature-made leaves, roots, and stalks are vital to the body’s health. However, it is not that easy to explain this logic to children. When parents mention eating greens, the little ones’ faces turn a matching green color with queasiness. Many kids try to avoid veggies at all costs and miss out on the beneficial nutrients that are packed inside. This rough start in childhood does not have to transition into a lifetime of anti-vegetables. The key is to incorporate a love for them early on and many times it can be as easy as making them just look and taste more appealing. There are many great ways to present and serve veggies to even the toughest little critics as Halal Consumer’s avid readers have so graciously shared.
First-time mom Sofia Alam of Elmhurst, Illinois, makes sure her 1-year-old son Dawud enjoys vegetables right from the start. She purees many of his meals at home which mainly consist of wholesome vegetables. Baby Dawud’s first solid foods included zucchini and squash, which is known to be a super-food containing antioxidant and antibacterial chemicals which prevent damage to the skin, joints, brain, and heart. He is also a huge fan of avocado, but that happens to fall under the fruit category.
“Zucchini, squash, and avocado are great first foods for your little baby,” says Alam who is a certified teacher by profession. “They are filled with vitamins and good fats that are highly nutritious for the youngest to the oldest family member. Before he tasted the flavors of real vegetables, I introduced Dawud to the bland, buttery taste of a ripe avocado,” she says.
Alam simply mashed and spoon-fed avocado to him when he was six months old. It was love at first spoon. Gradually from there, she transitioned his taste buds into enjoying vegetables as well.
“I want to make sure he grows up making the right choices when it comes to his diet,” shares Alam. “God has blessed us with an endless array of delicious foods, and Dawud will be exposed to them as early as possible. We as a family try to avoid foods with refined sugars or that are processed, especially in our home. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is our motto for staying away from junk foods. The best way to teach is by example, and we parents need to show our kids how to appreciate and enjoy the natural foods God intended for us to eat,” she says.
Asra Farooq Rahman, a literary specialist from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has a very similar stance when it comes to feeding her two little toddlers. She believes it is all about providing healthy options in and out of the home for her son Zaki, 4, and daughter Noor, 2.
“The adults do the grocery shopping and cooking, so it is our responsibility to make healthy choices for our children,” says Rahman. “If you bring junk food or unhealthy foods in the house, it will undoubtedly get consumed. Therefore, we make sure it does not even come in our home but lots of yummy fruits and vegetables do.”
Zaki’s school makes it mandatory for students’ lunches to have at least two dairy products, two kinds of fruits or vegetables, as well as grains. A sample of his school lunch may be milk, spinach and cheese quesadilla, string cheese, strawberries, and raisins. His snacks may consist of yogurt, grapes, crackers, and pretzels. Rahman keeps the portions small yet options plentiful.
“We make packing snacks and lunches extra fun and special for the kids,” she says. “On weekends we go fruit picking. Zaki and Noor love eating their hand-picked fruits. It just gives them a personal feel to what they consume,” Rahman says.
Rahman is also consistent about throwing in vegetables into whichever foods she can for her kids. For example, for breakfast she will toss in chopped spinach, tomatoes, and onions into their omelet. Zaki and Noor usually do not mind the extra color and flavor to their eggs and happily eat their morning meal.
“For snack time, the kids love homemade Pico de gallo,” shares Rahman. “It is a staple in our home with a side of plain tortilla chips. Soups also make great appetizers or even meals for kids, and with the right flavoring, they will slurp up all the vegetables with a smile. Also fresh salad or steamed veggies such as asparagus are served regularly with our dinners. Sometimes I will throw in dried cranberries or diced strawberries or grapes into their salads, and the kids will actually eat that as their dessert!”
If salad for dessert does not seem likely to win over the little ones, then a tall glass of juiced vegetables might do the trick. Juicing is a great way to enjoy veggies, and one glass can suffice as a whole meal. It is a simple and easy way to get all the goodness out of vegetables. If there is juice leftover, Zainab Sozzer recommends freezing it by making mini popsicles out of it. Her sons Muhammad and Ahmad Kamani, ages 3 and 2, love juiced veggie drinks or smoothies.
“Alhumdullilah, it makes me happy to see my kids fighting over kale juice or a broccoli smoothie,” says Sozzer of Chicago, Illinois. “They also enjoy anything with carrots, and to add some natural sweetness, I throw in some apples or cantaloupe into the juicer. After the boys have had their share, whatever juice remains, I simply pour into Popsicle trays and freeze for some yummy, nutritious relief on a hot day later,” she says.
Catering to kids’ dietary needs does not have to be at the expense of healthy eating. There are many healthy options out there starting with the produce section of the grocery store. It may require some proper pre-planning before heading out to the store and allowing a few extra minutes to prepare the snacks and meals. In the end, it is worth it when children snack on fruits and vegetables instead of chips and cookies. Parents must be the best of models. There is no real trick involved except to make eating vegetables a usual part of the family regimen. Presentation plays a major role in turning those greens into veggielicious options. A healthier foundation will only lead to a stronger, longer future for everyone.