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Feeding kids more vegetables is one of life’s greatest challenges as a parent.
To be fair, I also gave my fair share of headaches to my parents due to my unwillingness to eat my greens! But in the end, I got there. Thanks, mum and dad, for not giving up!
Now, it is my turn to fight this battle with my own kids – actually, with two of them.
While our oldest son has always been one of those strange cases of liking and eating everything you can think of as being kid-unfriendly – olives, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, capers and so on – the other two are as fussy as you can get!
But, I must say, over the years, we have had some wins! So, I often get asked how do I feed my kids vegetables?
There’s no straightforward answer (sorry!) and we still have a long way to go, but here are a few tips and tricks that helped me to win the green battle.
[Please note: for the purposes of this article, the term vegetable is going to be used in a very broad sense and may include legumes, root vegetables and fruits that are often eaten as vegetables such as zucchini and tomatoes.]
1 Keep calm and carry on with feeding kids vegetables!
This is not a sprint, it is a marathon! You will not win the fussy vegetable eater battle in one or two gos. It takes time and patience. You need to keep going. Introduce vegetables to them and, if they don’t like it – which is highly likely – do it again a few days or weeks later.
Be prepared for twists and turns, they might like spinach today and you get all excited about it – rightly so – and, at the next meal, they dislike their spinach all over again!
Yes, being a parent is exhausting!
2 Avoid bribes and rewards related to vegetables and sweet treats
I hate being the ‘educational’ police and I am a big believer that we all do what works and what we feel is best! This is a judgment-free zone and I aim at focusing on what has (and has not) worked with my kids!
Bribing kids into eating vegetables with rewards such as sweet treats has definitely not worked for me. It seemed to have sent a message that eating vegetables is a chore (or even a punishment) and treats are a reward (hence, good stuff).
I quickly found that bribes made my kids develop a terrible relationship with vegetables and the amount of treats needed to convince them to eat their greens got bigger and bigger.
3 Start a vegetable garden
It is amazing how kids, who deeply dislike their greens, can quickly get interested in growing vegetables! The good news is that vegetables that kids see growing (even partially) become a much more interesting meal.
While I can’t claim I had a one hundred percent success rate, my kids will at least try something they have grown.
Another piece of good news is that there are many easy options – even for non-gardeners. You can try things that sprout on your kitchen windowsill or buy grow kits – mushrooms are fantastic if you have a dark cupboard.
Sprouts (such as cress) and mushrooms are also relatively quick to grow and good for impatient children.
For those who have enough space and time available, starting a vegetable garden for kids is the ultimate fun project. And if you end up with a kids veggie garden, I also encourage you and your children to start composting. There are many composting methods to choose from.
4 Visit a farm that offers vegetable/fruit picking
If gardening or plant-sprouting projects aren’t your thing, but you still want the benefit of getting your kids to experience how nature works, a visit to a farm is your next best option.
Admittedly, it is more common to find fruit picking farms than vegetable ones. Nevertheless, a lot of ‘vegetables’ such as pumpkins and tomatoes are actually and botanically – fruits! Also, the benefit of seeing how food is grown can have implications beyond that particular food.
Green battles aside, picking fruit and vegetables is a fun activity for the entire family and a visit to a farm is well worth it.
5 Food appearance matters
To be brutally honest, while I agree that appearance matters when it comes to how you visually present food to your kids, I personally have zero patience for doing food decoration!
In short, if my kids had to rely on my food presentation skills to eat vegetables or anything else, they would absolutely starve! Not my strength!
Said that, I have friends who enjoy that and there is no doubt an interesting look or a fun twist does get kids’ attention and often leads to an increased rate of green intake!
While you are unlikely to ever see me doing this, I definitely recommend it for those who are willing to go the extra mile.
6 Start with safe veggies for kids
Not all veggies are equal!
Think Brussels sprouts vs spinach, or okra vs zucchini. It is easier to imagine that the more bitter and/or textured veggies are going to take longer for kids to develop an appetite for!
You will definitely have better chances for a green conversion if you start with ‘safe’ flavors such as carrots, corn, zucchini, spinach, etc.
7 Cooked vs Raw veggies
Whether to serve kids raw or cooked veggies, it will depend on the vegetable itself.
Carrot sticks are probably one of the safest veggies to start with. If they struggle with eating the sticks on their own, a good option is to serve carrot sticks with a cream cheese dip.
Second on my list are tomatoes, however I would be careful to choose the sweetest ones such as cherry tomatoes.
Cucumber is also a good choice for sticks, but I recommend you get rid of (some of) its seed. An apple corer is a good tool for that purpose.
Obviously, there are many veggies that need cooking. Corn is often a popular one with kids. Broccoli was a harder one to convince my kids to eat, but I am pleased to say they now like broccoli thanks to orecchiette ai broccoli – one of my favorite pasta dishes!
8 Hide and Eat – Grated zucchini can be your best friend
One of the best ways to get kids used to vegetables is to have them finely grated and mixed with your staple foods!
It’s a little bit like playing ‘hide and seek’, but more like ‘hide and eat’!
Zucchini is my favorite vegetable for that purpose. Grated zucchini goes well with just about anything.
Zucchinis are great at soaking up flavor and blending in with most things. I often add it to my Bolognese sauce, homemade burgers, one-pot stews and on pizza!
Over the years, my kids realised how I add zucchini to many things and they simply got used to it and have long stopped protesting my green addition!
Another ‘grate and hide’ option is finely grated cauliflower mixed with rice.
9 Best recipes to incorporate hidden veggies
Last but not least, there are fantastic recipes out there that you can easily adapt by incorporating vegetables and making it easier to introduce them into our kids’ diets.
The list is endless, but here are some of my favorites:
Fritters – corn and zucchini make excellent fritters
Bolognese sauce – with added grated zucchini, carrots and celery
Orecchiette ai broccoli! This typical Italian dish from Puglia is just amazing. You can start by blending the broccoli into a pesto type of sauce, with lots of olive oil and pecorino cheese.
Homemade burger – burgers were quite successful in convincing my kids to eat lettuce, plus I always add zucchini to the patty
Tortilla Wraps – you can hide pretty much anything inside a tortilla
Fried rice – Grated cauliflower is absolutely perfect to go with any rice dish (including plain rice), it blends in nicely and it adds a bit of crunchiness – hint: start with small amounts and progress with a slow but steady increase
Chocolate Cake – who would have thought? Zucchini, once again, is a fantastic addition to chocolate cake!
Chocolate Mousse – you can make a fantastic vegan chocolate mousse using avocado!
Final Thoughts on veggies for kids
Most importantly, don’t despair.
The love for vegetables is often an acquired taste for most people! Our kids are no different.