My son loves vegetables. I don’t know how we did it or why we were lucky in this respect, but people always express awe when they see him willingly scarf down Brussels sprouts (yuck!), asparagus, artichokes, green beans, radishes, spinach and other foods that other children usually deem unfriendly. I was actually a little bit smug about it… until my picky daughter came along! She is a carbs-and-dairy girl, and would live on bread, ice cream and string cheese if we let her. While she’ll happily eat strawberries, she really does not like veggies, so we’ve had to be creative. Here are a few things we’ve had good results with:
- Think Colorful
While kids might have some mysterious avoid-it-if-it’s-green instinct, this might not apply to foods like red and orange peppers, yellow tomatoes, orange sweet potatoes, purple cauliflower and red cabbage. Creating a rainbow of veggies might inspire your child to try something new.
- Serve Them Raw
Nobody, grownups included, wants mushy, cooked-within-an-inch-of-their-life vegetables. Avoid giving your child a bad taste in her mouth by offering her raw veggies. Some veggies that you might not have thought of serving raw include asparagus stalks, okra and slices of zucchini These are crisp and crunchy, and infinitely more appealing to most kids. Serve them with a variety of dips: blue cheese or ranch dressing, hummus, guacamole, plain yogurt, sour cream with chives… whatever you can think of.
- Small Pieces for Small Mouths
Forget about serving whole carrots or salad with big pieces of lettuce. Cut everything up into bite-sized pieces for your kids. Make sure broccoli and cauliflower florets are able to be eaten in one bite (and forget about including the stems), choose cherry or grape tomatoes over the full-sized versions, buy baby carrots and slice pickling cucumbers instead of the big ones. (On the other hand, sometimes kids will surprise you… just the other day, I saw my daughter eating a big tomato whole, like an apple. Hey, whatever it takes!)
- Hide Them
Books have been written on this subject, including Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious. Basically, the premise is that if you can’t cajole or convince them to eat their greens, you just sneak them into the food that are eating. I don’t think that this is the best strategy (the goal, after all, is to get them to understand the importance of eating well, and to have them choose to do so willingly!), but you have to do what you have to do sometimes! The secret is to slip in veggies that won’t be detected. If you’re making spaghetti sauce, carrots and red peppers blend in seamlessly. Mushrooms and spinach mix well into meatloaf and meatballs. You might be able to hide cauliflower in macaroni and cheese. Think about the foods that your kids do like, then think of ways to slip in small pieces of similarly colored veggies.
With any luck, your picky eaters will outgrow the tendency to avoid vegetables. In the meantime, encourage them to try new things and, when necessary, resort to a little bit of trickery to ensure that they’re getting the nutrients that they need!