It’s Tuesday night, and you, super parent of a picky eater, have done everything you can to get your kid to eat vegetables. It started at the grocery store, where you always let your child choose one item of produce, because you know that agency is everything. Your super parenting continued when you got home and included your kid in dinner prep. Sure, your kitchen is a disaster, but you know that children who help cook at home are more likely to choose fruits and veggies, and you don’t mind the extra cleanup if it leads to a lifetime of good health.
You’re up on the latest psychology: you understand that many kids require several exposures to a new food before trying it, and you always set a good example by making healthy choices yourself. You don’t threaten or bribe: you’re as calm and as cool as the cucumbers your determined child still refuses to eat.
Can we tell you something, honestly? It’s not your fault. Repeat: It’s. Not. Your. Fault.
As parents, we do the best we can with the tools we have, but that doesn’t guarantee our children will respond. So if you’ve tried the right way and your kid still won’t eat those veggies, perhaps it’s time to visit the dark side. The super sneaky side. The stealth side. The side where we just go ahead and feed children their veggies, whether they know it or not.
Sauce it up
A lot of picky children lose their dietary reticence as soon as pizza or pasta hits the table. Use their love of tomato sauce-based dishes to everyone’s advantage by sneaking extra veggies into the sauce: roasted red and orange peppers, sweet potato, a few scoops of pureed squash (technically a fruit, but still a healthy booster), and sweet roasted carrots and onions can all be blended into plain tomato sauce without changing its colour or giving a clue to the extra nutrients it holds.
Smooth away greens
Kale, spinach and lettuce lose their bite when blended into fruit smoothies. Sweet tropical fruits like mango and pineapple will override the green flavours best, but if your kid is still put off by the colour, choose dark berry blends and they’ll never see those greens coming.
Sometimes all it takes for a kid to eat veggies is to present them alongside a tasty dip. Swap Greek yogurt for mayo in any recipe and let your kids go to town: they’ll be getting a healthy dose of protein alongside their veggies. If that’s still too much obvious vegetable, get sneaky and blend the veggies into the dip: edamame beans and peas work nicely in guacamole while roasted carrots onions and peppers taste sweet in a white bean hummus. Serve with a side of whole wheat pita toasts.
Squash, cauliflower and sweet potatoes can be hidden in cheese sauce for a mac and cheese that packs a secret punch.
A child who only likes white foods is the ultimate food prep challenge. Keep trying to introduce new foods, including your kid in the kitchen and setting a good example by making healthy choices yourself, and eventually – hopefully – your child’s palate will expand. Until then, make the most of cauliflower. Substitute it steamed or boiled for half the potatoes in your kid’s favourite mashed recipe. Roasted parsnips are another great white source of nutrients: they will change the flavour of mashed potatoes, but they’re sweet enough that most kids won’t mind.
If your kids won’t eat veggies for dinner, try serving them for dessert instead. Beets, zucchini, and carrots all add moisture and valuable nutrients to brownies and chocolate cake.
Carrots, daikon radish, sweet potato, beets, and even zucchini can be baked to produce sweet, crunchy chips. Obviously your children will know the difference between these and store bought potato chips: the sneakiness is in the marketing. Just keep calling them chips and see if it makes a difference.
Got any tried and true methods for feeding your kids veggies? Share your favourites in the comments below.