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By Michela Chiappa
As parents, getting fruit and veg into our kids’ diets is something we often think about. Fruit is usually easier, due to the natural sugar content which most kids (and adults) love, but many of us struggle to make veggies exciting for kids. Thankfully, there are a few tricks that will make this a breeze.
It’s commonplace for kids to eat everything and anything as babies, but flat-out refuse most veg once they reach toddler age. Some are particularly fussy when it comes to certain colours and/or textures, or will only eat a few things – often stodgy or fatty foods like cheese, ham, bread, and pasta.
The best advice I can give? Keep at it. Make sure your cooking has plenty of variety, and experiment outside your comfort zone. Try thinking of fruit and veg in terms of colours of the rainbow, and give your kids a differently coloured fruit and veg for every meal. I try to always give my child a variety of textures to make sure she doesn’t become fussy and only eat the same thing.
It is also important that you offer variety in temperature, as well as texture. For example, if your kids love apples, try serving them baked, or pan-frying them with some cinnamon and a little butter. If it’s broccoli they get on board with, try serving it in a cold quiche, or as part of a salad. The more you can vary the way they experience fruits and vegetables, the better.
However, if your kids are putting up a fight across the board, fear not – there are lots of ways of hiding veggies, or making them fun and exciting that they forget or don’t realise what they’re eating and just enjoy it. Here are some examples:
A lovely nutritious frittata is often a go-to lunch snack when I can’t be bothered to rustle up anything complex. I always have eggs in my fridge, and often have some veggies knocking around which are getting old. These don’t just work for a light lunch for me, though – they also make perfect fun snacks for youngsters. This frittata recipe is a lifesaver – quick finger food with plenty of veg hidden inside.
I always have a batch of homemade “kale powder” in my freezer, which is good for a nutrient power kick. It’s super easy, and you can pretty safely experiment with flavours; I find that by adding some parmesan cheese (or any other cheese, for that matter) it complements the egg and my toddler gobbles it up.
You can see me make this on Family Food Tube below.
Jamie’s beautiful ribbon salad recipe is brilliant for introducing new textures and flavours to a developing diet. It’s also so colourful that my daughter is easily tempted into eating veggies without realising.
Alternatively, these muffins are also great for that, as they are full of yummy, nutritious butternut squash, so you don’t have to feel too guilty about giving your child a sweet treat.
As a mum of two I simply don’t have the time to prepare different meals for different ages. That’s why I love using purees. This one is chicken, avocado and basil, which is not only perfect for my baby to wean with, it’s also great as a sandwich filling for my toddler, and even myself. You can add in some of that blitzed raw kale to hide more of those veggies, and have your toddler help you pick some basil leaves to tear into the filling.
Another winner is the hidden-veg technique I use in my favourite Bolognese recipe. All you need to do is pop your veggies whole in the oven to roast, and once they’re cooked, blitz them and brown the meat before combining. This makes a meal that is packed with loads of hidden veg, including beetroot and carrots, will only take a few minutes of actual prep time, and can feed the whole family.
You can use this trick of blitzing up veg with any number of dishes. Think pasta bakes, risottos, pies – even the tomato sauce you make to spread over homemade pizza. You can get lots more ideas from the recipes on Family Food.
How do you incorporate veg into your kids’ diets?
There’s no doubt that kids love sweets . Use their preference for sweetness by introducing them to kid-friendly sweet bell peppers. Red, orange and yellow bell peppers can be served cut into strips as a snack—just pair with hummus or another protein-packed dip. They’re also a great addition to brighten up a stir-fry and are delicious when sauteed with mild seasoning in Mexican-style fajita veggies, making them one of the most versatile vegetables for kids.
Sweet potatoes and squash get even sweeter when they’re roasted, steamed and sauteed. Steamed butternut squash can easily be pureed and incorporated into a cheese-like sauce or a warming soup served with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Don’t forget baked sweet potato fries—they’re a finger-friendly side that can encourage even the pickiest of eaters to take a bite.
Small and round grape tomatoes are super easy to incorporate at snack time—simply rinse and enjoy! (For little eaters, it may be best to cut them in half, too.) You can also pair them with a black bean dip , which will add fiber and protein. Because grape tomatoes are acidic and slightly sweet, they appeal to a variety of palates.
Starchy and sweet, corn has a bright yellow color that tends to be less daunting than greens, making it one of the most approachable vegetables for kids and picky eaters. Corn on the cob can be grilled, dried kernels can be air-popped to make popcorn and frozen corn can be steamed and added to rice for a simple side.
Start by using spinach as an undercover veggie, incorporating it into sweet treats like smoothies and popsicles . (Its green color won’t be visible when mixed with fruits like blueberries and blackberries.) Once your child becomes more comfortable with the dark green color and mild taste, start adding spinach to sandwiches, side salads and veggie sautees.
