We’re two weeks into the New Year, which means that if you’re like most of us your resolutions are already falling apart. I don’t say that to be a downer. It’s just the truth, especially if you’ve set lofty goals for you and your family. Not to worry though! There’s still time to take on a resolution that can make a big difference to your health in 2017: eat more vegetables.
I know, it’s not a super sexy goal. It doesn’t promise that you’ll lose 20 lbs in 2 weeks or reverse all of your diseases. But alas, these promises usually involve actions that are either impossible to sustain or expensive unproven supplements.
Some Cold Hard Proof on Why Your Family Should Eat More Vegetables
The awesome thing about eating more vegetables? It actually has real, data-backed proof that it can improve your health in many different ways. Here are a few findings from recent studies:
- “Higher consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk of all cause mortality, with an average reduction in risk of 5% for each additional serving a day (6% for fruit and 5% for vegetables). There was a threshold around five servings a day, after which the risk of death did not reduce further.” (See more at: The BMJ)
- “…the more fruit and vegetables they ate, the less likely they were to die at any age. Eating seven or more portions reduces the specific risks of death by cancer and heart disease by 25% and 31% respectively. The research also showed that vegetables have significantly higher health benefits than fruit.” (See more at: UCL)
- In the short term, consuming a higher proportion of the dietary energy as vegetables may support a greater weight loss and the dietary pattern appears sustainable. (See more at: NCBI)
And just in case you need a kick in the pants that your kids (and you) are probably not eating enough, this comes from the CDC in 2014:
Children still fail to meet recommendations for the amount of both fruit and vegetables they should eat daily. Sixty percent of children did not eat enough fruit to meet daily recommendations in 2007-2010, and 93 percent of children didn’t eat enough vegetables. Recommendations for the amount of fruit and vegetables children should eat are based on a child’s age, gender and level of physical activity. Recommendations range from 1-2 cups for fruit and 1-3 cups for vegetables.
Why You Shouldn’t Just Focus on Your Childrens’ Vegetable Consumption
I’m in enough mom groups and posting boards to know that as parents we are always asking ourselves “how can I get my kids to eat more healthy food”? Usually the discussion turns into recommendations around unprocessed snacks and/or the merits of hiding vegetables. Rarely do we talk about the impact of the whole family’s eating habits on what the kids are eating.
But I have some good news for you (though it may seem like bad news to some of us)! It appears that one of the most impactful things you can do to get your kids to eat more vegetables is eat more vegetables yourself.
Check it out: “Within the family arena, a positive association between parental intake of fruit and/or vegetables and children’s fruit and/or vegetable consumption was observed in eight out of nine papers….Six papers studied the influence of shared family meals and within five of these a positive association with children’s consumption of fruit and/or vegetables was observed.” Source
So basically studies have found that in order to get kids to eat more veggies you should:
- Eat more veggies as a parent
- Share veggie rich family meals
- Increase accessibility to fruits and veggies
Ready to make it happen? Me too. Here are my tips for success in the new year:
5 Easy Tips to Get the Whole Family to Eat More Vegetables
1. Make the vegetables taste delicious
I know this seems obvious, but let’s have a serious chat for a second. The over-steamed broccoli and raw carrots you’re serving in homage to a vegetable side isn’t inspiring any of us to eat more vegetables. They seem like an afterthought because they are.
I suggest that instead of throwing some random vegetable on the side out of obligation, you challenge yourself to focus on making the veggies extra delicious. Luckily, there are some great recipes out there. Here are some of my favorites:
- Golden Crusted Brussels Sprouts
- Roasted Green Beans (I like to add a little minced garlic halfway through)
- A great kale salad like this one
- World’s Best Braised Green Cabbage
- Roasted Cauliflower
2. Include vegetables as part of the meal
Better yet, eliminate the option for eating your vegetables by making the whole meal one delicious dish. I’ve found that this is super successful because it’s harder to pick out the vegetables, but also because they taste more like part of the meal. Plus it makes them way easier to cook!
Here are some great examples of that:
- Chicken Vegetable Soup
- Cajun Beef Skillet Supper
- Broccoli Mac and Cheese
- Thai Red Curry with Vegetables
3. Make a family goal of trying new vegetables
I know that it’s so easy to fall back on what your kiddos will eat. That said, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by how open kids are to trying something new when you make it fun!
Why bother? According to the CDC white potatoes account for about 30% of kids’ total vegetable intake (mostly in the form of potatoes and potato chips). We obviously have some space to improve!
I’m planning to take on this challenge by picking one “focus” vegetable per week and preparing it two different ways throughout the week. Here are some of the veggies on my radar for this challenge:
- Butternut squash
- Zucchini (my son isn’t convinced on this one yet)
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
4. Use vegetables to supplement your recipes
Thanks to the popularity of books like Deceptively Delicious this strategy is often known as “hiding vegetables”. We can engage in endless debates on the merits of doing or not doing this, but ultimately there are great culinary reasons for adding vegetables into your recipes as you make them that go beyond being sneaky.
Here are some easy ways to supplement the recipes you’re already making with more vegetables:
- Add sauteed carrots to your tomato sauce to sweeten it up naturally
- Throw some shredded zucchini into meatballs or meatloaf, especially if you’re making them with chicken or turkey, to keep them moist (recipe for zucchini turkey meatballs coming Friday!)
- Supplement your fruit smoothies with spinach or kale to turn them fun colors and balance the nutrition
- Cut mashed potatoes with some steamed cauliflower to make them a little lighter and creamier
5. Grow some vegetables yourself
I know that it’s not quite the time of year for this yet but if one of your goals is get your family to eat more vegetables, then growing a variety or two in your garden is a proven way to accomplish this.
According to one review, “children’s willingness to taste vegetables, knowledge of nutrition and preference for fruit and vegetables have been shown to be positively affected by garden-based educational activities.”. Source
I have a frustratingly black thumb, but check out this list that gives a rundown of the 10 easiest vegetables to grow for some inspiration.
What’s one thing you can do this week to get your family to eat more vegetables?