My older son decided he was going to give up kale for Lent. I reminded him that he doesn’t eat kale, to my dismay. My younger son and my baby daughter both chow it down, but this guy claims he is allergic. Of course, we’ve never seen a rash, abnormal breathing or any other sign of an allergy. I suggested that giving up something to which he is allegedly allergic and never eats doesn’t really count.
I hate to admit all of this. Aren’t I supposed to have kids who eat everything, who beg for healthful food and scoff at sugar? I don’t. I have regular, self-governing children who love to count their candy at Halloween and who perk up at the mention of ice cream. They eat tons of healthful and highly unexpected foods, but of course each has items they just don’t like. So do I, for that matter.
But greens — glorious, leafy greens are the foods most missing in modern diets. I want my kids to eat their greens. Why? Because nutritionally, greens are high in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and Vitamins A, C, E and K. They are crammed with fiber, folic acid, chlorophyll and many other micronutrients and phytochemicals.
What does that jargon mean? Well, those wonderful nutrients have been shown to provide the following benefits: strengthened immune system, cancer prevention, improved blood circulation, blood purification, lowered cholesterol, healthy intestines, increased energy, detoxification through improved liver, gall bladder and kidney function, and cleared congestion.
So I didn’t want my son to give up kale for Lent!
Luckily, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, artichokes, snap peas and other green vegetables offer many similar benefits. So how do we help our kids enjoy all things green? Here are a few ideas.
Start them young. A baby isn’t biased about what foods she should or should not like. Studies have shown that eating greens while a baby is in utero familiarizes the little one to the flavor. Whether this is true or not, those greens are certainly good for both mother and baby.
Toss raisins, nuts, apples and other foods your children enjoy into your salads and sauteed greens.
Puree or finely chop greens to cook with sauces and soups.
Add to smoothies. A frozen banana delivers sweetness and a handful of blueberries can hide the bright green color if your kids are skeptical.
Plant a vegetable garden. Even one as small as a windowsill pot will do. Allow your children to choose which vegetables to grow, and encourage them to plant, water, weed and harvest the bounty. They will be much more interested in eating food they have grown themselves.
Appoint your child in charge of dinner once a week. The meal should be healthful and include a green vegetable, but the child can be empowered to go from there.
Educate your children. If they understand that greens give them energy and help fight disease, they will be more likely to try them.
Read Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” even if your children are way too old. Dr. Seuss has a captivating effect on even the most jaded kids. They might pretend to not listen, but their ears will be perked.
Be an example to your children. Eat your greens, parents!
Don’t give up. Keep serving it. If not immediately, eventually your child will enjoy the greens on her plate.
Here is my take on the ever-popular, kid-friendly kale chip recipe. The coconut oil and sea salt provide a healthy mix of sweet and salty. Dig in!
First published in the Washington Post on April 5, 2012.