The battle between kids and vegetables is so long-fought that it often makes its way into pop culture.
For example, in the Pixar movie Inside Out, main character Riley is disgusted by a slice of pizza covered in broccoli--perfectly gross to American children. But did you know that for the Japanese release, the animators changed broccoli to a veggie more universally hated by Japanese children? (That veggie? Green peppers!)
When vegetables are seen as such a "yucky" part of mealtime, the task of convincing kids to eat their greens falls to parents--and sometimes, we have to get creative.
So, how can parents help picky eaters discover a love of vegetables?
- Get kids involved from the start. One of the best ways to get kids interested in vegetables is by learning about the food they eat. And what better way to learn than through messy, hands-on demonstrations? For future chefs and budding nutritionists alike, helping out with dinner and mealtimes can turn "yuck" into "yum" when kids witness the magic behind their meals. (Hint: This "magic" equals "science"!)
- Make the veggie the star. Raising a tiny carnivore? Help kids find their new favorite veggies by crafting dishes that put vegetables front and center. Zucchini taco boats, stuffed peppers, and vegetable lasagnas are all great options to combine your kids' favorite flavors with new, healthy additions. Hearty vegetables like zucchini, squash, peppers, cauliflower and eggplant can all be used as vessels for popular flavor combinations, like pizza, tacos, or buffalo sauce.
- Make it pretty. Why will kids shun a peanut butter and jelly sandwich when it's served on a paper plate, but eat the whole thing when it's cut into a smiley face and served in a container that looks like a dinosaur? We don't know! (It's probably witchcraft.) Like their grown-up counterparts, youngsters eat with their eyes, first. Bright pops of color (cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, fresh basil) help make vegetables more appealing to young eyes--and young bellies!
- Get...creative. When all else fails, you don't want your toddlers subsisting on frozen dinosaur nuggets for their next seventy-five meals. There are creative ways to "hide" veggies in delicious meals and snacks that your kids already love. Below are three of our favorite "undercover" vegetable recipes to try at home. These recipes sneak veggies into delicious (and nutritious!) sauces and snacks.
Creamy Carrot Mac n' Cheese
Get the recipe: Creamy Carrot Mac and Cheese (Mom's Kitchen Handbook)
- Hidden Veggie: A whole POUND of carrots!
- The Sneaky Method: This recipe takes a tried-and-true kid favorite (mac and cheese) and lightens it up by swapping some of the cheese in the sauce for carrot puree. The taste is a richer, more decadent (but still cheesily delicious!) sauce with your favorite pasta.
- Take It A Step Further: Up the ante by swapping in whole grain pasta, veggie pasta or trying out different veggie additions. Shredded zucchini melts down into sauces to add a punch of vitamins without much change to taste. Spinach adds a great pop of color, too! To mix up the recipe, try "themed" mac and cheese dishes based on meals your kids love: make pizza mac with mozzarella cheese, diced tomatoes, and fresh basil, or taco mac with grilled chicken, taco seasoning, peppers, and onions.
Get the Recipe: Bacon, Cheese & Veggie Fritters (Today's Parent)
- Hidden Veggie: Three cups of frozen mixed veggies!
- The Sneaky Method: The filling of these fritters (or "tots," if that's the word your kids prefer!) contains three full cups of frozen corn, carrots, peas, and green beans, treated to a whirl in the food processor. The end result is a tater tot-like tasty snack without the carb load of potatoes.
- Take It A Step Further: To add even more nutritious goodness, try baking these fritters instead of frying them in oil. You can serve them with an herby, vitamin-loaded dip, like green goddess dressing or this Garden Vegetable Dip from Hidden Valley. For adventurous parents, you can experiment with more familiar shapes like the traditional tater tot, or fun shapes made from your favorite cookie cutters. The "patty" shape of these fritters is designed to get an even fry on both sides, so just be sure you adjust your cooking times as you go whenever you mix up the shape.
"Undercover" Veggie Muffins
Get the Recipe: Secret Veggie Muffins (My Fussy Eater)
- Hidden Veggie: Sweet potatoes and carrots!
- The Sneaky Method: These tasty breakfast muffins taste like they're chock-full of sugar--a surefire method to make kids say, "I'll take seconds!" However, the sweetness in this recipe comes from the natural sweetness you find in cooked carrots and sweet potatoes, as well as an extra bite from raisins.
- Take It A Step Further: Muffins offer a great opportunity to sneak in hidden veggies. Recipes for banana bread and zucchini bread can be easily adjusted into muffin form. You can fill out your favorite recipe further with your favorite veggie puree: butternut squash, parsnips, and peas all add pops of flavor and color without messing up the baking science too much. If you choose a muffin recipe that involves chocolate, try swapping the milk chocolate chips for a healthier dark chocolate equivalent (with a lower sugar content and higher purity of cocoa).