6 Sneaky Ways to Get Veggies Into Their Bellies
Veggies: Kids don't like them, but they need them. We have a few tips for how to get your kids to eat veggies. Your picky eater will be none the wiser.
As a mom and the primary cook, I’m inordinately obsessed with the vegetable intake of most people in my household. All too often, school lunch comes back with carrots or snap peas uneaten (cucumber slices fair slightly better). Or, I make easy weeknight pasta with broccoli, only to see the stalks scuttled to the side. No wonder I harbor a “by any means necessary” mindset when it comes to veggies and healthy food!
Plenty of moms, dads, and caretakers of all kinds agree. Which is why there’s a wave of cookbooks dedicated to this very subject. One of the earliest was Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious, which — gasp! — is somehow more than a decade old.
Back then, Seinfeld’s spinach and sweet potato purees kickstarted a debate — is it more effective to hide veggies in otherwise kid-friendly foods so kids won’t even know they’re eating healthy meals, or is it better to build a culture of eating vegetables that will last an entire lifetime? Hiding is pretty effective in increasing a child’s veggie intake, says science, but it doesn’t necessarily make them more likely to choose veggies on their own or more likely to recognize what a balanced meal actually looks like. In essence, it’s a tension between short-term benefits and life-long habits. Parents are still working that one out.
Whichever side you choose, it doesn’t hurt to slip more veggies — i.e. more nutrients, more fiber, more things that are good for you — into everyone’s food. Not just the kiddos, but all of us. Whether you fess up to it or not is up to you.
If you’re ready to get sneaky in the kitchen, here are six approaches to try.
Unless your child is one of those odd ducks who doesn’t like chocolate — they exist! — a surefire and delicious way to help the vegetables go down is to puree them and mix them with a lot of sugar and cocoa. Is it truly healthy? Debatable. Is it sneakily effective? Yeah.
Beets are a no-brainer for chocolate cake where they add sweetness and make the cake extra moist. Black bean brownies don’t plug in veggies per se (black beans are legumes), but still. They can be made both vegan and gluten-free, should you require that (and even if you don’t, feel good about the added protein and fiber). Similarly, sweet potato brownies have the benefit of being moist and grain-free. And chocolate avocado mousse is really just two great tastes that taste great together.
And then there’s the secret ingredient chocolate smoothie, which features sweet potatoes and Medjool dates, and brings us to our next approach:
Have blender, will smoothie
You don’t even have to start with chocolate. What’s amazing about a smoothie, for kids, is if it resembles a shake or treat, they’re likely to have their defenses down. Smoothies are (typically) sweet, cool and colorful — all winning traits for kids. And for those moms and dads who are not interested in hiding the vegetables, smoothies are one thing that kids, even toddlers, can help make — and getting kids involved with cooking is yet another way to get them interested and invested in the food they eat. Yes, even the vegetables.
Catherine McCord of the blog Weelicious has made smoothie recipes a veritable cottage industry, and she has a great DIY chart for those who like to freestyle. But in general, vegetable powerhouse spinach is a frequent ingredient in kid-friendly smoothies where it is blended into oblivion (even this peanut-butter banana smoothie lets you sneak in a handful). Similarly, kale and avocado team up beautifully to add both nutrients and great texture. If you’re trying to sneak in other nutrients, not just hidden vegetables, berries make this Immunity Smoothie look amazing and taste great.
Mac and cheese it
"To mac and cheese" is a verb in which you use pasta and cheese to make just about anything palatable. Here, you can be brash and simply add any available bite-sized veggies to a baking dish of mac and cheese, smother it with cheese and breadcrumbs and hope for the best (frozen peas is a winner in my household). But you can be sneakier than that. Cauliflower mac and cheese recipes swap in cauliflower puree for the rich bechamel or roux, but keep the winning pasta and cheese combo (some people also add pureed carrots for color). Finely shredded zucchini and other summer squashes can be successfully blended in, too, without changing the texture too much.
You want fries with that?
Fries — and similarly, potato chips — are simply irresistible to kids and adults alike, which can lead to unwanted weight-gain. It’s a no-brainer to give them a healthy, homemade makeover. Potatoes — which, by the way, don’t count as a five-a-day vegetable — can be replaced with sweet potatoes at mealtime. Sweet potatoes are higher in fiber and vitamin A, and lower on the glycemic scale than potatoes. Sliced into batons and baked, they make great fries. Indeed, just about any root vegetable can follow suit. Improve your knife skills or grab the mandoline, and you can make those same veggies into chips.
Z is for zoodle
Not every child will accept anything but their beloved pasta, but swapping in zoodles is worth a shot — especially if what they really love about the pasta is the spaghetti sauce. You can zoodle any number of veggies, but zucchini and summer squash typically do best — all you need is the right equipment. A spiralizer that suction-cups to the counter and makes endless zoodles is inexpensive and easy to use.
If you want to go way out on a limb, you can try the paleo-friendly Lentil Bolognese Over Zoodles. And you can switch up your base ingredients and lean into Asian noodle dishes, like Zoodle and Carrot Lo Mein or Kung Pao Chicken Zoodles, as well.
The secret sauce
A basic tomato sauce can be flexed in any number of ways — Italian, of course, but also Indian, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, or simply as a sauce over meat, chicken, or fish. Any ketchup-loving kid will typically hoover it up, even if they disdain raw tomatoes. It’s the perfect vehicle to transport other vegetable purees, including pumpkin, eggplants, carrots, and all manner of dark leafy greens.