Like many other parents, I find myself pondering what I am going to make for dinner on a regular basis, or wondering what I can whip up for a snack, While attempting to find a solution to these questions, I am always considering how I can include as many fruits and vegetables as possible. Encouraging my kids to eat and explore fruits and veggies is something I have focused on a lot at home, and through my 12 years of being a parent, I have found somethings that work really well. One of the requests I receive most from other parents is for ideas and tips for snacks and meals, and so I thought I would share some of my practicals (and with the exception of #1, they can be time savers too).
1. Get kids involved.
Kids naturally are curious. They want to know what you're doing and often want to help (Me too! Me too!). This can translate to fruit and veggies, and food in general, in a couple different ways. Let them pick out fruits or vegetables in the produce section that look interesting to them or that they want to try (my kids really enjoy this). Allow them to help wash and cut (if they're old enough to handle a knife), and help with parts of cooking appropriate to their age (like adding ingredients, stirring or mixing, etc.)
Also, kids like fun presentations. You can make fruit kabobs. Cute little fruit and veggie monsters or animals (Pinterest is an endless source of these). For my own children, I often will just put a bunch of different sliced fruits, berries, veggies, and some cheese out on a party platter just for a snack. They think it is the best thing ever! (I am guessing at some point the novelty will wear off, but until then I'm going to party-platter it up.)
2. Frozen vegetables.
Frozen veggies from the frozen food section are an easy way to add veggies to meals. These are great because the veggies have been prepared and frozen right after being picked, helping them to retain more of their vitamins and minerals. You can cook them on the stove-top (adding the frozen vegetables to a small pot and covering with a lid, no need to add extra water), but microwaving can also be a more convenient method. And despite the rumors you may have seen or read, microwaving does not destroy all the nutrients in food (a myth I see spread around the internet). Research has shown that all cooking methods (boiling, stir-frying, and microwaving) with the exception of steaming, result in a decrease of nutrients, it is just the nature of cooking and heat. Please do not get too focused on this though. Overall, a varied diet of vegetables prepared and enjoyed in different ways is going to give you plenty of vitamins and minerals.
And if you are wondering about the safety of microwaving food, as there is a lot of stuff floating around the internet, this is a great review of the literature and it debunks some of the most common myths.
3. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables
If your budget allows, many stores will have vegetables such as broccoli, zucchini, butternut squash, melons, apples, berries, etc., available already washed, cut, and ready to cook. I really like the selection at Trader Joes. Costco has a few items like this too in their produce section. But I have seen these veggies and all sorts of fruit in many other grocery stores too. These options are great for families running short on time.
4. Sheet Pan Dinners
Sheet pan dinners are great because you cook everything together on a sheet pan all at once. There are an endless number of recipes and ideas available online, and what I love about them is that many are well-balanced, featuring lean proteins and lots of vegetables. If you are really in a time crunch, using the pre-cut vegetables mentioned above can help make prep even easier.
5. Make ahead crock-pot freezer meals.
Ah yes. Ye ole crock-pot. The crock-pot really is a great way to cook a meal, especially if you are a family on the go. Make-ahead freezer meals make it that much easier. They do require time for preparation, but that prep time can be a great time to implement #1 on this list and get your littles involved (cutting vegetables, measuring things into bags, etc.). I always double the amount of vegetables in the recipe or add additional ones I think will work with the other ingredients. Just dump everything in a Ziploc-type freezer bag, put the bagged meals into the freezer, and then (the night before you need it) pull the meal from the freezer and let it defrost in the fridge while you sleep. Dump it in the crock-pot the next day, cooking as per the directions, and when you get home dinner is done. Here is a download that features 19 great recipes compiled by New Leaf Wellness that we like.
These are just 5 things that have worked well for me. I would love to hear what things you have found that your kids and family love or dinner ideas.