• Melissa Genee, RD

Sneaking Vegetables into your Child’s Diet

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The battle between children and a plate of broccoli is a tale as old as time. Vegetables are notoriously the least consumed food group by children, particularly the dark green and leafy vegetables. These vegetables can taste bitter to children, which could be the reason why they often end up last on their plates (or in the trash). Many parents stress about the amount of vegetables eaten by their children, which after countless rejected plates, may lead to pureeing spinach and adding to pasta sauce, muffins, smoothies or breads. In fact, hiding vegetables in meals is often recommended by parent blogs and people claiming to be nutritional professionals. While sneaking some cauliflower into your child’s macaroni and cheese may result in them finishing their (otherwise rejected) serving of vegetables, it does not teach them to enjoy vegetables. And in the end, don’t we want our children to enjoy vegetables?

Not only will children not learn to love vegetables, there is also a chance that your children could feel tricked or angry when they (inevitably) catch you sneaking some zucchini into their chocolate chip muffins. “If mom or dad has to hide vegetables in my meals, it must be yucky!” Instead of sneaking those leafy greens into your children’s meals, try these tips below.

1) Add vegetables to meals:

I know what you’re thinking, I just made the case for NOT hiding vegetables in your children’s meals and now I’m suggesting you do the same? Adding vegetables to stews, soups, smoothies and burgers is different than sneaking vegetables into meals. There is nothing wrong with adding some spinach to meatballs or carrots to soups to boost their nutritional profile, as long as your children know what they’re eating. Be open and honest about what’s in their meal and you may be surprised about what they’re willing to try. Better yet, have your children watch and help you in the kitchen so they can see what is going into their food.

2) Involve children in meal preparation:

Although it can be messy and take more time, try including your children in meal preparation. Children are much more likely to try a new food if they have helped prepare it. Check out our previous blog: Cooking with Kids & Tips for Success for suggestions on age appropriate tasks for children in the kitchen!

3) Present them in an alternative way:

Children can be very fussy about how their food is prepared. Some kids enjoy raw crunchy carrots, but refuse to eat soft cooked carrots. If your child refuses vegetables prepared one way, try serving them a different way.

  • Roasting - roasting brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables. The key to roasting is to reach caramelization, a process where the sugars in vegetables brown, producing a nutty and sweet flavour.

  • Baby vegetables - baby vegetables tend to be sweeter (and cuter) than their mature counterparts. Try serving mini cucumbers, peppers and carrots.

  • Butter them up - a small amount of fat (in the form of oil, butter or margarine) on vegetables goes a long way to make them more palatable.

  • Serve with dips or sauces - kids love dipping foods! If your children won’t touch their broccoli or cauliflower, try serving with a bit of cheese sauce or vegetable dip.

  • Make a picture - get creative and make a funny face, flower or animal with vegetables. Cookie cutters can be used for more than just cookies!

4) Take the pressure off yourself:

As a parent, it is your job to decide what, where and when food is served. Your child’s responsibility is to decide whether or not and how much they eat. Otherwise stated, it is not your job to make sure your child eats their vegetables, it is up to them. While vegetables are full of nutrients, it is important to recognize that it is normal for children to vary the amount and variety of vegetables they eat. Kids may go through long stretches of time where they refuse to eat any vegetables except snap peas, and then one day they may start eating baby carrots and cherry tomatoes. Rest assured, they will continue to survive and thrive. Continue to offer a wide variety of vegetables at all meals and snacks (even if your child continues to reject them). The more exposures your children have to different vegetables, the greater chance they will accept them later on.

5) Role model:

One of the most impactful things you can do to help encourage your children to eat and enjoy vegetables is by eating and enjoying vegetables yourself! When your children see you regularly eating vegetables, they will grow up learning that eating vegetables is normal and healthy. Eat together as a family and enjoy everything on your plate!

The FLIP program will be doing a series of blog posts on picky eating. Keep an eye on our blog and subscribe to our newsletter for more information on how to nourish and grow a happy and healthy eater.

For more information on general picky eating tips, check out one of our previous blog posts “Picky Eating: What is it and how to deal with it” or Sarah Remmer’s E-Book “Turning the Tables on Picky Eating”.

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