Going Stealth . . . with Vegetables
It’s mission impossible—and it’s happening at your dinner table. We all know the routine: Kids who frown, cross their arms, and absolutely refuse to eat vegetables. If your children won’t even try the veggies on their plates, then they’ve left you with few options: It’s time to get sneaky for their own good.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses the MyPlate food guide to make recommendations about how much of each food group adults and children should eat at every meal. And according to MyPlate, fruits and vegetables should fill half of the space on your children’s plates—every single day. Sound impossible? Fortunately, with some creative cooking and a few spy-style sneaky swaps, it is possible to get more vegetables into the pickiest child’s tummy.
Play with Veggies
Your children would never guess that vegetables can morph into toys. Make veggies fun by encouraging kids to explore their colors, textures, and flavors. For example, invite kids to draw faces and landscapes on open-faced sandwiches, using dips and spreads to arrange vegetables and other toppings. Nut and seed butters—such as peanut butter, cashew butter, or sunflower seed butter—make a great base for shredded carrots and zucchini, and hummus goes well with thinly sliced cucumbers, radishes, and bell peppers.
It might feel counter-intuitive to let your kids play with their food, but there’s a bonus. In a recent study reported by The Atlantic, researchers at the University of Vermont and Columbia University found that kids rate familiar foods as tasting better than unfamiliar foods. Letting your kids investigate vegetables through play may put them on the path to eating veggies voluntarily.
Revamp your favorite muffin or banana bread recipe by adding shredded parsnips, carrots, zucchini, or pureed sweet potatoes. Vegetables help keep baked goods moist, and provide extra nutrients and fiber. If you’re feeling brave, bake up a delicious chocolate beet cake—you can find recipes from food gurus like Nigel Slater, Martha Stewart, or even websites like Food.com. Your kids might notice and admire the rosy tone of the cake, but they’ll never guess its cause.
If you try this tricky technique, keep in mind that most baked goods are still high in sugar. Even with extra veggies inside, you may want to limit how much your children consume.
Your kids claim to dislike veggies—but we’ll bet they’ve never turned their noses up at potato chips. Disguise healthier vegetables as snack foods at your next family movie night by swapping potato chips for kale chips. Benjamin Frank from the Martha Stewart Show tosses small pieces of kale with salt and olive oil, before roasting them in a 350 F oven until crisp. Other durable greens work well too, including swiss chard, beet greens, bok choy, and brussels sprout leaves. For more variety, add different toppings, such as parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, or spice blends. Don’t be surprised when your kids ask for more!
Blended, Shaken, or Stirred Veggies
Add a handful or two of spinach to infuse a fruit smoothie with extra nutrients. Fruit smoothies are easy to make: Simply blend up a mix of bananas, berries, apples, and milk or a non-dairy substitute for protein. Call it a “crocodile shake” to win over your little skeptics! Or, if you’re certain your kids will frown at a green drink, just add half a cup of blackberries: Viola, you’ll have a purple smoothie!
You can also add veggies to homemade juice blends—and you don’t necessarily need a juicer. Simply hide some store-bought carrot or beet juice at the back of your fridge. Mix up a pitcher of “fruit punch” with juices like orange and cranberry, along with as much veggie juice as you think may go undetected. These sweet drinks can be shaken or stirred—but they’re high in sugar, so enjoy them in moderation.
Never underestimate the power of a good dip! Kids who don’t like the taste and texture of cooked vegetables are often happier munching on crisp slices of cucumber or nubbly florets of raw broccoli—especially if there’s a yummy dip for dunking. Try a recipe for Red Tuscan Hummus or Baked Artichoke Dip. You can also create a quick Thai-inspired dipping sauce by whisking together peanut butter, soy sauce, fresh lime juice, and honey.
The next time you visit the grocery store, choose some new vegetables to try raw. Or better yet, invite your kids to choose them! Jicama, kohlrabi, and sugar snap peas are good bets for kids who prefer sweet and mild flavor.
If all else fails, hide the vegetables! Add finely chopped and pureed vegetables to store-bought tomato sauce, homemade gravy, chili, tacos, and pureed soups, or sauté them briefly and tuck them into layers of lasagna and other casseroles. The smaller the better, if you don’t want your kids to notice them! A food processor can help to cut mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables into tiny pieces, and a hand-held immersion blender creates smooth sauces and soups with minimal mess.
Even in your sneakiest moments, don’t give up on offering visible vegetables. Keep encouraging your kids to try vegetables, and set a good example by eating lots of them yourself.
Lead the Mission: Get Your Kids Onboard
Before you roll up your sleeves to whip up a spinach-laden smoothie, ask yourself this question: Do you eat enough vegetables every day? The USDA’s MyPlate guidelines are similar for adults and children when it comes to proportions. That means fruits and vegetables should take up half of your plate, too.
Even if you sneak your children some zucchini-rich muffins, the mission’s not over. Encourage your kids to take an interest in tasting visible vegetables by loading up your own plate with leafy greens, peas and carrots, roasted beets, or succulent squashes. As children become familiar with a variety of vegetables, they may be more willing to taste them. Over time, your efforts could reap significant rewards: Your kids may have a better attitude toward food and enjoy healthier lifelong eating habits.