By Steve Hodges, M.D.
The other day a mom in our bedwetting support group posted a question we’ve heard, oh, about 2,000 times: “What is an easy way — if it exists — to get kids to eat fruits and veggies?”
This mom noted that her kids will even skip a meal if they don’t like what’s served. “That’s fine,” she said, “but it still doesn’t make them eat their veggies the next time. My kids are very particular about foods, so the tricks that work for a lot of people don’t work for us.”
(Sally is also the founder of the awesome Snacktivism movement and a supporter of BedwettingAndAccidents.com. She contributed recipes to Dr. Pooper’s Activity Book and Poop Calendar for Kids and endorsed Jane and the Giant Poop.)
Sally’s new book is loaded with tips and simple, beautiful pictures that might just entice kids to try jicama sticks, baba ghanoush, even a berry and beet smoothie. Really!
This book isn’t about sneaking spinach into brownies or otherwise tricking kids into eating more healthfully. Sally is opposed to hiding healthy ingredients in meals, as well as bribing kids with the promise of dessert if they would just eat their broccoli.
She’s also not into labeling kids as picky eaters. “It isn’t helpful,” she says, “and won’t encourage them to be brave and adventurous.”
Presenting loads of options (hence 101 healthy foods!), cooking or serving each food in multiple ways, and inviting your kids to choose which foods to try.
“Keep offering, and don’t give up!” urges Sally.
Her book isn’t entirely about fruits and veggies. It also features nutritious proteins and whole grains (has your family tried farro, barley, or millet lately?), along with spices and seasonings, such as ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric. Though Sally doesn’t provide recipes for each and every food — the book includes about two dozen recipes — she does offer lots of creative ideas for preparing and presenting them.
At the end of this article, I’ve included two of Sally’s recipes my 11-year-old twin boys made themselves and gave a big thumbs-up: Better-For-You Orange Julius and Baked Quinoa Bites.
I love Sally’s no-judgment and no-nonsense approach to nutrition, both on her blog and in this book. She acknowledges our culture has gone overboard on processed foods — “Kids’ habits need help,” she writes — and that eating a primarily whole-foods diet is important.
“On a given day, a third of preschoolers don’t get a single serving of vegetables and a quarter of pre-schoolers don’t eat a bite of fruit,” she writes.
In fact, only 40% of all kids get enough fruit each day, between 1 and 2 cups, depending on their gender and age. Few school-age kids get the 25+ grams of fiber they need.
“And things don’t improve as they get older and gain more independence and influence over their food choices,” Sally says.
But parents shouldn’t just throw up their hands. Whether you’ve got a toddler or a teen, she says, “it’s never too late to turn habits around.”
As Sally points out, healthy eating habits aren’t just important for kids to grow and thrive, but “also because habits developed during childhood can have a lasting impact on eating into adulthood.”
Why Constipated Kids Need Fiber
For all kids, and especially for those prone to constipation, healthy eating habits and healthy pooping habits go hand in hand. A diet low in fiber and high in processed foods makes stool firmer and more painful to pass. So, kids delay pooping, prompting stool to pile up in the rectum and harden further.
The vicious cycle continues: As kids continue to withhold, the firm mass of stool becomes larger, stretches the rectum, and begins to press against and aggravate the bladder. The stretched rectum loses tone and sensation, so kids stop feeling the urge to poop; poop may just drop out of their bottom, and they may not even feel it.
For children working to overcome enuresis (bedwetting and daytime accidents) and encopresis (poop accidents), even the most stellar eating habits are unlikely to reverse the situation without additional treatment. Dr. Hodges explains why in a guest blog post he wrote for Sally: Why a Healthy Diet May Not Be Enough to Cure Constipation In Kids.
However, it’s critical, both during treatment and afterward, for kids to minimize processed foods and load up on fruits, veggies, and other high-fiber whole foods. A high-fiber diet will help kids avoid relapse once they have overcome constipation, enuresis, and/or encopresis.
Sally’s book includes a list of foods that help ease constipation: raspberries, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, potatoes, flaxseed, pears, refried beans, popcorn, lentils, and apples. But really, most of the fruits and veggies she includes in the book are high in fiber and excellent for children struggling with constipation.
What’s more, many contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is found in the fleshy, pulpy interior of fruits, veggies, beans, and other plant foods. Soluble fiber keeps poop soft and slimy, by absorbing water and binding with fat. “It works like a sponge, swelling your GI tract and giving you a feeling of fullness,” Sally says.
