When the mid-afternoon snack cravings hit, kids aren't likely to rush to the vegetable bin for something healthy. Instead of handing over a plain carrot, get creative with food pairings, presentations and preparations to entice kids into eating their vegetables or even playing with their food. Some imagination transforms regular vegetables into creative snacks for the whole family.
Dips and Spreads
Raw vegetables get a flavor boost from a range of creative dips and spreads. Put a twist on a traditional favorite by adding dill to ranch dressing. You can also experiment with other dressings by adding dry mix seasonings to find a new favorite for carrot, celery or pepper sticks. Spreads that usually pair with breads or crackers, like hummus or olive tapenade, are unexpected options for vegetable dips. You can also make dips with vegetables and offer up bread or crackers for serving. Guacamole with tomatoes and a handful of spinach leaves is a refreshing choice. Or go for a combination of spinach, sour cream and ranch dip mix. For something more unexpected, try throwing leftover roasted eggplant through a food processor with tahini and salt to make a quick baba ghanoush.
Fun With Presentations
A creative presentation may be all it takes to entice kids to eat a vegetable snack. Instead of offering celery and peanut butter, spread the peanut butter in the celery sticks, and use raisins to represent ants crawling over a vegetable log. Cookie cutters create fun shapes like stars and flowers from cucumbers. Slide the shapes onto skewers with leaves of spinach or kale to make flowers; black olives or cherry tomatoes create the centers of vegetable flowers. Another option is to create a plate that displays vegetables in a rainbow. Red bell peppers, green cucumbers, orange carrots and grilled purple eggplant create a colorful snack plate for kids to pick and choose from.
Interactive Snack Time
Vegetables are an ideal option for playtime during mealtime because there's little risk of mess. Create a vegetable challenge for kids during snack time. Ask kids to use a tray of assorted vegetables to make pictures on their plates; kids can make simple figures like recognizable shapes or more complicated pictures involving people and backgrounds. After they make their images, ask them to eat specific parts first. Another option is provide kids with a large, solid fruit or vegetable like a tomato or an apple and then smaller cut up vegetables and a supply of toothpicks (just be sure you monitor younger kids using the toothpicks). Kids then make faces using their vegetables before eating them. You can also host a blind vegetable taste test -- kids have to identify different vegetables while blindfolded using just their sense of taste.
If your kids are completely resistant to vegetables, sneaking a few vegetables into snack time guarantees that they are getting the nutrients that they need to stay energetic throughout the day. Fruit smoothies are refreshing and filling, and vegetables like avocado, shredded carrot and even a handful of spinach won't throw off the flavor profile of a berry and yogurt based smoothie that kids think is close enough to ice cream. Whip up a batch of your favorite muffins made with shredded zucchini or squash for added moisture and undetectable vegetables. Once you get the thumbs-up, invite your kids to help you make the snack one day, and reveal the vegetable secret you've been keeping.
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- Food Network: Tips for Kid-Friendly Vegetable Dishes
- The Diet Channel; Making Fruits and Vegetables Fun To Eat; Dena McDowell; August 2007
- "The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids' Favorite Meals"; Missy Chase Lapine; 2007
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images