playful sandwich with smiley faces and carrots on the side

Sneaky Fruits and Veggies

By: Cristina Moreno, Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center

Food that is labeled ‘enriched’ or ‘fortified’ really just means that vitamins, minerals, proteins, calories, or fiber have been added to make it more nutritious, which can be a good thing, and is sometimes even necessary for growth. However, any time I hear the word ‘enrich’ in relation to food, my mind jumps to white bread or flour, where nutrients were added because the process of bleaching it (in order to make it white) caused a loss of nutrients. The practice of manipulating and processing foods has been losing favor with consumers in recent years, however many foods marketed towards babies and children are still packed with salt and sugar and low on nutritional value, even if they are enriched with vitamins and minerals. I am in no way a parent who only feeds my child 100% organic and non-processed foods, or who has the time to make everything from scratch, but I do try to offer as many whole and simple foods as possible, so anytime I see the word ‘enriched’ on a label, it makes me feel like I can find a better source of the nutrients elsewhere. This is why I began “enriching” my own food at home by adding ingredients that provide the additional nutrients I am looking for. I remember reading a book a few years ago about how to hide vegetables in food to get kids to eat healthier. Even though I didn’t have kids at the time, I thought it was a great way for anyone to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption, which can sometimes be a struggle.

When my son first started eating, I was proud that he was not a picky eater. I did not shy away from giving him foods that were not your typical baby fruits and veggies, such as salmon purees, lentil soups, and other foods I thought were a bit more flavorful, but I think I may have gotten a little overly confident about my son being a “great eater”. Inevitably, teething started and then he became a toddler, and suddenly, there was hardly anything I could get him to eat. Foods he had loved just a few weeks before were being pushed away like I was trying to feed him sawdust. I honestly have never felt a greater frustration than trying to feed a child who refused to eat. As a parent you feel a biological need to feed them, and when they will not even taste the food, no matter how many different things you offer, or others comment that your child is starting to look a little thin, well that is enough to drive any of us a little crazy.

After months of what felt like nonstop teething which lead to months of poor eating and picky habits, we finally seem to be getting back on track. He is open to trying more foods and eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, but our big struggle is meat. He will occasionally eat a variety of meats, but most times he will set it to the side, even when I think I did a really good job of hiding it in the food he likes. Overall, he is your typical little kid, and some of his favorite foods include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and pizza. Even when all else fails, you can count on some mac n’ cheese to get his appetite going. While I hate to encourage picky habits, sometimes you just cannot beat them, and all that is left to do is join them. I remembered the book I read a few years back and tried to think of ways to make his favorite foods just a little more nutritious, and here is what I came up with:

Protein Mac n’ Cheese:

Like I mentioned, the food group we struggle with the most is meat and eggs, so I try to throw in some extra sources of protein whenever possible. Something I found to be very helpful is adding pureed chick peas to cream and cheese based sauces over pasta. Chick peas are a legume like peanuts and beans, so they can provide a good dose of protein to foods where protein is otherwise absent. I like to add chick pea puree to my cheese sauce before serving it over macaroni and mixing in peas and broccoli. I hardly notice a difference in the taste, and my son does not seem to mind at all. The great thing about adding purees is that you can choose what meets your needs. If your child likes eating meat but won’t touch vegetables, you can use pumpkin or carrot puree in your sauce instead and throw in some pieces of chicken to round out the dish.

Personal Pizza:

My son loves pizza, and I have found that he will eat almost anything if it is given to him in pizza form. Instead of ordering a greasy pizza from your local joint, you can easily make personal pizzas at home that are quick, easy, and full of good quality ingredients. The great thing about pizza is that you can switch up the toppings as much as you like so it is hard to get bored. You can feel better about giving your kids pizza by choosing healthier ingredients such as whole wheat crust or bread, homemade or simple tomato sauce without all of the added sugar, fresh veggies, and avoiding processed cheeses. I personally like to use whole wheat pita, flatbread, or a piece of naan as a ready to go crust and use fresh mozzarella cheese on top. The options are endless, chicken broccoli Alfredo, BBQ chicken with pineapple, sausage and mushroom. Homemade personal pizzas are also a great way to use up leftovers!

Fresh Fruit PB&J:

This one is very simple, I just replace some or all of the jelly with fresh fruit. Peanut butter and banana is a classic, but strawberries and blueberries (or all three) are also great options. It is always a good idea to be careful when offering young children peanut or other nut butters in case of allergies, and choose creamy over crunchy variations. It is also best to introduce children to small amounts of nut butter first to be sure that they can swallow the sticky texture before giving them a large amount on a sandwich. I personally like to roll out the bread nice and thin, trim the crust since they can sometimes be tough to chew, and just add thin layers of filling to avoid too much stickiness. If you have family history of peanut or nut allergies, or are concerned about giving your child nut butters, consult your child’s doctor first.

Once your mind gets going, you can think of plenty of ways to “enrich” your family’s food with nutrients. Fine chop and sauté mushrooms and bell peppers into your standard Sloppy Joe’s, make a colorful chili with a variety of vegetables and beans, or mix pumpkin puree and cinnamon into oatmeal for a creamy, filling breakfast. Although sneaking fruits and veggies is a good option to add nutrients, be sure to continue offering your child a variety of foods to encourage him to try new things and avoid continued picky eating.

How do make sure your child is eating foods from each food group?

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