How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their (Ugly and Purple) Veggies

I consider myself one of the lucky parents who doesn't have picky eaters. That may be because I try and introduce a variety of textures, colors and flavors to my 4- and 6-year-old boys as often as possible. They don't always like it, and trust me, they often prefer chicken nuggets or a simple hot dog (or anything smothered in cheese) to something exotic, but if they give something new a try today, maybe they'll continue to explore new foods in the future and enjoy them as much as I do.

What's exciting about food trends right now is that they're approachable enough to try on tiny palates. Talking with your children about the foods they're eating and the nutrients in their dinner is a fun conversation to have as a family around the table. As a rule, I usually don't hide exotic ingredients from my family. My children are not old enough to associate something as 'health food' so instead, after they've taken their first bite of a dish, I explain what's in it, why I used it and, if it's especially healthy, all the added benefits of eating it. I hope they'll adopt my same enthusiasm for new foods and new flavors and be willing to try anything, even if it's just once.

Here's what's trendy in the culinary world right now and how to incorporate it easily into your weeknight dinners at home.

Purple vegetables

Purple versions of some of our favorite vegetables (cauliflower, corn, asparagus, even sweet potatoes in vibrant purple hues) are becoming more mainstream in grocery stores. Think of them as nature's food coloring and a natural way to add more excitement to your veggie routine. They also pack more and varied nutrients like flavonoids and resveratrol, which can help lower blood pressure and boost immunity.

Roasted Purple Cauliflower with Parmesan and Gruyere

1 large head of purple cauliflower
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Generous sprinkling of kosher salt
¼ cup of grated Parmesan
¼ cup grated Gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash the cauliflower, cut in half and cut out the core. Cut into large bite size florets and place on the parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, toss and coat all the pieces. Spread out on the baking sheet so the cauliflower isn't crowded (this ensures they roast and get crispy instead of steam). Bake for about 20 minutes or until the edges just begin to brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle the cheeses on top and return to the oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Serve immediately; it goes great with a roasted chicken!

'Ugly fruits and vegetables'

You may have vowed to reduce the amount of food wasted in your fridge (remember that soggy bag of salad you tossed last week?). Grocery stores are also working to reduce their waste. Nearly half of the produce grown in America is thrown out because it's 'ugly' or blemished. The best thing you can do is ask your produce manager at your local grocery store to carry more quirky produce like crooked carrots or lumpy bell peppers. Use them just like you would other fruits and vegetables — chop them up in a salad and let your kids join in on the culinary fun.

Plant-based proteins

Tofu isn't the only vegetarian protein option on the table anymore and people are getting more adventurous with plant-based proteins. The texture and flavor of plant-based proteins are becoming so palatable that you may not even know that you're drinking pea protein in your favorite smoothie blend or munching on seitan vegan bacon. Mainstream big box stores even carry a wide variety of products, from veggie crumbles to vegan cheese alternatives, which pack high amounts of protein into your diet. Here are some new products to taste test at home:

  • Seitan comes from wheat gluten, has about 16g of protein per 3.5 oz. serving, which is 40% more than you'd get in two medium eggs. It also is low in saturated fat and calories, unlike beef or other red meat. Try seitan bacon for a smoky, hearty addition to your breakfast plate.
  • Veggie crumbles have up to 13g of protein and half the fat of beef and because they are a pea protein, they use far less of the environment's resources to produce. Use these as a replacement for ground beef in tacos or tomato meat sauce, but make sure to look at the ingredients and compare nutrition labels for the highest protein with the least amount of filler.
  • Plant-based protein smoothie powders are high in fiber and healthy fats from nuts and plant protein. Use these in smoothies, pudding recipes and even ice cream for a healthier dessert that's packed with nutrients.

Legume pasta

Pasta is getting a protein boost, thanks to new brands that are including legumes into the flour bases. What's even cooler about these chickpea, green pea and lentil based pastas than the nutrition (some have 25g of protein and 13g of fiber per serving), is that they actually taste delicious and are gluten free. Prepare them just like any other pasta and be amazed at how your family devours them!

Roni Proter

About Roni

Award winning food and lifestyle expert Roni Proter has more than a decade of national and top market television experience. Through her broadcast, online and print media partners, including The Cooking Channel, Fox and CNN, her work reaches an audience of up to 35 million viewers a month. Roni created her interactive recipe site, Dinner Reinvented, when she was the lifestyle reporter for the CW affiliate in Dallas as a way to share easy and affordable weeknight meals with other busy, working parents.