As parents, one of our most challenging jobs is getting our kids to eat healthy foods, especially vegetables. To complicate matters, there are developmental factors beyond our control. Kids’ tastes change as they grow up, both metaphorically and literally. Their taste buds and other sensory cues evolve with age. This may help explain why, during some growth stages, kids are more open to trying vegetables than at others.
Grappling with this very issue, last year my mom gave me the cookbook, Deceptively Delicious.
There are similar books available, most of which are well-intended and helpful. However, I rarely use them (sorry Mom).
Food in Disguise
For one, I want to teach my child to like green, yellow and purple veggies at face value, without always having to be disguised in a red sauce, a soup, a purée or smoothie. At certain stages, a disguise is the only way to go; but in general, it’s something I’d like to avoid. Sooner or later, a child needs to recognize what a squash, pea and piece of corn looks like – and not be afraid to eat it. If they don’t know what certain vegetables are, they are not likely to eat them at all.
One Meal for All
Second, I don’t always have time to make fancy purées and special sauces at the end of a work day. I try (though admittedly, I don’t always succeed) to make a single meal the entire family will enjoy. If I start to cook dinner on weekdays around 5 or 5:30, and actually want everyone to eat before bed-time, it can be problematic to make two meals – one for the child, one of the adults. Not to mention, dinner time may be the only time during weekdays when the family is sitting down together and sharing.
Quick Veggie Fixes
My approach has been to prepare different types of vegetables in different ways, in hopes of finding ones that make everyone happy (including Dad). Below are listed the ones which have proven to be hits by my family’s standards. I’d love to hear your ideas, too. And by the way, I have put them in order of “acceptance,” as introducing new vegetables gradually has proven to be more effective with my 6-year-old, Luke.
- 1. Baked sweet potato fries – This has been the biggest hit to date. Naturally sweet in taste, yams and sweet potatoes are loaded with nutrients and are available year-round. They are simple to make, too.
- 2. Raw broccoli, carrots and cauliflower with “magic cream sauce” – There’s really nothing wrong with making magic with your food. As soon as I told Luke that ranch dressing was magic cream sauce, he jumped on the boat (as have all his friends when they have come over for play dates).
- 3. Roasted broccoli – Though broccoli is usually well-received in our household in any shape or size, I find that roasting broccoli is super easy, especially when you are already baking something in the oven anyway.
- 4. Edamame – This tradition started one night at a sushi restaurant and is now a favorite any night at home. This vegetable is loaded with protein, and is rich in rich in calcium, iron, zinc, and many of the B vitamins as well. I buy frozen edamame with and without the shell and boil it for 3 minutes. How easy is that?
- 5. Grilled or baked asparagus – This discovery was more recent. If I flavor the asparagus with garlic, soy sauce and olive oil, he’ll eat the asparagus up! To keep it simple, I bake asparagus when I’m already baking something else and throw it on the grill if I happen to be grilling that night.
- 6. Corn on the cob – This gained immense popularity when we grew our own corn last summer, but the little corn dishes and skewers helped make the experience entertaining and enjoyable. Warning: Must be drenched in butter.
- 7. Almost fried okra – I do the same treatment with fresh yellow squash in the summer, and it makes a delicious side dish. All I do is slice the veggies and sauté them, sprinkling a little corn meal sprinkled on top. It resembles the deep-friend Southern version, but it much healthier.
- 8. Mashed cauliflower – This one takes a wee bit longer, because you have to steam the cauliflower about 15 minutes in chicken broth. But after that, all you have to do is smash them, add a small amount of mayonnaise or cream (1-2 TBSP, depending on your preference and how much you are making), a little more broth, season with salt and stir. Yummy!
- 9. Baked potatoes – I am not sure if eating “mashed potatoes,” as Luke calls them, is more about getting grated cheese and salt all over the table, or enjoying the actual vegetable; but baked potatoes are a slam dunk, any night. Luke eats the entire potato, less the skin, as long as there’s plenty of fixin’s (including butter).
- 10. Sautéed Spinach – I know, this one surprised me, too. In fact, the night I served it to Luke, I prefaced by saying, “This is one of Mommy’s favorite veggies. You want to try it?” His response? “Yummy.” All I did was sauté in butter and serve. It takes about 2 minutes.
Tips From Other Moms
Lots of other moms fight similar battles in getting their kids to eat veggies. Here is a story of how one working mother battled with her toddler to eat fish and veggies.
Here’s how another mom used St. Patrick’s Day to inspire more green eating, specifically Brussels Sprouts. (I haven’t had luck with this veggie yet, and have prepared the veggie similarly).
Eliza Ferree gt her kids to eat vegetables by making the experience more fun.
Last but not least, Karen Sheviak provides some more tips on getting kids to eat veggies.
If you have more ideas, I’d love to hear them. After all, I haven’t yet broached eggplant, cabbage, or several others….