Growing up, my mom didn’t always do the best job with veggies. Coming from a family where meat and potatoes was de rigueur, I thought mashed potatoes – or maybe some corn or maybe even peas every great once in awhile – were an acceptable vegetable for dinner. If we had one. I’ve come a long way in my view of healthy family meals since then, and getting more greens and salads on our table on a regular basis is important to me. If I don’t get the wee ones started with this habit at a young age, it’s going to be really hard to make sure they’re eating healthy meals later.
And I do try, although I’ll admit that having veggies – real veggies – at every meal just isn’t natural for me because I didn’t grow up with it. I’ve gotten a lot better, and I’ve also gotten a little bit creative. Greens when I was growing up? My mom served frozen spinach or iceberg lettuce salads, if anything. Now there are so many more options readily available and so many ways to incorporate them into all meals of the day. The selection at Mariano’s, in particular, is breathtaking with so many options, including many I’ve not yet tried.
One thing I figured out is that I love salads with lots of different veggies and greens in them, but I don’t always love making them because I think they’ll take too long. Instead, I’ve learned to do most of the prep ahead of time. Peel two carrots and cut them into chunks and save the rest for another salad or two. The same goes for most of the rest of the other veggies in my salads.
It helps me so that now I’ll have a salad for lunch on a regular basis and change it up all the time, depending on what ingredients I have in the house and what I feel like eating. I know I need protein in it, so I’ll add some good cut up cheese or hardboiled egg or salami or prosciutto (or all of the above) to my salad so that I stay full after eating it, too. A little red wine vinegar and olive oil, plus a bit of pepper and maybe a touch of salt depending on my add-ons to the salad and even Little Miss thinks this is a good meal or side.
I absolutely love the artisan salad mix that I picked up at Mariano’s on a recent shopping trip for #cbias. It’s just the right amount of lettuce for a few salads and has plenty of different taste and texture combinations. That was a new one to me, but I almost always have baby spinach in my fridge that I use for a variety of purposes.
Interestingly, when I was growing up, once of my favorite veggies was actually spinach. My mom would cook the bejeezus out of spinach and smother it in vinegar. I adored it for some reason. And now? I make sautéed spinach all the time. I use the fresh baby spinach, a few cloves of garlic, a little olive oil, and a touch of salt. I saute the garlic, then add the spinach and cover for a few minutes before stirring until it’s a beautiful bright green color. While Mister Man doesn’t like it, Little Miss, my husband, and I usually fight over who gets seconds because I never make enough.
Everyone eats the spinach when I add it to tomato sauce I make for pasta, pizza, and more, however. Adding a handful or two into my sauce then pureeing it is such a simple way to add more greens to our diet, and no one can taste them. While I’m technically hiding the greens in there, it isn’t a secret. I don’t believe that sneaking healthy meals into the wee ones will set them up well later in life. I’m very upfront with them about what greens and other healthy foods we’re eating so that they understand that they actually sort of like them.
Spinach really has been our go to green, and the wee ones are accepting of it more and more. I’ll simply add a small pile to their plates at dinner time and tell them that it’s there for them to eat it. Little Miss chomps it like a bunny, but Mister Man prefers to mask his spinach more. It never fails to crack me up that when we have pizza for dinner, he will inevitably top it with spinach. But it’s his choice about how he wants to eat it, and I’m hoping that means he’ll continue to eat it when I’m no longer in charge of his food choices.
That said, he’s started to ask for spinach more often. Mister Man has decided that he likes the added texture and crunch that spinach gives to his sandwiches. We now put it on burgers as a topping, and when the wee one make their own lunches, they’ll add those greens to whatever sandwich they’re making – and they talk about it with their friends and are happy with the crunch.
I like to think that I’m a little bit of his inspiration for getting the wee ones to add spinach to their pizza and sandwiches. One of my favorite pizzas to make is a prosciutto and arugula pizza. I bake a cheese pizza like I normally would then tear up prosciutto and add it to the top after baking, as well as a pile of fresh arugula. Yum!
Of course, greens and healthy eating aren’t just relegated to lunch and dinner. We include them at breakfast, too. Have you ever made smoothies? You can add kale or spinach to just about any smoothie and not notice any difference in the flavor profile you started with. Granted, the wee ones started out very leery of my green smoothies. Little Miss was willing to taste test, but Mister Man flat out refused to drink something green. It wasn’t until I made a pina colada smoothie (frozen pineapple and dried coconut) with spinach and made him close his eyes and just smell it then drink it that he finally realized I was right. Score one for mom. Now? They think there’s something wrong if our smoothies aren’t green!
The best part for me is that #MyMarianos doesn’t just let me easily make more healthy meals. With their Rewards Card, I’m able to save money and make those healthy family meals more affordable, in addition to just being plain yummy. It’s always so inspiring to me to walk into that store because everything is laid out so beautifully and in little mini gourmet stores, which is why I walked out with three hunks of fancy cheese the last time I was there.
I know better than to go shopping there on an empty stomach, but even when I do, I know I can pick up something in their cafe quickly that is still healthy. And of course… I can supplement that quick meal with some healthy greens at home like the kale salad I made to go with my Mariano’s sandwich.
I feel so blessed that Mariano’s opened in Chicago – and pretty much all my friends agree! Because… how fun? This video is Mariano’s.
So how do you get more greens into your healthy family meals?