My kids love green beans. And broccoli. And Greek olives. And fresh figs. What can I say? I’m a lucky gal.
But I like to think that some of it wasn’t luck. Even before our fist daughter was born, I worried I’d end up the foodie mom with a picky eater. So I started researching it when I was pregnant. How DO you get kids to be adventurous eaters?
I started by asking my mom how she got my sister Jessie and me to eat spicy chili, steamed artichokes with hollandaise and chopped salad with olives and tomatoes like it was no big deal.
She told me that what she served was the only option. She fed us dinner and we ate it. That was the menu. Sure there were moments when we genuinely didn’t like something. She didn’t make us another meal. That was it. That’s the model I’ve adapted too, and it actually has worked for the most part.
If my kids don’t eat something, I don’t sweat it. I ignore it actually. As you know it takes something crazy like 10 or 15 exposures of a new food for a child to accept it. So knowing that fact, even when my kids reject something the first or sixth time, I will blindly forge ahead and put it on their plate or in their lunchbox again and again. Eventually they’ll get their 10 exposures in, and accept the formerly yucky food.
Another pivotal discussion that has influenced my attitudes about picky eating was about a year and a half ago when I had wonderful fortune to interview Craig Johnston, Assistant Professor Department of pediatrics in Children’s Nutrition research center Baylor College of Medicine. Got all that? He’s a kids’ nutrition guy. I wrote about him here too. Anyway, I took a lot of what he said to heart in how I teach my own kids about healthy eating.
Basically he said that if parents are trying to get kids to eat more vegetables they can start with a vegetable kids don’t mind so much. Like for my kids that would be green beans. For others it may be peas or carrots. He says those easy veggies are like a “gateway vegetable.” When the kids eat them, make sure to praise the heck out of them. So I always make it fun and rewarding to make healthy choices. I’m like “Oh my goodness you’re the green bean monster!” Or “Look at you, eating your vegetables!”
Johnston said parents can say something like “your taste-buds are growing up” when their kids eat even a little bite. And then you can move on to the next level of vegetable, like zucchini. Start off adding a little zucchini, maybe it’s nine parts green beans and one part zucchini to begin with, Johnston says. And if you see them eat even a tiny bite, praise them.
Johnston says instead of the “stealth health” you ultimately want to get the kids eating the vegetables and tasting the vegetables. I couldn’t agree more. And with green beans tasting this good who wouldn’t want to call themselves a green bean monster?!
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 teaspoons minced garlic
- ½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- 2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound green beans, trimmed (about 8 cups)
- Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring until the garlic is just barely showing signs of turning brown, 30 to 90 seconds. Immediately pour into a large mixing bowl to stop cooking.
- Meanwhile, add 1 to 2 inches of water to a large pot fitted with a steamer attachment, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add green beans to steamer, and cook, covered until the beans are crisp tender, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer the green beans to the bowl. Add walnuts, balsamic and salt and toss to coat.