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My Favorite Way to Get a Kid to Eat Greens

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CSA box Copyright Tracy Cutchlow

"I can't get my 1-year-old to eat produce anymore," a stranger said, with a hint of desperation, as we stared at the frozen blueberries in Costco. "He used to like bananas, avocados ... now he doesn't! I don't know what to do."

Mama, I don't know what made you ask me, but you are asking the right person! I have a great green smoothie recipe from the authors of The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook.

The surprising thing is how well the fruit masks the "green" taste. I swear it. Even if you're dubious about the taste of a kale smoothie, as I was, give it a shot.

Harvest Green Smoothie

  • 2 honeycrisp apples, cored and cut into chunks
  • 2 small bartlett pears, cored and cut into chunks (don't skip--creates a smoother mouthfeel)
  • 1 white peach, pitted
  • 1 lemon, juiced (fun for kids to do this part)
  • 1 chunk of ginger (experiment with the level of spiciness baby likes)
  • 3 to 4 cups water
  • 3 to 4 collards leaves, stems stripped
  • 3 to 4 kale leaves, stems stripped (I like the flat leaves of lacinata kale)
  • 2 to 3 large handfuls spinach leaves

See the recipe on their blog for instructions, ideas for substitutions, and an explanation of all the nutritional goodness in there. They also created a brown berry version with less fruit sugar.

My husband and I started making this regularly for our kid (once she started eating the foods we ate but couldn't really chew, say, a leaf of spinach). Then we realized we should be drinking green smoothies, too. You can make a batch every two or three days, drink some every morning, and worry less that your kid only wants to eat PB&J every day for lunch. This recipe works if you skip the peach and lemon, it works if you add a handful of chopped cabbage, it works if you toss in a wayward carrot or cucumber ... it's a great recipe.

You need a high-powered blender to make the smoothie smooth. I went with the Breville Hempishere after Cook's Illustrated rated it up there with the Vitamix for half the price. If that's out of reach, experiment with the thinner leaves of chard and spinach instead of kale and collards, more water instead of less, and/or accepting a somewhat chewy juice. Kids don't always mind.

Other things you can do to help a kid enjoy greens (besides hiding them in a tasty broccoli pesto)?

Eat greens during pregnancy.

What mom eats can influence baby's taste preferences. In one study, women regularly drank carrot juice while pregnant, and their babies were more likely than other babies to like carrot juice.

CSA box Let baby play with greens.

Introduce greens by showing them to baby, helping baby feel their texture, inspecting their raw vs. cooked states, smelling them, touching your tongues to them. Don't worry about whether baby actually eats the greens right away. It can take many exposures, studies show, before baby accepts a new food.

Eat greens with your toddler.

There's a phase--you may or may not wish it would last longer--in which baby wants to do what you're doing. Try on your shoes. Use your pen. Sit on your chair. And especially eat from your plate. Sure, the same food is on their plate, but that's not your food. So try sharing bites of greens from your plate. Revel in your own bite, then offer some with a casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

"Ooh, wilted spinach. That's good. I taste a little of that lemon. Would you like some, too?" (My fancy recipe: Microwave a couple handfuls of baby spinach for 1 minute, sprinkle a little salt, and let baby squeeze a lemon on top.)

Sharing food requires sitting down and eating together, which is a good thing. Sometimes when baby is hungry, you make his plate and forget about your own, right? If you find yourself just sitting there feeding baby, instead of sharing a meal, go back and fix your plate.

Pair a new food with your preschooler's familiar food.

Rather than making only the few things you know she'll eat, continue offering variety by pairing something familiar with something new. Don't force her to eat the new food, however, or have an agenda about it. Simply set the example.

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For more quick bites on improving everything from sleep to eating to potty training to discipline, check out my book, Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.

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