I generally don't cook separate dinners for my son, preferring that he eat the meal I cook for the family, and trying instead to include some vegetables that I'm sure he'll like. Luckily for me, he's not extraordinarily picky. He eats most fruits, except for strawberries. This means he usually eats two or three servings of fruit per day. However, getting him to eat enough vegetables is harder - though he does like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes, okra, beans and hummus. He's definitely not fond of tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, peppers, turnips, and greens.
Therefore, many of my dinners have a definite kid-friendly component. Although this doesn't mean serving chicken fingers or Goldfish, it means that for my son's particular preferences, I have to avoid spiciness, hide onions and tomato chunks, and concentrate my meal-planning on the vegetables that he does like.
Here are some of the ways that I try to encourage my son to get enough servings of vegetables:
1. Include beans
Beans are very versatile. I put them in soups, chilis, salads, hummus, tacos and quesadillas, and serve them alone as a side. Because they are high in protein, fiber, vitamins, and anti-oxidants, and because I was a pescatarian for nine years, I cook with them quite often. Technically, they are a legume, but they are nutritionally very impressive, much like vegetables.
2. Blend it up
In this, the immersion blender is my good friend. In prior days, I avoided any kind of pureed soup or stew due to the trouble and extra clean-up involved in transferring the soup. With an immersion blender, I can blend onions and tomatoes in with the rest of the soup, chili, or pasta sauce, and my son isn't bothered - it's only the texture of onions and tomatoes that he doesn't like, not the taste.
The immersion blender is also helpful in making other dishes that he likes, including cauliflower mashed "faux-tatoes," hummus, and smoothies.
My son does like several vegetables; I just have to remember what they are, and rotate them through our dinners. This can be as easy as including a roasted okra side, sauteeing broccoli with lemon, making sweet potato quesadillas, or serving carrots and hummus as a snack.
We try to eat seasonally, so sometimes this can pose a challenge. He likes many cold-weather vegetables, but not as many warm-weather vegetables, so we compromise, erring on the side of more nutrition, and less local food. I buy broccoli and carrots almost every week even when they are not in season.
4. Explain and involve
Jonny Bowden's book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth has been helpful in encouraging healthy choices by providing an easy way to talk about nutrition. The book is nicely divided into specific foods, with pictures, and research citations for every food. I'm fairly sure my son doesn't understand what an anti-oxidant is, but he likes to eat "star foods" (Mr. Bowden's designation for super-extra nutritious foods like blueberries, kale, garlic, etc.) and we'll count the star foods included in any meal. Although his "star" designations may or may not be based in any rigorous scientific study, he also includes Top Ten foods lists from fifteen other nutritionists and doctors, for a variety of perspectives.
My son also likes to help cook and help with gardening activities like starting seeds. I think that including him in these activities will help ground him in healthier choices, in the long run.
Having a young boy to cook for makes getting eight daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and beans slightly more challenging; but having a plan, and the right tools (thank you immersion blender!) has made it much easier than I might have anticipated. For the first several days, it has not prevented me from meeting my quota of eight.