You know the struggle—dinner time rolls around, and all of a sudden there is unstoppable complaining, crying, and a complete meltdown at the table. What happened? You had the nerve to serve your kids some vegetables. How dare you! No one wants to fight this battle night after night—it’s exhausting. So, spare yourself the fight and get your kids the nutrition they need with these tricks to help sneak veggies into everyday meals.
1. Blend Up Some Smoothies
Many kids love juice. Smoothies or juices are a great way to sneak in some extra veggies. First, choose a selection of fruits your child enjoys, like strawberries, banana or melon, so it has a familiar, sweet taste. Then add veggies for extra nutrients. Spinach is easy to add to a smoothie and doesn’t change the flavor much. Also, consider frozen cauliflower or even some avocado for a creamy texture.
2. Give a Boost to Mac and Cheese
Mac and cheese is a childhood favorite. It’s also an easy place to sneak in an extra helping of veggies by mixing in peas, broccoli florets, or spinach. Also, consider adding purees to the mix. Butternut squash can be cooked and pureed, then blended in. Since it’s orange, when the noodles are covered with cheese, the kids won’t even notice!
3. Dip it
Kids love to dip, especially raw veggies. Set out several different sliced raw veggies, such as cucumbers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, or bell peppers. Serve them with a dip such as hummus, ranch, cream cheese, or another favorite salad dressing.
4. Set Up a DIY “Bar”
Create a “bar” style meal where kids can choose toppings and create their own meal. For example, try a pizza bar with various veggie toppings, or a taco bar with loads of veggies such as lettuce, tomato, olives, and avocado. Or, try a soup bar, where you give them a base and let them add various veggies. This idea works great with tomato soup as a starter. Whenever children are in control of their food, it’s more likely they will eat what’s in front of them.
5. Flip Out Over Quesadillas
Most kids love quesadillas, and they’re another great option for hidden veggies. Add in a few diced tomatoes, avocados, or spinach. They won’t change the taste much because of the strong flavor of the cheese, and kids might just love the added textures.
6. Serve Up Some Skewers
Allow kids to make their own skewers. Start with chicken, steak, or a hearty fish, then lay out several vegetables to skewer. A few veggies that grill well includes zucchini, tomato, and peppers. Kids can also dip the skewer into a favorite sauce, such as teriyaki, tzatziki, or honey mustard.
7. Consider Foods with Veggies Added
There are many prepared foods that have vegetable purees added, particularly kid-friendly foods like pasta, chips, and crackers. The purees bring additional nutrition when compared to the standard version. Although these will not replace the need for vegetables in your child’s diet, they can be a first step for picky eaters to get in a few extra nutrients.
Sneaking in veggies can be a great place to start getting kids used to new flavors. But, a little patience will also help. It can take some kids up to 20 exposures to a new food for them to want to try it. So, keep putting the veggies on their plate (and slipping them into their favorite foods) and give them some time to become veggie lovers.
Ana Reisdorf, registered dietician, enjoys helping parents find ways to get their kids to eat healthier throughout the day. She also writes for Walgreens, where you can find a variety of vitamins and supplements for the whole family.