Much like corn, peas are a starchy, sweet and kid-friendly vegetable. The addition of steamed peas to fried rice or macaroni and cheese is a great way to get some color on the plate in a way that’s accepted by picky eaters .
If your child enjoys vegetables with a crunchy texture and mild flavor, it’s time to introduce them to jicama. Jicama is essentially a cross between a potato and an apple in texture, with a mild flavor and high water content. Jicama sticks can be dipped in nut butter, guacamole or salsa, bean dips, hummus and more. For a sweeter approach, chop up jicama and add it to a fruit salad with melon cubes, grapes and strawberries.
Crudite, here we come! Carrots might be the gold standard for vegetable dipping with their bright color and bold texture. Pair with a Greek yogurt-based ranch dressing or classic hummus for a healthy kid-friendly snack .
Its neutral color, mild flavor and flexibility as an ingredient make cauliflower an appealing kid-friendly vegetable. Adding pureed cauliflower to an alfredo sauce or even a berry smoothie won’t dramatically change the flavor, and it provides an extra boost of fiber and vitamin C. Nurture Life has meals designed with picky-eaters in mind , which is why we add pureed cauliflower to our mac & cheese sauce . Once your picky eater is comfortable with cauliflower in sauces, try serving it roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and salt or balsamic vinegar.
If your kid is picky about eating zucchini and summer squash on their own, try including them in a pasta sauce: Dice zucchini in the food processor and add to a red sauce just before mixing with the pasta. Once your kid has become comfortable with zucchini in their sauce, you can take their pasta to the next level with zoodles !
Sugar snap peas add a great crunch to any snack time. If they’re a bit too fibrous for your child to chew raw, try quickly steaming them to mellow the crunch. A quick saute with garlic makes snap peas a perfect dinnertime side dish. Or, throw them in with the sweet bell peppers to complete a simple stir-fry!
Whole mushrooms can be daunting for picky eaters due to their texture, but even picky eaters can learn to appreciate their umami flavor. Pair chopped mushrooms with other vegetables and add them to a marinara sauce for a hearty, veggie-driven pasta. Mushrooms are a good way to add more vitamin D into your child’s diet, too.
Snack time can turn into craft time when you make ants on a log with your kids. With nut butter, dried fruit and celery sticks, your kids can make their own fun snack. Celery can also be dipped in hummus and Greek yogurt dips alongside carrots and cucumbers.
Steamed broccoli can be a hit with kids, but for picky eaters, you may need to get a bit more creative. Our advice: Chop them up! Take small broccoli florets and finely chop by hand or in the food processor. Then, start incorporating the broccoli into tomato and cheese sauces, on top of pizza or into mini egg bites .
Cucumbers have a very high water content, making their flavor more mild and palatable for kids. Whether cut into spears or coins, eaten plain or dipped in hummus, cucumbers can be served up in a variety of ways. Leave the skin on for extra crunch and fiber in your little one’s snack.
Let&aposs face it: If it wasn&apost hard to get kids to eat healthy, we wouldn&apost be talking about in the first place. As an adult, I know how hard it is to get myself to eat healthy--so how much more for children who are innately wired to crave everything they&aposre not "supposed" to eat--essentially any nutrient-less, sugar-packed food? I can speak from personal experience (not from being a mom, but from years and years of "playing mom" as both a babysitter and nanny) when I say that convincing a child to finish their &aposhealthy&apos food can be a legitimate battle. I know what it&aposs like to sit for an hour after dinner should have ended trying to force a 5-year-old to swallow just two more "big-kid bites" of vegetables. And, let&aposs be honest, what was really achieved when it was all said and done? Did I leave the table proud that I won the tearful battle of will against a toddler? Did I feel accomplished having overcome a 5-year-old&aposs stubbornness and packed a whopping two teaspoons-worth more butternut squash into his tiny belly? No. Not at all. It was 60 minutes of pure torture and utter frustration, that&aposs what it was.
In a recent post I wrote on weird food phobias, I found out there&aposs actually a phobia called lachanophobia, which means, "fear of vegetables." Thank goodness none of the kids I used to watch over knew about this, or it would have been be game over. Once a child feels like he/she has legitimate legs to stand on (figuratively speaking), things can go from bad to worse quickly.
But don&apost despair! There is good news here. What I&aposve learned over the years--both through personal experience and experience gained through observation--is that the key to getting younger children to eat their veggies is wrapped up (literally) in one little word: disguise. There are lots of techniques out there for disguising veggies, like adding a simple sauce or additional flavors kids will love, chopping or shredding produce finely, etc., but it all comes down to essentially masking more prominent vegetables (in flavor or appearance) so that kids will eat their full helping and be none the wiser.
