ADVERTISEMENT

Sneaky Ways to Add More Vegetables to Your Kid’s Diet

Two young kids sitting at a table with lots of vegetables, fruit and bread.
Pexels

As a parent of two children with a third on the way, I can appreciate the struggles of getting your little ones to eat their veggies. But as a trained educator, I am also keenly aware that transparency and honesty are key to building good eating habits and durable bonds based on trust and respect. 

For this reason, I’m reluctant to simply encourage trying to “sneak” anything past your kiddos and into their diets (since we’re all trying to raise intelligent, critical-thinking future adults). And having children discover that they’ve been fooled into eating something they’ve expressed they don’t want simultaneously eliminates that food they did like off their likely-limited menu, as well as tears a bit into their trust in you to guide them.

Related: Immune-Boosting Turmeric Lentil and Roasted Carrot Soup

That said, there are steps you can still take to normalize and encourage eating vegetables, both in combined dishes and as stand-alones (as a reformed tomato-hater, I am living proof of this, though I do get that tomatoes are actually fruits, not vegetables). In any case, giving your children some choice and control while remaining consistent is key for their buy-in. 

Mother and child preparing a meal together.

Pexels

Tips for encouraging kids to love eating standalone veggies

It can take upwards of 10 to 15 exposures to a vegetable (or any unfamiliar food really) for your child to accept a food, so don’t be immediately discouraged if what you’ve offered isn’t a hit right away. Keep introducing the veg as a side, snack, or anything else that allows the flavour and texture of the vegetable to shine, and keep tension and pressure out of it. Remember that it’s our job as parents to offer our kids options and encourage them to be curious about their foods, but it’s their job to eat the foods. Beyond that, additional things you can do include:

  • Giving your child a choice between vegetable A and vegetable B 
  • Including them in the growing, buying and preparation of the vegetable, so they get to handle and discover the veggie in a different way, without the outright expectation to eat it
  • Serving the vegetable before dinner, when kids are hungry and likeliest to eat what’s in front of them
  • Serving it alongside a familiar food so they can build positive associations with it, and nibble it alongside something they already know and like (and simultaneously control how much or little they have of it)
  • Serving alongside a healthy dip or sauce 
  • Cutting the veggies into fun shapes (this may not work for many kids with discerning palates, but it’s worth a try) 
  • Related: 10 Baking Safety Tips to Teach Your Budding Beginner Baker

    All of this said, there are also ways to combine vegetables into foods that are already kid-approved (and you can certainly tell them the veg is part of the meal, demonstrating it’s possible to like it). And most of all, you want to be a good role model (I started eating tomatoes as an adult, when my then pre-schooler called me out for serving him tomatoes that I never myself ate; I put those tomatoes where my mouth was and now even grow them and like them). You’ll want your kids to see you eating the same foods you want them to eat. 

    With that in mind, here are five ways to include veggies into your children’s diet:

    Related: 5 Veggie-Based Meal Planning Tips

    Identify the veggies that are “easy” on the palate

    These veggies either don’t have a profoundly strong flavour or texture, are on the naturally sweeter side, can be easily blended with other ingredients or any combination of the prior three. You can start with these, and slowly expand your child’s veggie repertoire bit-by-bit. Such vegetables include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Carrots 
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet potato
  • Bell peppers 
  • Fennel
  • Beets 
  • Parsnip
  • Rutabaga 
  • Pumpkin 
  • Butternut (and other) squash 
  • Tomatoes (which are really a fruit)
  • Spinach 
  • Cauliflower 
  • Add vegetables to fruit smoothies

    It’s easy to like spinach, zucchini, carrots and the like when they’re blended alongside other delicious ingredients, like naturally sweet bananas, blueberries and strawberries. Want to go a step further? Add pureed veggies to homemade popsicles. 

    Related: The Easy Green Smoothie You Need to Try

    Swap out ingredients in existing favourites

    Is your child a French fry fanatic? Try sweet potato, carrot, zucchini, parsnip or rutabaga French fries. Mashed potatoes a hit? Try a cauliflower or parsnip mash. You can even add pureed cauliflower, squash or carrots to the traditional macaroni and cheese. And spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini are natural stand-ins for for traditional pasta spaghetti or other noodles. You can also do a combo of both (it doesn’t have to be an either-or). 

    Related: Crispy Air Fryer Eggplant and Zucchini with Rosemary and Honey

    Add mushrooms and legumes into meats

    Making burger patties, meatballs, meatloaf and the like? Beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms and other veg can be added to minced meat to be eaten with the rest of the multi-ingredient meal. 

    Related: Vegan “Buttermilk” Fried Oyster Mushrooms

    Girl eating a cake.

    Pexels

    Add veggies into baked treats

    I admit that when I was little, carrot cake and zucchini bread sounded antithetical to what I’d normally enjoy, but in no time, I became a fan. Add beets, carrots, zucchini, pumpkin and more to breads, muffins, cupcakes, pancakes, cookies and cakes without changing the texture much. Coupled with ingredients like chocolate chips, dates or other sweet ingredients, and your wee one likely won’t care they’re getting some veg in there too. 

    Include veggies as an assumed ingredient on pizza and more

    Start early and be consistent with normalizing veggies as a go-to ingredient in as many recipes as you can find. Always include it on pizzas, grilled cheese, shakshuka, omelettes, quiches, and frittatas. Veggies are simply one of the ingredients we eat and they add flavour, texture and colour (point these out, and ask your littles to think of ways that veggies add to the dish). Do this even with more prickly choices like broccoli. 

    Finally, if none of these things work (and there may be a period of time when they don’t), keep playing around with different preparation methods and keep offering the veggies without despair. Many veggie-hating kids do eventually grow up to be veggie-loving adults (as this now-veggie-loving adult can attest). 

    Related: 10 Cooking Classes for Kids Across Canada