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Monday, September 21, 2009

The Carnivore's Mom's Dilemma

I had such high hopes that my son, Jackson, would be a "good eater."

I did everything "right" -- or so I thought.

I breastfed him. We resisted slipping cereal into his bottles, and we delayed starting him on solids until his pediatrician gave us the go-ahead. Once he graduated from cereal, I exposed him to all kinds of foods, with a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables. When he was ready for "real" food, I fed him apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, beans and other good-for-you fruits and veggies.

And Jackson devoured them. But somewhere along the say, our little monkey went cold turkey on fruits and vegetables. Put a green bean on his plate or slip some spinach into his pasta, and it's gag-o-rama. If a piece of veggie mysteriously winds up in his mouth, he immediately spits it out. It's a texture thing.

As Jackson tells us, "I eat meat!"

Needless to say, I fret a lot that my meat-loving kid is getting enough fruits and vegetables and essential nutrients in his diet. That said, I try not to beat myself up about it. I can't force feed him lettuce! I'm hoping this is a phase because at one point Jackson did like vegetables. I'm persistent about always putting a vegetable on his plate and encouraging him to try them. I've also discovered some sneaky ways to get fruits and veggies past his unsuspecting lips. And when we find something green and good-for-you that he will eat, I serve it often (but not too often to put him off of the food completely.)

I take heart knowing that I'm not the only mom worrying about and struggling with this issue. My pals at TwitterMoms have been blogging about how they make sure their kids are eating enough fruits and vegetables. I hope you'll take the time to read their posts and mine for tips on how to make mealtime more nutritious for your family.

I also hope you'll try a new product Horizons Foods created specifically for picky eaters.

Horizon Little Blends yogurts include fruit and vegetables in every serving:
Getting kids to eat their veggies can be a challenge. Which is why Horizon has created new Little Blends yogurt—bringing fruits and vegetables together for the first time in a great-tasting yogurt that kids love. Produced without added growth hormones, high fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients, it’s natural goodness that kids want. And moms can feel good about.
I am so rushing out to buy these. Jackson loves yogurt, and I love the idea of such a sneaky, nutritionally balanced product that will aid in my efforts to convert my little carnivore into an omnivore.

If you'd like to try them, too, you can print a coupon here.

I'll let you know what Jackson thinks of Little Blends. I'm excited to have a new tool in my culinary arsenal.

Meantime, here a few tricks that have worked for me as I try to introduce more fruits and veggies into Jackson's diet:

Sneak them in
I was absolutely over the moon last week when Jackson devoured some Florentine Vegetable Penne, a completely meatless meal. The sauce included pureed carrots and tomatoes, and Jack loved it. (I wisely picked out the spinach from his serving, which kept him from boycotting the meal completely.)

A blender can be a mom's best friend. I've added pureed veggies to macaroni and cheese, rice, sloppy joes, risotto, pancakes and pasta sauces to trick my little picky eater.

This summer, we've been making homemade popsicles from pureed fruit, yogurt and fruit juices. Some of our favorite blends are mandarin oranges and pineapples mixed with orange or apple juice and strawberry yogurt pops. Yummy.

Lies, Damn Lies
I'm sure there's something in the mommy rulebook that says lying to your kids is wrong. Guess I'll have to go to time out. If an untruth convinces my kid to try a vegetable, I'm all for it.

I've told Jackson that au gratin potatoes were noodles, just so he'd try them. And when he did, he loved them. At a Thai restaurant, I told him that the carrot garnish on my plate were tiny, curly noodles. He ate those, too.

I support lies of omission, too. When Jackson wanted to try my fried okra, I didn't tell him that there was something green hiding inside all that deep-fried goodness.

Give 'em what they want
Even my carnivorous toddler likes some fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, his favorites are ones that he's sought out. They're foods he's snagged off our plates, note the ones we've offered him.

Dining out at a Mexican restaurant, Jackson asked to try some of my black beans. Then, he proceeded to eat the whole portion, much to my delight. Needless to say, I serve him beans frequently.

Must be something about the Mexican food. Another time at home, Jackson dipped his spoon into the guacamole and discovered that it was quite yummy. I'm still gobsmacked about that one. He went right for one of the greenest vegetables available. I love guacamole, too, so I'm happy to serve it often.

Dips and spreads
Besides taste, I think one of the reasons Jackson likes guacamole is because it doesn't look like a vegetable. It looks like a dip or a condiment, and kids love dunking their food. Be it chips in guacamole, Oreos in milk, French fries in ketchup or chicken nuggets in Ranch dressing.

But dips don't have to be nutritionally bankrupt. I've tempted my little food critic with spinach and artichoke dip, hummus (admittedly not one of his favorites), salsa and other dips. I'll also serve him a little dollop of caramel with some apple slices. When I do, he eats a lot more apple than caramel.

If they won't dip it, then try spreading it. You can hide a lot inside a tortilla or between two slices of bread. I've made s'mores quesadillas with some mashed up bananas spread inside. Freezer jam is chock full of fresh fruit (and you can make a low-sugar version.) Next lunchtime, mix a little hummus and ranch dressing together and spread it on a wrap filled with your kids' favorite sandwich fixings.

Go faux
Like most children, my little guy loves chicken nuggets, tacos, hotdogs and corndogs. I try to buy veggie varieties of these proteins whenever possible. So far, these substitutions haven't been detected.

Finger foods
Kids love to eat with their hands. That's why chicken nuggets are so popular with the preschool set. I try to remember that when serving vegetables. Jackson is much more likely to eat vegetables if they're fun to eat. We've had tremendous success with corn on the cob and potato-filled perogies and occasionally sweet potato fries.

I know that technically broccoli and other crudites also are finger foods. But sadly they're not acceptable finger foods in our household. :(

Buy the good stuff and try new recipes
I've encountered lots of adults who claim they don't like certain vegetables. But quite often, I've learned that's because they've only had them served one way. Case in point: my husband swore he didn't like asparagus because before we were married, he'd only had it limp out of a can. But he likes it the way I cook it at home -- sauteed crisp-tender in a pan or grilled with a bit of olive oil and garlic.

Kids who are picky eaters be rejecting are recipe, not the fruit or vegetable. The kid who doesn't like candied yams at Thanksgiving may love them when they're roasted in the oven or pureed and added as a thickener to chili.

In addition, seek out top-of-the line produce. I never liked pears much until I had Harry & David Royal Riviera pears, which are so juicy you can eat them with a spoon. Jackson loves these as well. In the fall and winter, he loves snacking on pear slices and cheese. (One night, he asked for three servings!)