Insoluble fiber, sometimes called “roughage,” is found in husks and peels, like the stringy membranes of an orange, the tiny seeds of a blackberry, and that thin peel on each kernel of corn. Insoluble fiber gives structure to plants and adds bulk to your poop. “It acts like a broom, moving waste through the body faster,” Sally explains.
As your children increase their fiber intake, make sure they also drink more fluids, primarily water. Fluid helps poop move through the intestines; in the absence of enough water, all that fiber could essentially act as cement.
It’s important for kids (and the rest of us, too!) to get fiber primarily from “real” food, rather than from fiber-enriched processed foods like granola bars and sweetened cereal. It’s unclear whether this added fiber has the same constipation-easing benefits as fiber found naturally in foods, but it’s quite clear these foods are easy to overeat, and many are loaded with sugar. In some people, these foods also cause gas and bloating.
Here are some fun tips from Sally for enticing kids to become more adventurous eaters. You’ll find a lot more in The 101 Healthiest Foods for Kids!
•Cut fruits and veggies creatively.
“It sounds crazy,” Sally writes, “but simply cutting veggies in a different shape or serving them in different sizes can make a big difference.” For example, a kid who refuses baby carrots might like carrot “coins” with dip. (Speaking of carrots, I recommend Sally’s Sweet Carrot Salad, made with shredded carrots and pomegranate seeds!)
•Prepare a single food three different ways.
For example, shave Brussels sprouts into a green salad drizzled with your kids’ favorite dressing, roast the outer leaves (try Sally’s simple recipe for Cheesy Brussels Sprouts Chips), or sauté or roast sprouts with bacon and maple syrup.
•Blend fruit and veggie smoothies.
While juicing removes the fiber from foods, smoothies retain the fiber, and many kids are perfectly happy to drink fruits and veggies they won’t eat. Dates are a great way to sweeten smoothies while boosting fiber. Our family keeps frozen, sliced bananas on hand, along with a giant bag of frozen Costco blueberries. Costco’s pre-sliced pineapple, which create lots of juice, is another great way to sweeten smoothies.
•Serve a veggie course or salad before the main meal, when kids are hungriest.
Serve veggies on a snack platter with foods your kids already like, or try a deconstructed, dippable salad. “Let your kids dip the leaves and veggies in the dressing, do a salad dressing taste test, and have them vote on their favorite,” Sally suggests
•Enlist your kids as new food “reviewers.”
Have them flip through Sally’s book, count how many foods they already like, how many they haven’t tried, and which ones they’d like to try. Ask them to rate the taste of each new food they try on a scale from 1 to 10 or give the foods a thumbs up, thumbs sideways or thumbs down.
With purchase of the book, Sally offers a free, downloadable “My New Foods” chart.
If your kids respond to rewards, you might offer a prize — not a food reward, mind you! — for every 10 new foods tried, such as an extra book at bedtime, an extra 15 minutes of screen time, or whatever appeals to your child.
Below, with permission from Sally, are two recipes from The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids.
Better-for-You Orange Julius
Note: My kids made this without the maple syrup and found the smoothie to be plenty sweet. In fact, one of them made it again with plain rather than vanilla yogurt and liked it better.
Yield: 2 smoothies
¾ cup (175 ml) milk
½ cup (115 g) vanilla yogurt
1 fresh orange, peeled
4 cubes frozen 100 percent orange juice (place OJ in an ice cube tray and freeze)
1 tablespoon (20 g) maple syrup
Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender, and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Baked Quinoa Bites
Note: Cooking the quinoa in a race cooker makes this recipe considerably easier! My kids made this recipe with cauliflower instead of broccoli because that’s what we had on hand. Red pepper or spinach will work well, too.
Yield: 2 dozen bites
Nonstick cooking spray, for preparing the uffin tin
2 cups (370 g) cooked and cooled quinoa (2/3 cup/ 115 g uncooked)
1 heaping cup (115 g) shredded Cheddar cheese
½ cup (36 g) broccoli florets, cut into very small pieces
½ teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and coat a mini muffin tin with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the quinoa, eggs, cheese, broccoli, mustard, and garlic powder, salt, onion powder, and pepper until combined. Divide the mixture evenly among the muffin cups, placing about 1 tablespoon (12 g) in each. Press down on each bite firmly with the back of a spoon. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove immediately from the pan and set on a cooling rack. Serve warm. Store leftovers in the fridge in a lidded container.