Vegging out: Get kids and teens to eat more plants
Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a post on nutrition topics for The Baltimore Sun's Picture of Health blog (baltimoresun.com/pictureofhealth). This week, Faith Hicks weighs in on encouraging kids to eat their vegetables.

Most of us realize we aren't eating the recommended number of fruits and vegetables per day. Our kids' plates are falling short, too. Less than 25 percent of American kids are regularly eating the recommended number of vegetables. The statistics are even lower for teens. Furthermore, about half of the time the vegetable that they do eat is French fries.

Add color

It can be a challenge to persuade kids and teens to steer away from chips as a side dish in favor of fruits and vegetables. One way to make any food more appealing is the use of color. The recipe for chicken lettuce wraps below is a "riot of color" with orange, green and purple. It also is a lower fat version of most restaurant lettuce wraps.

Play with your food

Another way to promote the acceptance of new foods is to involve kids in the selection and preparation of the meal. Have kids choose the recipes, make the grocery list, and shop for ingredients at the store. You can involve younger family members in the assembly of the meal.

Finding cool tools that can be used for safe food preparation is important. A julienne slicer makes pretty matchstick carrots. A food chopper makes chopping nuts safe and fun for kids.

The second recipe is for a crunchy, herb and cheese coated vegetable blend. Kids can don an apron, roll up their sleeves and do the dipping and coating. What a great way to satisfy the craving for crunchy, salty foods and have fun together in the kitchen as well.

Rainbow Chicken Lettuce Wraps

21/2 pound boneless chicken thighs

1/4 cup light soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 14 oz. jar duck sauce

1 heaping cup very finely shredded red cabbage

1 heaping cup match-stick grated carrot

6 green onions (scallions), green part only, sliced into quarter-inch slices

1 cup coarsely chopped peanuts

1 can diced water chestnuts, drained

2 heads Boston lettuce, washed, leaves separated, and stems removed, so that the leaves form a cup.