What mom wouldn’t like her children to eat more of those healthy, vitamin-bearing vegetables? If only it was easy to get kids to like vegetables in the first place!
When our firstborn was a baby (13 years ago now), I thought I did everything I could to encourage veggie-loving in his diet. When he started baby food, I fed him vegetables first, not fruit. When he disliked a veggie, I would sneak it between bites of fruit or sometimes even mix the two. He ate many vegetables in mushy baby food form, but when it was time for finger foods, he balked. Alas, veggie-loving just does not come naturally to him, nor does it for many children.
With the birth of our second child, I determined to work even harder to create a love (okay, at least a tolerance) for veggies. And then the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, decided to bless us with a strong-willed, picky eater. 🙂 However, I learned much from dealing with his picky eating phase, a phase that felt like an eternity! By the time our twins came along, I had a much better idea of how to get those all-important vegetables in.
So, today on Mama Mondays, I offer you this list of 9 ways to sneak in those dreaded veggies!
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Start from the very beginning.
I’m talking from within the womb! Researchers claim that babies begin to develop tastes for foods before they are even born. Taste buds develop around 21 weeks, at which point baby receives a flavoring of what mama eats via the amniotic fluid. So, if you want your child to grow up loving vegetables, start eating more of them yourself. Not only will this make for a healthier pregnancy, but you’ll also be more likely to feed your children foods that you already frequently consume when they get to the finger food stage. Too late for this tip? It’s never too late to start leading by example in the area of vegetable consumption! You can even practice sneaking in vegetables on yourself first. 🙂
Offer veggies first!
We’re all familiar with the fact that most children will eat the things they like most first and save the least favorite for last. Even adults do it. 🙂 If your children fill up on foods they like, getting them to eat those remaining vegetables will be even more difficult. On the other hand, if you offer the veggies first when they’re still hungry, they’ll be more likely to at least try a few bites.
Slice, dice, or even puree!
This might be obvious to some of you, but it wasn’t to me thirteen years ago. The smaller the veggies are, the less offensive they are to sensitive palates. My all-time favorite, couldn’t-live-without-it kitchen tool is my food chopper. If I place a nice helping of normal sized broccoli in front of my youngest son, he’ll immediately turn up his nose. However, if I chop that broccoli to bits, he’s more willing to eat it – especially if it is combined with another food or a sauce. This is my absolute favorite method for sneaking in vegetables! I know some moms who add pureed butternut squash and other veggies to the famous toddler favorite, Mac’n’cheese. The possibilities are endless when you dice and then ….disguise.
Disguise those veggies.
I looooove casseroles/slow-cooker meals for many reasons: only one dirty pan, time to do other chores while food is baking, etc. But my biggest reason for serving up lots and lots of casseroles is because it allows me to sneak in a lot of vegetables that my children wouldn’t eat alone. I add petite diced tomatoes, finely diced onions and mushrooms, and sometimes even bell peppers to spaghetti sauce and chili. I add California blend (diced, of course) to our chicken divan. If we have scalloped potatoes, you bet I’ll be hiding some veggies in there. Shepherd’s pie, homemade potpie, even fried rice – all of these dishes are veggie-friendly! You can even hide veggies within other veggies. How, you ask? If I gave my 7-year-old purple cabbage to eat, I’m sure he would run the other way. But he eats it in a salad, along with pieces of fresh radish and spinach. Twice baked potatoes, anyone? Stuffed bell peppers? Use whatever method works for sneaking in vegetables that your kids will learn to love!
Substitute veggies for other starches.
In addition to hiding veggies, I’ve recently learned how to substitute vegetables for pasta and potatoes. The spaghetti I mentioned above? Instead of pasta, use strings of baked spaghetti squash. The shepherd’s pie? Instead of potatoes, used mashed cauliflower. For chili broth, I use low-sodium V8 juice (and then I add even more veggies).
Add cheese, sauce, or dip.
Although this method can easily turn healthy veggies into big calorie veggies, when used in moderation, it’s an effective technique. We have a son who loooves condiments of all kinds, so I’ve learned to offer a small amount with his fresh vegetables. Low-fat cheese works well with cooked vegetables. We do whatever it takes to sneak in those vitamin-packed vegetables!
