It's Not a Lie if They Eat Their Vegetables

Jean MacKenzie, Weavers Way Mt. Airy Produce Manager

It’s that time of year again. Anyone who ever went to school, especially elementary school, in the United States gets a kind of thrill in late August — A new year! A fresh start! New clothes! The wonderful smell of new books, new crayons! Recycled produce columns! I say the same thing every year about this time, so if you’re one of my faithful readers (either of you), you can skip this column and re-read Norman’s Suggestion column.

If we all ate the recommended 8-10 servings of fresh produce every day, we’d be a lot healthier (and I’d be a lot busier). But how do you get yourself and your family to eat fresh? Here are the best ideas I’ve collected so far, mostly in an effort to find painless ways to get more fresh fruit and vegetables into my own family’s diet. 

When they’re hungry, they will eat. Duh. Present your kids — or yourself — with fresh snacks right after school, when they’ll eat anything you give them. My kids and their friends gobbled up cut carrots and grape tomatoes and more each day when school let out. Have a big salad ready 10 minutes before dinner is ready.

When they’re watching TV, they will eat. Just give them — or yourself — a plate of fruit and veggies.

I don’t know about your kids, but mine would have eaten cardboard if I gave it to them with some ranch dip or hummus. Carrots, of course, but also red or yellow bell peppers, jicama (very high in Vitamin C, and won’t turn brown), kohlrabi, celery and lightly steamed broccoli, cauliflower or green beans. Watermelon radish – more of an adult taste – is great with blue-cheese dip.

If it’s sliced, crispy or frozen, they will eat. Research shows that we’ll eat lots more of almost anything, but especially apples, if it’s sliced into bite-sized pieces. A lunchbox favorite for my kids was a kiwi, sliced in quarters and packed in a small container to prevent smashing. Added bonus: A kiwi has more Vitamin C than an orange. And what is it about salty-crunchy that is so satisfying? Instead of chips, try roasting green beans, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, rutabaga, carrots, sweet potatoes and, of course, potatoes with some olive oil, maybe a dash of vinegar, and whatever seasonings you like. 

My daughter used to immediately freeze all the grapes, then snack on them like candy. Berries work, too. Freeze grapes and berries individually on a cookie sheet before storing in an airtight bag, so they won’t stick together.

If you pour it out of a blender, they will eat. Freeze overripe bananas. Our family’s favorite smoothie: apple juice, frozen banana for sweetness and iciness, some other fruit — usually a berry — for flavor and color. I used to add some protein powder or calcium supplement, because my then-still-growing-teens never got enough in their diets. If you use enough frozen banana, it’s more like a sorbet than a smoothie.

If it looks like dessert, they will eat. A favorite in our house is vanilla yogurt (Pequea or Seven Stars) layered with berries, sprinkled with toasted wheat germ. It can make you forget ice cream.

Finally, there are these two nearly no-fail options:

Trick them or lie to them. I used to buy a few varieties of something — apples, citrus, different vegetables — put them on plates with numbers, and ask my kids and their friends to test and compare. Which is sweetest? Juiciest? Yummiest alone? Yummiest with dip? Actually, in my line of work, this was not a trick. But when I was a kid, my mom told us that carrot sticks helped prevent carsickness. I don’t know whether she believed this, but we sure did. Twenty miles into one of our endless family treks to Minnesota, we’d be begging for carrot sticks. And we never got carsick.

These are my best ideas for increasing the fruit and vegetable intake of your families and yourselves. All of them were tested on my kids and their friends. Do you have some methods of your own? Send them along to me, and I’ll be sure to include them in NEXT September’s column.