If you’ve got a picky eater at home, do you sneak in veggies here and there? Are you a secret puree pusher, adding sweet potato puree to your kid’s mac and cheese or pulverizing steamed cauliflower to stir into buttery mashed potatoes? After all, how will they ever know? If our kids don’t notice, are we being deceptive? Or is there a better way? Which team are you on?
There are two benefits for sneaking vegetables into your kid’s food.
- It makes you, the parent, feel much better! It’s so satisfying to see your fussy eater wolfing down his favorite food when you’ve secretly added extra vitamins, nutrients and fiber. What a sense of relief!
- It’s quick and easy. No fussing, no picky-eater protests, no drama! Besides, it’s not like you announce every single ingredient to your kid every time you serve him his favorite dish.
“Oh, you like those brownies? There’s corn oil in them. I added that to make them moist,” said no parent ever.
There are five benefits to not sneaking, but rather adding vegetables with your kid’s knowledge and more importantly, involving him in the process.
- It might take more time, but you’ll never break down your child’s trust. Once a picky eater discovers that you’ve been sneaking veggies into his food, he’s less likely to trust both you and that familiar food. Many fussy eaters already have a very limited repertoire of foods they’ll happily eat, so do you really want to risk having that mac and cheese fall off the preferred list because now he doesn’t trust it…or you?
- When kids are an active participant in veggie exploration, multiple research studies have shown that they are more likely to take a taste. One of the easiest ways to help kids make friends with vegetables is letting them create a simple platter of crudités. Provide the “littles” with kid-safe knives and teach safe knife skills to older school-age kids. The more kids wash, peel and chop fresh veggies, the more likely they are to try them. Learn more about the research and strategies here.
- When parents model healthy cooking habits and include their children by bringing them into the kitchen to cook together, it boosts an interest and eventual love for a variety of foods.
- Seeing is believing. As discussed in this article, the sense of sight is the first encounter with food — and an important one! As parents, we sometimes become overly focused on taste and ignore the seven other senses. Studies have shown that sight plays a vital role in helping a child make a final decision about trying a new food. When we take that away by hiding vegetables, we miss a learning opportunity.
- Kids who are involved in mealtime prep are likely to come to the dinner table feeling good about themselves and what they’ve created. If they aren’t ready to take a taste yet, they still have a sense of accomplishment and can proudly help serve the meal, including one that contains vegetables. Mealtimes themselves also craft veggie love! Kids who have meals with their families on a regular basis are 24 percent more likely to eat healthy food. But if those healthy vegetables aren’t clearly on the plate in front of them, the chance is gone.
To start your child’s journey to veggie love, why not include vegetables in desserts? In Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables, 20 of the 80 recipes are desserts made with pureed, frozen or whole vegetables. The key to success is making the desserts together and focusing on the fun!
This recipe from Adventures in Veggieland includes a sweet surprise at the bottom of the pudding to encourage kids to dig in!
Chocolate Pudding Surprise
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Ingredients (kids can help assemble these):
- 1 cup (20 g) of fresh baby spinach
- 10 Medjool dates, pitted
- 2 ripe avocados
- ¼ cup (25 g) of unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1-2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup
- 1½ teaspoons of espresso powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of sea salt
- 4-6 mini chocolate candies, such as M&M’s Minis (omit for children under age 2)
- Chop the baby spinach in a food processor or high-powered blender.
- With a sharp knife, cut each date into four pieces and add them to the spinach in the processor. Pulse to create a paste.
- Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into the food processor. Add the cocoa, 1 tablespoon of the syrup, the espresso powder (if using), the vanilla, and the salt and blend until smooth. Taste and stir in more syrup if desired.
- Pour the mixture into 4-6 individual pudding cups that are at least 2 inches (5 cm) deep. Using a skewer or a coffee stir stick, press one candy into the center of each pudding cup for a sweet surprise!
- Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 45 minutes.
- Cut and pit the avocados with a kid-safe knife.
- Put the spinach in the processor (with an adult’s help).
- Pulse the spinach to the desired consistency (with an adult’s help).
- Add the other ingredients to the processor (with an adult’s help).
- Use a skewer to press one candy into each pudding cup.
The No-Judgement Zone
If you need to sneak in a few veggies so you don’t worry about your child’s nutritional health, that’s understandable. You can be on both teams! Make the recipe above and serve it for dessert. When the kids rave about it, that’s the time to say “I’m so glad you like it! It’s a new recipe that I’ve never tried before. I didn’t think I would like it at first because it has spinach in it…but I do like it! I’m glad I tried it, and I’m glad you tried it too.” No trust has been broken. You’re being truthful and admitting that you weren’t sure about it at first but decided to give it a try. That’s the message we want kids to hear — it’s always good to give new recipes a try.
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, CNN.com, Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips, and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!
The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.