Offer a variety.
As I mentioned in How to Make Food Fun, research supports that offering a variety can lead children to eat more of a single food group than they realize, especially if the variety is colorful. For example, if you offer bell peppers, offer multiple colors of bell peppers. If you’re offering broccoli, why not offer California blend instead. A variety of vegetables gives children choices, as well, and we all know they love the power of choice! 🙂
Try, try, and try again…and then some more.
As a rookie mom, I had no idea how many times young children need to try a food before deciding whether they like it or not. But when our picky eater came along, I learned that children may need to try a food 10-15 times before making up their minds about it. It makes sense really! One day Johnny loves peas, and the next day he’ll have nothing to do with them. Often, we give up too soon on new foods and assume that they just don’t like them. Even if your child has repeatedly demonstrated dislike for a particular vegetable, tastes can change over time. It never hurts to pull a rejected veggie out after a few months and try it again!
Find the Why behind the “No.”
Sometimes there is a reason behind a child’s refusal of a food other than a dislike for the taste. I saw this clearly when our twins began to eat finger foods. Our daughter began to refuse banana, a fruit she previously loved mashed up. At first, I was baffled. One day I saw her try to pick up a piece of banana and she made the most disgusted face ever. It wasn’t the taste of the banana, but the sticky texture she was objecting to. I happily fed them to her from a spoon until she learned to use a spoon herself. Consider physical reasons for refusal as well, whether it be a texture issue (I still cannot eat beans unless they are pureed) or a possible food allergy. Once you understand any sensory issues, you will have no trouble sneaking in vegetables that your child won’t react to!
There you have it: Nine ways to sneak in more veggies. One last helpful hint – you can even use these tips on husbands – true story! 🙂
If you have a clever way to sneak in veggies, pretty please share with us in the comments.
If you found this article helpful, you might also enjoy:
I have one picky veggie eater (likes only a few but will eat a lot of them), one fruit lover yet veggie hater, and one who loves it all! My head spins trying to keep it all straight at meal time 🙂 Thanks for these great ideas and thanks for stopping by my little piece of blog world too 🙂
I’m so glad you found this helpful! 🙂 Did you read the Picky Eater post, too? The advice our pediatrician gave us totally changed my thinking and methods when our strong-willed, picky eater came along! Mealtime can be so difficult when you have multiple children with multiple likes and dislikes, but the technique he suggested really simplified things for me. Thanks for the return visit and have a happy day!
Ohhh I just love this. Now i know more of what to do. Now to do the sneaky stuff when they aren’t ( my husband and stepdaughter)
Haha. 🙂 Sometimes I even trick myself, Sarah! Anything to get more veggies in!
Lanaya | Raising Reagan says
That’s always been my hubby’s favorite … cheese sauce or dip! Thankfully Rey loves her green veggies. She is all over artichokes.
Thank you for linking to Raising Imperfection.
Please come back Friday to see if you were featured. 🙂
(¸¤ Lanaya | xoxo
Yes, cheese sauce can make a lot of things go down! 🙂 Thanks for visiting!
Mary @ Woman to Woman says
Jen, you’ve given such great ideas! When my guys were little, they’d eat just about any raw veggie as long as they had ranch dressings to use as a dip. Broccoli was their only hold-out…they said they didn’t like to eat little trees! 🙂
Blessings to you ~ Mary
Thanks, Mary – I’ve learned a lot over the years from others and just from experience. Ranch is a favorite here at our house, too. Now, if I could only find the time to make it from scratch it would be even healthier!
I recently started making ranch from scratch. I found that if I don’t measure things, just throw them into a jar and shake, then taste it and maybe add a little more of something, it only takes about 3 minutes. I make just enough for one meal because, unlike the bottled stuff, it can spoil in a few days.
Thanks, Becca! I’ll keep that in mind and try to make smaller portions when I try it. It’s on my list of things to try this summer from Pinterest. Haha 🙂
These are great tips. I’ve actually been struggling a lot lately with getting my kids to eat veggies. I am going to try these. Pinning this list. Thanks for linking up with us at Pin It! Tuesday!
Thanks! I wish I would have known about them when our firstborn was little, but at least he eats a lot of veggies now! 🙂 Thanks for pinning, too!
