Helping Children Eat Healthier With Spinach

A famous New Yorker magazine cartoon from the late 1920’s shows a little boy pointing at his plate, while his mother looks wearily on as he says: “I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

The humor still rings true today, as parents struggle to convince, cajole, bamboozle or force their children to make healthy food choices both at home and abroad.

Spinach is one of the healthiest food choices a child can make; it is bursting with vitamins C and D, calcium, antioxidants, and roughage.  But spinach is green, not very sweet, and turns kind of slimy when cooked too long – which are characteristics that children disparage, as well as many adults!

The key to encouraging your child to enjoy spinach, without saying “to hell with it”, is to combine it with other food items that enhance its appeal (or, let’s face it, disguise it altogether so the little imps don’t even know it’s there.)

You’ll find some valuable spinach recipes on food blogs, but many of these recipes are for grown up tastes and sensibilities – you won’t be able to get your child to touch one of them with a ten-foot pole. Here are a few kid-friendly ideas for serving spinach:

Lily pads.  Use one can of spinach, drained and rinsed (to wash away the extraneous sodium it’s canned with).  Combine with two beaten egg whites and form paddies in a greased non-stick frying pan.  Fry briefly on each side and serve with a few Gummi frogs on the side, telling your child that frogs eat the lily pads, so they can too.

Spinach rolls.  Roll fresh, parboiled, spinach leaves around cheese sticks, then roll in pretzel salt.  Tell your child they are green pretzels, the kind that leprechauns eat in the moonlight.  You may have to actually wait for the moon to come up before they’ll give it a try, but, hey, nobody said being a parent was easy!

Bobbing for spinach.  I know, I know . . . I’m reaching.  But I’ve tried this out with my kids and it really did work.  Drop some fresh spinach leaves, without any blemishes or brown spots, into a tub of water.  Make sure you have a good prize for everyone who participates, such as stickers or decals. NEVER use salty, fatty snacks or candy to bribe children to sample healthy food; it confuses them and sends the completely WRONG message to them.

It is surprisingly hard to grab a spinach leaf floating in water; you may want to try it first, failing miserably, and then let your children sneeringly show you how easy it is—time them from the moment they dip their head in the water to the time they chew and swallow the spinach leaf, as a sort of competition.  Kids love to compete.

Spinach nachos.  This one takes a little prep time, but if done skillfully your children will love it.  Carefully place a dry spinach leaf on top of each corn chip, and then cover it all with massive amounts of shredded cheese of your choice.  Nuke it until the cheese is a seething magma, covering all traces of spinach.

Serve to the little nippers and, after initial cries of indignation at discovering the green stuff under the cheese, watch them gobble up the nachos.  I have yet to see a child successfully separate the spinach from the melted cheese or chips.  If they want to eat the nachos, they got to eat the spinach.

This is only a brief sampling of sneaky spinach recipes to get your kids eating and enjoying spinach.  Once you’ve seen how fun this can be, you’ll start thinking of your own recipes, which I hope you’ll share with other desperate parents who can’t seem to wean their babies from tater tots and Chef Boyardee! For more tips like this, check out my site and read some of my articles!

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