We're all for sneaking extra nutrition into our kids' lives. Who's going to argue against some stealth carrots grated into pasta sauce?
But we're also for expanding our kids' palates. Even to the point -- call us crazy -- where they actually enjoy the taste of vegetables.
We checked in with Deirdre Pizzoferrato, registered dietitian and founder of Beanstalk Express, a company focused on educating parents and children about nutrition, for ideas on getting kids to knowingly ingest some fresh produce.
"It's important for parents to understand that kids are programmed from birth to accept sweet flavors and reject bitter ones," says Pizzoferrato. "It's important not to get frustrated by that and to know that the majority of kids do overcome it."
Try the following to speed the process:
*Let them help. "Kids love to prepare things," says Pizzoferrato, whose twin sons, 9, have divergent tastes. "One will eat raw broccoli and one is the absolute opposite. But one thing I've noticed is that he accepts vegetables he has had some empowerment with -- tearing lettuce, snapping peas." Seek their help all along the way -- picking produce at the farmers' market, washing it once you're home, preparing and seasoning it, serving it to the family.
*Create a rainbow. "Kids love color. Fill a six-cup muffin tin with one or two good dips and the rest with a rainbow of vegetables, cut into fun, bite-size pieces. It's all about how it's presented."
*Expand your horizons. Go beyond the usual veggie suspects, especially in summer. Pizzoferrato says zucchini and yellow squash are fun for kids to julienne, grate or eat in a crudite platter.
*Don't be afraid to season. "I grew up in the '70s in an Irish family with frozen vegetables that never tasted good. I never liked broccoli until I met my husband and tried his grandmother's, the way she prepared it. I'm not saying to pour cream sauce over your vegetables, but I drop broccoli into water with olive oil and garlic, pull it out while it still has a bright, vibrant green, and sprinkle it with some Parmesan cheese." Nutrients need not be flavor-free.
*Keep your cool. "Kids should never be forced to finish their vegetables. Encourage them to try a few bites, but create an atmosphere that's positive. Forcing kids to finish their vegetables in a negative or authoritarian way will carry through on a subconscious level."
*Eat your own veggies. "The best thing is to model healthy eating behavior," Pizzoferrato says. "If kids see their parents eating broccoli, they understand it's a trusted food and over time that becomes part of their makeup."