Written by Dana Leigh Smith
It’s not uncommon for kids to turn their noses up at the sight of produce, but serving your little ones the recommended five fruits and vegetables a day can help lengthen their lives, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Previous research has been inconclusive as to the extent that meeting the five-servings-a-day guideline improves health, but the new study shows the recommendations are optimal for wellness and can lead to a longer life.
With so much junk food marketed toward children these days, it may seem nearly impossible to raise a child to be a lifelong fruit and vegetable eater, but it doesn’t have to be, says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of "The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life."
Start by setting an example for your child, Ansel says.
“Parents are kids' top influences when it comes to eating, so when kids see their parents eating lots of produce, they are likely to do the same,” she says.
Try regularly incorporating a wide range of produce into meals, prepared a variety of different ways. That can help kids develop a liking for the taste and texture of produce, Ansel says. Tried that tactic with no success? You may have to get a little creative in the kitchen.
Here, Ansel weighs in on five recipes that have hidden sources of wholesome, vitamin-packed produce. Kids won’t have a clue that these delicious dishes are actually good for them.
Skinny Banana Cookies (makes 12-16 cookies)
This healthy spin on traditional oatmeal cookies is not only easy to make but also a great way to add produce to your child’s diet. For added nutrition, serve with a plate of fresh fruit and milk, Ansel suggests.
● 2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
● 1 cup of uncooked old-fashioned oats
● 1/4 cup chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
3. Mix the mashed bananas and oats in a bowl.
4. Fold in the chocolate chips.
5. Using a spoon, scoop up the batter and place on the cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
Two Ingredient Pumpkin Cake (makes one 9x13-inch cake)
Combining dry cake mix with fiber-rich pumpkin puree in lieu of traditional wet ingredients is a low-fat substitution that doesn’t sacrifice flavor. Pumpkin, also rich in vitamin A, supports a healthy immune system and aids digestion, Ansel notes.
● 1 (18.25-ounce) package spice cake mix
● 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Generously grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the spice cake mix and canned pumpkin until well blended. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool and serve, or store in the refrigerator. This tastes even better the next day.
Turkey Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash in Tomato Sauce (serves 8)
Spaghetti squash, a great substitute for pasta, is a creative way to encourage kids to eat their vegetables. Little ones are sure to find this messy, creative recipe more fun than a plain serving of squash, Ansel says.
● 2 pounds spaghetti squash
● 3 tablespoons olive oil
● 2 cloves garlic, minced
● 1 onion, chopped
● One 16-ounce can San Marzano diced tomatoes
● One 16-ounce can San Marzano tomato sauce
● 2 pounds ground turkey meat
● 1 loaf Italian bread, chopped
● 1 cup milk
● 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
● 1 bunch fresh basil, large stems removed, chopped
● 1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped
● Vegetable oil, for frying
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Halve the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place on a baking sheet, cut-side up. Roast the squash until softened, 30 to 40 minutes (depending on size).
3. Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Saute the garlic and onions until translucent. Add the tomatoes and simmer on low heat, about 45 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, combine the turkey, bread, milk, Parmesan, basil and parsley and mix well. Form into 2-inch meatballs.
5. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat.
6. Pan-fry the meatballs until browned on all sides. Cook in batches if needed.
7. Transfer the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer until cooked through.
8. Using a fork, remove the squash flesh from the skin and stir the squash into the tomato sauce. Serve the squash topped with meatballs.
Turkey-Mushroom Burgers (makes 6)
Ground turkey patties, a lean alternative to beef burgers, may be lower in fat and calories, but some recipes can be dry and bland. The selenium-rich mushrooms in these burgers add moisture and flavor, without adding fat. The mineral aids the production of antioxidants, keeping your little ones’ immune and thyroid systems healthy.
● 2 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces
● 8 ounces white mushrooms, wiped clean
● 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
● 1 medium onion, finely chopped
● 2 cloves garlic, minced
● 1/2 cup Scallion-Lemon Mayonnaise, optional
● 1 pound lean ground turkey breast
● 1 large egg, lightly beaten
● 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
● 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
● 1/2 teaspoon salt
● 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
● 6 whole-wheat buns, (optional)
● Lettuce leaves & tomato slices, for garnish
1. Place bread in a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Transfer to a large bowl. Pulse mushrooms in the food processor until finely chopped.
2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and the mushrooms; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add to the breadcrumbs and let cool completely, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare Scallion-Lemon Mayonnaise, if using.
4. Preheat grill to medium-high.
5. Add ground turkey, egg, dill, mustard, salt and pepper to the mushroom mixture; mix well with a potato masher. With dampened hands, form the mixture into six 1/2-inch-thick patties, using about 1/2 cup for each.
6. Oil the grill rack. Brush the patties with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Grill until no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes per side. (An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center should register 165°F.) Meanwhile, split buns and toast on the grill for 30 to 60 seconds, if using. Serve burgers on buns, garnished with lettuce, tomato and Scallion-Lemon Mayonnaise, if desired.
Easy Chicken & Veggie No-Cheese Pizza (makes 1)
Making homemade pizza is a fun way to involve your kids in the kitchen. Since little ones feel more comfortable trying new foods if they know how it was prepared, children who help cook are more apt to dig into unfamiliar produce. This recipe nixes the cheese, lowering the overall saturated fat intake, and is chock full of vitamin-rich veggies such as kale, bell peppers and tomatoes.
● 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
● 1 onion, thinly sliced
● 1 red or green bell pepper, thinly sliced
● 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
● ½ teaspoon dried basil
● Dash of sea salt
● 1 cup collard greens or kale, sliced in thin ribbons
● 1 Roma tomato, thinly sliced
● Nonstick cooking spray
● 3-4 oz. chicken thigh, cut into chunks
● ½ teaspoon cornmeal
● Ready-made whole wheat pizza dough (you can find this at specialty markets, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s)
● ½ cup ready-made marinara sauce
● 1 (2¼-ounce can) sliced black olives
● ½ teaspoon garlic’n’herb (no-salt-added) seasoning
● ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Add olive oil to baking dish and heat for 3 minutes.
3. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, basil and salt for 6-7 minutes.
4. Add greens or kale and tomato and roast for another 5 minutes. Set aside.
5. Meanwhile, spray medium pan with cooking spray and add chicken.
6. Cook over medium heat until cooked through, about 7-8 minutes, or until thoroughly cooked through.
7. Spray baking or pizza pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle with cornmeal.
8. Roll out pizza dough onto pan.
9. Cook pizza dough for about 3-4 minutes, or until dough rises slightly.
10. Poke with fork and spread dough with marinara sauce.
11. Add roasted veggies and top with cooked chicken and olives.
12. Sprinkle with garlic seasoning and red pepper flakes.
13. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until dough is golden brown and crispy.