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Tips From the Pros on How to Sneak Healthy Options into Your Children’s Meals

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Why do I hear the “Mission: Impossible” theme every time I try to give my children healthy food? Our boys could subsist on a diet of mac & cheese, but sometimes you need to slip a nutrient or two into meal times.

Much, much easier said than done.

Children are notoriously picky eaters. As a boy, if I found one tiny clump of garlic in my mother’s spaghetti sauce I would stage an instant hunger strike in protest.

Karma is working overtime in our household.

My sons recoil at anything green on their plate, sniff suspiciously if a new menu item debuts at the kitchen table and revolt when we run out of their second favorite food, waffles. Clearly, we need help. Which is why I reached out to Denver-based chef Jennifer Peters for suggestions on how to help my sons eat a healthier diet without resorting to drastic parental measures.

Peters, who will open her Just BE Kitchen restaurant in 2015, says smoothies are the easiest way to slip healthier ingredients into your children’s lives.

Children have palates just like adults do, so make sure to tweak a smoothie recipe to accommodate their taste buds. That means for every bit of kale or celery in your blender try adding an apple, carrot or fistful of blueberries for balance. And don’t forget a dollop of cinnamon or vanilla for an added flavor boost.

Parents shouldn’t necessarily announce a particular meal is better or worse for them, Peters suggests. Just serve up a tasty lunch or dinner packed with nutrients and put down the Food Pyramid pom poms.

I’ve found that asking my children to at least sample the food on their plate is a good compromise. We ask our five year old to eat five green beans, and our three year old must finish off three pieces of grilled chicken, for example.

Some food experts, like Peters, suggest a different way of getting young children to understand why healthier foods are better. Parents should broaden the food conversation and connect a child’s diet to the source.

The more children understand what they’re eating and the value of the food in question, the more likely it will be to watch them clear their plates of nutritious meals, she says.

That echoes the sentiments of Food Network star Nancy Fuller. The host of “Farmhouse Rules” often connects the meals she makes with how she found the main ingredients. It’s why her series shows her plucking vegetables out of the garden and visiting working farms.

“People need to understand where their food comes from,” Fuller said to a group of journalists earlier this year while promoting her show.

It might be too late for some families, but Fuller says parents should get children accustomed to healthy food options at the earliest age possible. It’s a great way to avoid those epic dinner battle between parents and their children, the kind that make many of us throw up our hands and reach for the canned ravioli.

“If [children] don’t know any different they’ll grow up eating vegetables and thinking that’s what they’re supposed to do,” she said.

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