Kelsey Ferguson says
What great tips! My little guy could live on fruit alone if we let him…veggies on the other hand…not so much. He does love green bean though, so I call that a kind of success! 😉 I loved the ideas of ‘hiding’ vegetables in food!
Thanks for your great tips! 🙂
Thanks, Kelsey! 🙂 I really wished I had learned how to hide them earlier on in my parenting years, but I’ve learned so much about nutrition from a First Place study we did at our previous church. I’m glad you visited today!
Great tips! Another that works for me is making the occasional meal that is mainly vegetables. One my son really likes is Red & Green Pockets.
Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂
I once used pureed green beans as soup stock. Neither husband nor children were very impressed, but more refined cooking skills would have helped me.
Haha 🙂 I can relate, Nita! I’ve had a few epic fails of my own.
You have so many awesome ideas … I use my blender to sneak em.
I’m splashin’ around for ideas to splatter some joy into our summer. I would love to hear your creative ideas to add a bit of zest to our scorchin’ summer. Join me in splashing.
Thanks for the kind words, Sarah! I need to use my blender more, I think. 🙂
Heather Who Needs a Cape? says
I hide veggies in anything that will stand still in the kitchen long enough 😉 Love this post! Saw you at Pin it Tuesday!
Would like to invite you over to link up to Super Sunday at Who Needs a Cape! We are live now! http://whoneedsacape.com/2013/07/super-sunday-party-5/
Thanks, Heather! I’ll check it out.
Christine aka happyvballgirl says
I LOVE sneaking in veggies however I can! It’s like a game now. 🙂 Luckily, my girls actually like many veggies, but it’s still fun to sneak ’em in. Thanks for sharing all the great tips! Found ya at the Super Sunday Linky Party! 🙂
All great ideas and you’re right, kids tastes do change over time. Just because it’s not a favorite at the moment doesn’t mean they won’t love it later! Thanks for linking up to the “Making Your Home Sing Monday” linky party! 🙂
Yes! My children were definitely not fond of tomatoes at first when I started adding them to things. But I started using the petite diced form and over time, they got used to it. Now they just expect to see tomato chunks in spaghetti, chili, etc. Thanks for stopping by!
April (@100LBC) says
Completely agree! I’ve done and do all of these. My little one is sneaky, but in the womb, she hated veggies. Made me nauseous. So, I’m not surprised that it carries over. She’s my sweet tooth gal, I’m going to have to watch it in the future. Thanks for sharing. Found you on Raising Imperfection.
Thanks for visiting, April! I think all little ones are masters of sneakiness in some way or another. 🙂
Leslie (@VioletImperfect) says
Right now my little one is not picky….I dread the day that she does though.
Thank you for linking up to Raising Imperfection!
Make sure to check back on Friday to see if you were featured.
Lucky you! 🙂 Thanks for visiting.
Faith @ Artistic31Mama says
Great suggestions! 🙂 My oldest son hates veggie chunks in his meals. So I always puree them and add them to a dish and he doesn’t know the difference. 🙂 I made homemade spaghetti sauce one time with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and green peppers but he couldn’t tell because after I sauteed them I tossed them in the blender before adding them to the sauce. Thanks for sharing!
Faith – thanks for sharing! I need to learn more about pureeing vegetables to use as broths for soup, etc. Thankfully, my children are used to a little more chunky veggies in casseroles and sauces. The blender would definitely be a useful tool for those who are more picky, though!
WholeHearted Home says
These are great tips!! I never had trouble getting my children to eat salad and veggies when they were little.
Thank you! Now that my husband and I are more intentional about eating vegetables ourselves and they are part of our daily diet, it’s not as much of a struggle. Part of it, I think is this idea that kids just won’t like them so we are hesitant to feed them the same things we would eat. With our twins I learned just to give them the same food and they loooove spicy stuff, especially chili! Thanks for visiting!
These are great tips! I’m a big disguiser myself!
Thanks for linking up to Raising Imperfection this week while I’m a co-hostess! Please come back to Mommynificent on Friday to see if you were featured.
Have a magnificent day!
Thanks, Tina! I’m so glad you found the tips helpful.