These 21 delicious dishes below cleverly sneak in healthy veggies like fresh broccoli, carrots, spinach, zucchini, cauliflower, bell peppers, mushrooms, squash, onions, garlic, kale, and more. These are foods the kids will actually enjoy, and you will too. With everything from casseroles to quick breads and soup to pasta, try one of these kid-approved, veggie-loaded recipes, and you&aposre one step closer to ensuring your child gets his or her daily dose of healthy veggies.
As parents it’s often difficult to get the kids to try new foods, particularly when those foods are either fruits or veggies. However, I’m sure we agree that letting kids try new foods and making sure they eat nutritiously is a pretty important job.
The following recipes for kids add a little fun and a lot of colourful nutrition to a few breakfast, lunch, dinner, and after school snack favourites…
Talk about an engaging way to get the kids excited to snack on fruits and veggies! Recreate a Mars Space Mission…but in edible form. However, it’ll be up to the kids to devour this watermelon spacecraft with carrot details.
The summer holidays are almost here, and what better snack to eat on a beach than that of a sailboat on water?! Bring a smile to your little one’s face with this fun snack that will fill them up with lots of vitamins and minerals.
This recipe takes a dinner favorite and turns it into a healthier meal by loading up on colourful veggies. Use a homemade cauliflower crust or store-bought whole wheat pizza dough or crust and arrange a multi-array of vegetables in circles according to the order of the colors in a rainbow. So start on the inside with diced cherry tomatoes (or eggplant), then chopped orange bell pepper, follow with a ring of corn, arrange green bell pepper pieces next, and finish with broccoli and red onion on the outer edge. Even better, get the kids to help make a rainbow-inspired meal for dinner.
With this recipe you can blend your fruit chunks into smoothies first, but they’re quite visually-appealing and colourful when the fruit is left whole. Slice an array of favorite fruits in all colours (i.e., watermelon, mango, kiwi, banana, cantaloupe, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries). Place chunks in a popsicle mould and fill to the brim with naturally sweetened iced green tea (with honey). Cover with sticks and let freeze for 4 to 6 hours. The fruit is naturally sweet enough so there’s no need for sugary juice or fruit punch.
Turn your strawberries into sweet little mice and give them their own treat of some cheese! Those cute ears are made of scrumptious milk chocolate, but can be made healthier with dark chocolate instead!
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I have come a long way since I started Sneaky Veg in 2013 and I believe that making vegetables "normal" is really important. I now serve unhidden vegetables with almost every meal to my children and let them see me eating - and enjoying - them.
However, when you have a picky eater it's hard not to worry about nutrition when your child doesn't eat any of them.
In fact even if you don't have a picky eater it can be hard to know just how much fruit and vegetables your child should be eating.
So I do still hide vegetables sometimes - if you do this there's no reason why you can't still serve unhidden vegetables on the side as well. You'll find plenty of vegetable recipes here that have been designed with picky eaters in mind.
Before we get to the recipes though I want to talk about some of the tried and tested ideas and methods I've used to encourage my kids to eat more vegetables.
Butternut squash is a fun vegetable to hide in food. Like carrots, it’s naturally sweet, but the texture adds a creaminess and thickness to recipes.
Eggs are a great source of protein and easy to incorporate in recipes. Egg-based preparations can hold plenty of vegetables without the fresh flavor of veggies overpowering the creamy eggs. Serve these easy recipes with potatoes or a quick salad for an extra serving of fiber:
Children see and taste differently than adult do. They also react very sensitively to the look and color of their food, so it’s good to use colorful foods that bring a dish to life. …Or if your meal is monochrome (for example, plain pasta and a carbonara sauce) try adding in some contrast using greens (for example, herbs or green beans) or display it on a colored plate that will contrast the food. “If you can, change the colors of the plates regularly so that it is playful for your child”, says food stylist Olivia Sauerwein.
You can play with ingredients that have vivid colors, such as yellow (pineapple, bell peppers, yellow courgettes), red or orange (strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, red bell pepper, pumpkin) and green (kiwi, cucumbers, lettuce, broccoli). These colors can also often be found in toys!
Squeezing in the daily recommended servings of veggies isn’t always easy- especially for kids! If you find that you and your family need more veggies for the day (or just want a yummy snack), we have 16 delicious veggie snacks to share with you!
(Image Credit: Kids Activities Blog)
What could be better than incorporating veggies into cold and refreshing popsicles? We’ve tried both the Orange Carrot Mango popsicles and the Lime Green popsicles. While both got a thumbs up from all three kids, the Orange Carrot Mango is hands down our favorite. A 10 year old neighbor played outside with us this summer, and all of the kids begged for a popsicle. I gave her an Orange Carrot Mango pop, and she loved it so much that she asked for the recipe to give to her mom. And when we told her that carrots were in it, she said she hated carrots but would eat this anytime. Success! Also, when we make them, we just freeze them in our regular popsicle mold.
