11/12/2014 05:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Ways to Get Your Kid to Eat Greens

Tracy Cutchlow

"I can't get my 1-year-old to eat produce anymore," a stranger said, with a hint of desperation, as we stared at the frozen blueberries in Costco. "He used to like bananas, avocados ... now he doesn't! I don't know what to do."

Mama, I don't know what made you ask me, but you are asking the right person! I have a great green smoothie recipe from the authors of The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook.

The surprising thing is how well the fruit masks the "green" taste. I swear it. I know -- I was dubious about the taste of a kale smoothie, too. Just give it a shot.

Harvest Green Smoothie

2 honeycrisp apples, cored and cut into chunks
2 bartlett pears, cored and cut into chunks, or peaches (don't skip-creates a smoother mouthfeel)
1 lemon, juiced
1 small chunk of ginger (experiment with the level of spiciness baby likes)
3 to 4 cups water
3 to 4 collards leaves, stems stripped
3 to 4 kale leaves, stems stripped (I like the less curly leaves of lacinata kale)
2 to 3 large handfuls spinach leaves

See the recipe on the authors' Nourishing Meals blog for instructions, ideas for substitutions, and an explanation of all the nutritional goodness in there. They also created a brown berry version with less fruit sugar.

My husband and I started making this regularly for our baby once she started eating solids. Then we realized we should be drinking green smoothies, too. You can make a batch every couple of days, drink some every morning and worry less that your kid only wants to eat PB&J every day for lunch. This recipe works if you skip the lemon, it works if you add a handful of chopped cabbage, it works if you toss in a wayward carrot or cucumber... it's a great recipe.

You need a high-powered blender to make the smoothie smooth. If that's out of reach, experiment with the thinner leaves of chard and spinach instead of kale and collards, more water instead of less, and/or accepting a somewhat chewy juice. Kids don't always mind.

What about other things you can do to help your child enjoy greens at various stages (besides hiding them in a tasty broccoli pesto)?

Eat greens during pregnancy.
What mom eats can influence baby's taste preferences. In one study, women drank carrot juice daily while pregnant, and their babies were more likely than other babies to like carrot juice.

Let baby play with greens.
Introduce greens by showing them to baby, helping baby feel their texture, inspecting their raw vs. cooked states, smelling them, touching your tongues to them. Don't worry about whether baby actually eats the greens right away. It can take many exposures, studies show, before baby accepts a new food.

Eat greens with your toddler.
There's a phase-you may or may not wish it would last longer-in which baby wants to do what you're doing. Try on your shoes. Use your pen. Sit on your chair. And especially eat from your plate. Sure, the same food is on their plate, but that's not your food. So you can try sharing bites of greens from your plate. (One trick is to put it only on your plate, not theirs.)

Revel in your own bite, then offer some with a casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. "Ooh, wilted spinach. That's good. I taste a little of that lemon. Would you like some, too?" (My fancy recipe: Microwave a couple handfuls of baby spinach for 1 minute, sprinkle a little salt, and let baby squeeze a lemon on top.)

Sharing food requires sitting down and eating together, which is a good thing. Sometimes when baby is hungry, you make his plate and forget about your own, right? If you find yourself just sitting there feeding baby, instead of sharing a meal, go back and fix your plate.

Pair a new food with your preschooler's familiar food.
Rather than making only the few things you know she'll eat, continue offering variety by pairing something familiar with something new.

Don't force her to eat the new food, however, or even have an agenda about it. This concept comes from the Ellyn Satter Institute, a great research-based resource on meal time. I talk more about it in my book, Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What I've Learned So Far), in the tip "Let baby decide how much to eat."

Get more of Tracy's parenting tips