The #1 Way I Get My Family to Eat More Veggies
Sometimes my body is just screaming "Feed me veggies!"—especially after a holiday weekend. Honestly, I think I love veggies more than most foods. But as a parent, I have to balance my love for eating plants with the need to make meals for my family that will actually go into their bellies rather than the compost. Sadly my kids don't love vegetables as much as I do. I think that's true for most kids. USDA MyPlate recommends that children 5 to 8 years old should aim for 1½ to 2½ cups of vegetables each day. And for older kids and teens, the recommendations range from 1½ to 4 cups of vegetables per day, depending on age and sex. (Ahem, grown-ups need veggies too.) For general recommendations by age, see this chart. Veggies are important for kids' health and well-being. And recent research says eating vegetables could even help give kids a mental health boost.
"Veggies deliver lots of good-for-you nutrients, with fiber being at the top of the list. Fiber helps keep our digestive system healthy and our bathroom routine regular, which can mean fewer bellyaches," says EatingWell's deputy digital editor, Victoria Seaver, M.S., RD. Plus, research shows that a healthy gut can have a positive impact elsewhere in the body, like improved immune health. "Offering your kids a variety of colorful fruits and veggies is the best way to ensure they're getting the nutrients they need to grow and stay healthy," she says.
So I keep trying. But HOW to get kids to eat their veggies? That is the eternal question! And it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. But I will tell you what works for my family: I make soup.
This veggie-packed minestrone soup is my go-to. Although it's called weight-loss soup, it's hearty and nutrient-packed and appropriate for growing kids and people who aren't trying to lose weight. A 1¾-cup bowlful contains 2 full vegetable servings. It's an endlessly versatile soup that's conducive to swaps that work for your family. There's even a slow-cooker version if you want to set it and forget it. This recipe makes a TON. For my family of four with two kids, it's enough for at least 2 meals: one for now and one for later in the week or to freeze for a night when we don't have time to cook.
Full disclosure: Some nights they eat around the zucchini, but I try not to make a big deal about it, so long as they're eating some soup with their bread and butter.
Some family-friendly swaps and tips I've tried that work:
- Use baby spinach in place of the kale. I add it at the very end so it doesn't overcook.
- Use frozen green beans instead of fresh. Fresh ones hold up better and have a nicer texture, but frozen will work; you just may not need to cook them as long.
- Try canned diced tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes. This works in a pinch but will add more sodium, so you may need to adjust the salt in the recipe.
- Try fresh basil or parsley instead of pesto, and then let kids sprinkle some grated Parmesan on top. (Kids love anything with cheese!)
- Not a swap but a tip: For my kids, soup always tastes better than it looks. So at one point we started telling them to close their eyes and take a bite. Now we call it "Close-Your-Eyes Soup" and it's a thing.
If your kids really don't like chunky vegetable soup, try a pureed soup! Here's how to turn any vegetable into creamy soup:
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