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How to get more greens into your child's diet

As parents to a toddler, my husband and I continually work on new recipe creations to incorporate healthy fruits and vegetables into our son’s meals. As a whole-food plant-based family, we naturally have many on hand every day. That said, while we enjoy, for instance, steamed kale on the side of our lunch and dinners, our little one is not going to get too excited about that, so we have worked on recipes, refined them, and discovered important ways to share meal-time together as a family.

Our go-to’s are adding spinach or kale to smoothies, muffins, and sauces. One of our favorite times of day is the morning. We are undoubtedly early risers, and for us, a healthy breakfast is a start that we all need for our day. We enjoy breakfast together as a family. Oatmeal is a staple for us, but we’ve found that our son does not always want it, and we recognize the importance of offering him a variety of foods. So, rather than starting the day with some type of sugar-filled processed food, we worked together to develop a mini-muffin recipe of our own. Spinach is full of nutrients, including iron, immunity-boosting properties, and powerful antioxidants. Spinach is also an excellent source of fiber, promotes healthy bones, and is a source of protein. Adding spinach to this otherwise naturally sweet muffin recipe worked very well for us to ensure that our son receives all of these health benefits.

Blueberry Muffin

Muffin recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (e.g., cashew milk)
  • 2 cups oat flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 5-6 pitted dates- finely chopped
  • 2 ½ cups spinach
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries (other berries may be substituted)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two mini muffin pans with liners
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add oat flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and stir to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, add the vanilla to the cashew milk and mix
  4. Add berries, dates, and spinach to a blender and blend until smooth
  5. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir until combined
  6. Pour equal sized portions into lined mini muffin pans
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown.

We have worked to find what recipes work best for us right now and understand that toddlers can often be very selective in their food choices. By offering him a variety, it is our hope that he will continue to discover more and more healthy whole foods that he enjoys.

Sauces are also a great way to incorporate greens. Recently, my husband and I celebrated his birthday with plant-based West African cuisine. Upon trying the egusi sauce, which is predominantly pumpkin seeds and spinach, we started thinking of our take on it in hopes our little one would try it. Our egusi sauce recipe is as follows, and we serve it with pasta noodles for our son:

Egusi Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup of vegetable broth
  • 1.5 tablespoon of white miso
  • 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast
  • 3 oz of fresh spinach

Directions

  1. Blend until smooth
  2. Serve with pasta noodles- we use a chickpea shell pasta noodle for our son

I also referenced smoothies. There is certainly no shortage of smoothie recipes. Truly, the sky’s the limit, and it’s fun to experiment with new fruits and vegetables for our son to try! Smoothies are an excellent way to add greens. We typically add spinach, but kale is a great option too. One current favorite includes blueberries, bananas, spinach, non-dairy milk, and a couple of pitted dates for sweetness. As the weather continues to warm and we welcome summertime, we plan to add seasonal fruits. It’s currently mango season, and that is next on our list to try.

Plant-Based Kids

In conclusion, five priorities for us and our meals and meal-times, which help us to be organized in our efforts, include:
-Always have healthy whole plant foods on hand to offer our toddler a variety of options
-Talking to him about the foods and modeling healthy behaviors
-Sitting to enjoy meals together with no distractions
-Trying new recipes- A lot of trial and error to find what works best for us
-Enjoying meal time and not adding pressure

Successfully including greens may not always happen immediately. It sometimes takes two or three recipe trials before finding the one that works best for our son. Through this process, we have fun and end up finding more creativity in our cooking and expanding our go-to options. We add spinach to our blended sauces for pastas, smoothies/smoothie bowls, and even desserts. I hope to share more of our favorites with you, including our discovery that our toddler really likes purple sweet potatoes! I am always happy to answer questions and share tips that we have found work well for us.

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