This is another favorite in our home. It tastes delicious, is full of wonderful ingredients, and the kids enjoy it as their “treat” when we pack a lunch.
These get devoured in our home, and when the kids ask if there are any left and I say, “No,” there are groans of unhappiness. But, if you have any leftovers, they are fantastic as a snack.
When your kids eat these, they’ll taste the banana and mango, but they are getting spinach at the same time too! My kids have wised up and know there is most likely a surprise awesome ingredient in everything that I make, but you don’t have to share the secret ingredient if you don’t want to.
(Image Credit: California Avocados)
Use cucumber slices as your “bread” and sandwich delicious morsels inside, such as hummus, spreadable cheese, or a tomato slice and a round of deli meat. These are perfect for snacking and can easily be individualized.
Can you imagine the joy on your child’s face when he comes home to find that pizza rolls are on today’s after school snack menu? And these can be customized to include an array of veggies.
Adding carrots to delicious berry applesauce can make carrot eating common even for a non-carrot loving kiddo.
Kids love to dip, and cheesy zucchini sticks are made for dipping and enjoying. The crunch of the panko is a kid pleaser too.
(Image Credit: Happy Healthy Mama)
Oats, carrots, apples, walnuts and more-these bars truly do pack in the goodness.
Be prepared for these chips, packing fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and more, to disappear quickly. And as a parent, you’ll love sharing the rainbow of colors that you can serve your family with root vegetables.
Fill a pea pod with hummus for a satisfying snack that you can make into a boat for your ocean lover.
(Image Credit: Minimalist Baker)
These crunchy kale chips, flavored with seasonings, cashews, sunflower seeds and nutritional yeast, pack in the nutrition while tasting great.
Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt and olive oil flavor these crunchy easy-to-make peas that can be eaten alone, in a trail mix, or on a salad.
This creamy dip, paired with homemade baked pita chips, is like eating chips and dip, but it’s a much healthier version.
Many children don’t get enough vegetables or variety of vegetables in their diets, so presenting veggies in new ways (and familiar ways too) at snack time is a way to increase exposure to vegetables, boost the nutrition of snacks, and increase the healthy nutrients provided overall to your child in a day. Many of the snacks in this list can be quickly made and enjoyed by everyone in the family.
Prepared in the right way, a vegetable side dish can be as delicious and filling as the main dish! A fresh cooking method, new flavors, and varied textures can make the difference for your picky eaters.
We strive to fill half our plates with fruits and veggies. And when you make your side a veggie that is full of flavor, it is much easier to fill half your plate with it! Check out these 10 Healthy Veggie Sides Recipes to serve with any of your main dish to make your meal complete!
These sweet cubes make a deliciously sweet side dish with a great texture – a perfect way to serve squash to your kids for the first time!
This is a great side dish to replace potatoes or pasta with a meal. Your kids will love watching the ‘spaghetti’ form – let them get involved by giving them 2 forks and scraping away the squash!
Even kids who may be hesitant about trying onions, may go for some baked onion rings! Skip the deep fryer and bake these for a healthy version that the entire family will love.
Sometimes it takes a different cooking method for kids to like a vegetable. If your kids don’t like raw carrots, try one of these ways to cook them! They are all different but delicious and produce a different flavor.
This dish adds a lightness and also a sweetness to asparagus which can have a slightly bitter flavor. Kids are more familiar with the orange flavor and will enjoy the yummy flavor it adds to the asparagus.
Roasted broccoli is the cooking method that has helped my kids fall in love with broccoli. If they are struggling eating veggies, I know I can fall back on roasted broccoli! This recipe from JoCooks adds some yummy ingredients making it even more delicious!
This simple 2 ingredient zucchini dish from Five Heart Home will become a regular on your menu. These bake at a relatively high temperature, making the zucchini get nice and soft, with an almost creamy texture, while the Parmesan turns crispy and golden brown.
Rice is a staple side dish for many meals, and this boosts the nutrition by using mostly cauliflower with a small amount of rice. This makes it a delicious familiar dish, but a powerhouse in the nutrition department.
We have found that kids love dips and sauces and are much more likely to try things when they can dunk, or smother their veggies. This savory sauce is a pleaser for both kids and adults!
A side of homemade fries goes well with many meals. Sometimes there just isn’t time when you are rushing to make dinner. This is one of our favorite shortcuts! Now you can have these as a side anytime even if you are short on time!
If you want vegetables included with dinner every night, check out our meal plans! We have 28 new recipes and ideas for you every week, and an entire library of archives! Details here.