Serving vegetables without hiding them & so you’re kids will eat them may seem like a dream, but it can be your reality

Hiding vegetables in food is probably one of the most popular tricks for getting kids to eat their veggies. Just blend it up and stick it in some unsuspecting baked good. And while this is a proven way to increase vegetable and fruit consumption, (and providing children with more nutrients), there are drawbacks to this method.

Trust issues

Your family depends on you to feed them. When they don’t know what they’re eating, or can’t trust that what they see is what they get, this lessens their trust. Everyone wants to know what they’re eating- whether it’s related to intolerance, preference, or just to know what to expect! So by hiding ingredients and not letting eaters know, that’s disempowering, and can weaken relationships.

Long term loss

The long-term goal of feeding is that your child can make his/her own healthy eating choices later in life. If your child’s only exposure to vegetables is hidden, how will he know to choose vegetables on his own? Hiding vegetables has the short-term gain of feeding your child nutrient-dense food, but doesn’t provide the education or exposure of eating veggies.

HOW TO SERVE VEGETABLES SO THEY’LL BE EATEN

Exposure

Introduce vegetables in a non-threatening way to expose them to kids. This includes talking about vegetables, making pictures of vegetables, touching and smelling them (at home or at a grocery store), planting a garden and visiting a farm. These activities create positive associations with vegetables, which can result in future eating.

Clay food made by 5 year old

 

Involve with food preparation

Building on that exposure, involving kids with food preparation also does that, along with giving them a stake in the meal. Discuss menus and favorite foods to include during the week; have children assist with making a dish, or try following a recipe on their own (if skill and age appropriate). *Caution* an easy trap to fall into is assuming kids will eat the food they prepare. This wasn’t the case in this picture, and it likely won’t be in your case either. They may have asked for a food earlier in the week (or even day!), and no longer want it. The key is to avoid pressure around eating and make meal preparation an enjoyable time.

Involving 10 year old with making veggie spring rolls

Avoid pressure

Pressure can take on many forms, from forcing or bribing a child to eat, comparing to another well-eating child, or praising children for eating well. Ideally, all forms of pressure should be avoided. Pressure can even be unspoken or positive attention like smiling or nodding when a certain food is chosen. A client confided the time she made her fussy son’s favorite dinner. She placed it on the table with lots of fan-fare, knowing (read hoping) he would eat it. She also served some other foods the family likes and a salad bowl as part of her dinner. Her son may or may not have eaten the food, but she did notice him serving himself salad, which she had never attempted to offer him. But it was precisely that lack of pressure to try it that so enticed him.

Allow kids to serve themselves

Family style meals where children serve themselves (even as young as toddlers!), removes some of the pressure around eating. It allows kids to chose what they want, and prevents unwanted food on their plate, whether for food preferences or current hunger/fullness levels. It also allows children to take responsibility for their own food intake. (As per the Division of Responsibility, parents are responsible for where, when, and what food is provided, children are responsible for deciding how much, if any, food is eaten). This teaches kids valuable skills, makes them a part of the meal, and also gives kids freedom to recognize their own energy needs at a particular meal. When there’s no pressure to eat  something, there’s more freedom to try new things.

Food served family style. Photo by dylan nolte on Unsplash

Serve veggies at all meals and snacks

Snacks are an ideal time to serve vegetables (especially right when they come home from school/camp/activities) because kids are ravenous! And they’re often willing to try new foods. Have vegetable snacks ready to go at these times, like sliced carrots and peanut butter for dipping; cucumber slices and hard cheese; broccoli with ranch dressing. Check out this list of 20+ after school snack ideas 

Breakfast is another time to offer vegetables. Despite popular trends, breakfast food doesn’t have to be cereal, sweet, or make you hungry in under an hour. Kids (and adults) are often hungry for breakfast, and would welcome a filling and savoury breakfast. Not sure what to make? Get your copy of 6 make ahead and nourishing breakfast ideas!

Snack of chickpea crackers, carrots, & peanut butter

Modelling

How often has your child refused to eat anything unless it’s off your plate? You are your child’s greatest role model, so if they see you consistently eating, and enjoying, vegetables, they’ll be more likely to try them as well. Find the veggies you like the most, prepare them deliciously, and eat them often and in-sight of your children. (Don’t like veggies? Here’s how you can increase your vegetable intake.) They may surprise you and steal some of your faves!

Put them everywhere!

The more veggies you serve, the more likely they will be eaten. Try incorporating them into as many dishes as possible.  This is where you can use your ‘hidden veggie’ recipes, but you also want to make sure kids see and know they’re eating vegetables. So for example, you can serve a chunky vegetable soup (like this or this), and mac and cheese with cauliflower cheese sauce and sliced cucumbers, or a muffin with hidden zucchini plus red peppers. The more available they are, the more likely they will be eaten!

If these tips don’t work right away, don’t worry! Your job is to just to keep providing opportunities to taste and eat vegetables- you don’t need to force them to eat.