Eat Your Vegetables: Tips From a Former Picky Eater

Keri Goodfriend offers tricks to win the dinnertime battle with your children.

As a child, I sat for hours at the dinner table with a plate of cold food sitting before me. I refused to eat, and worse, the bite that my parents convinced me to try sat macerated in the pocket of my cheek until I was excused from the table.

As if by some karmic punishment or perhaps my mom's wish (curse?) for me to have children just like me someday, I now sit across the dinner table from a child with chipmunk cheeks full of food she has no intention of swallowing. Dinnertime is a battle of wits and endurance, and I am determined to win!

Here are some tactics that I have found that give me an edge in the veggie battle:

Make Food Fun

Fellow foodies know: food has to look good. Earn your points for plating by getting creative with veggie art. Zucchini and squash rounds can become scales on a fish, cauliflower can be puffy clouds in the sky, grape tomatoes make perfect eyeballs. My friend's son wouldn't eat broccoli, but as soon as she renamed them "little trees", he devoured them. You never know what mind games might work, so go play with your food!

I've been told that if you allow your children to help cook dinner, they are more likely to eat what they created. Older children can chop veggies with supervision. Younger children can toss veggies with olive oil, sprinkle parmesan, and spread them on a baking sheet for roasting.

Smothered and Covered

My kids just don't like condiments, but they are odd. Most kids are partial to dipping sauces, so give them a try and see what works.

Here are a few to attempt: ranch dressing (of course), ketchup (if your kids put it on everything else, why not try?), hummus, guacamole, velveeta cheese or shredded cheddar (I like this better, as I don't trust cheese without a shelf-life), butter or olive oil and parmesan cheese, or balsamic vinegar sprinkled over veggies before roasting.  

Our go-to veggie topping is spray butter. The kids enjoy spraying their food with butter, and if that gets them to eat "the green stuff," then they can just spray to their hearts' content!

Get Sneaky

Play dirty--sneaking vegetables into their favorite meals may be the only way to get them to eat healthy. This doesn't mean to stop trying to push the veggies; just hide some veggies in the foods they will eat until they start voluntarily eating their vegetables.

Try substituting potatoes for veggies that look like potatoes:

  • Cook parsnips and puree them to include with your mashed potatoes.
  • Cauliflower also purees down to a creamy mashed potato consistency.
  • Sweet potato fries have become a common item in the freezer aisle of the grocery store. (They're my favorite!)

Several brands of juices, such as V8 Fusion and Apple and Eve Fruitables juice boxes, have created products that have vegetable juices mixed with their fruit juices. While enjoying their strawberry juice, your kids will also be sucking down carrot and beet juice. Yum!

A few years ago, several cookbooks were published about hiding veggies in everyday meals. All of their purees took a while to cook and blend (one review called it “puree hell")but the idea behind their recipes was a good one. Since trying these recipes, I've incorporated some of their ideas in my own cooking.

  • Canned pumpkin is not just for Thanksgiving. You can add pumpkin to pancakes, muffins, mac-n-cheese, spaghetti sauce, or even spread it inside your grilled cheese sandwiches before cooking them.
  • Carrots are another easy addition to recipes, and add a touch of sweetness.
  • You can substitute pureed beans to some baking recipes, and they turn out tasting great. Really! When you’re up for an experiment, give this a try:

1 box of brownie mix
1 can of black beans
(You don't need the eggs and oil)
Put the beans as they're (with the water they come in) in blender or food processor and liquefy them.  Pour and mix with the brownie mix.
Bake in oven according to directions on package of brownie mix. Voila- Fudgy brownies, with fiber and protein. Yay!

Don't Give Up

Trying to get your children to eat healthier can be a daily frustration, but don't give up. I recently changed how I serve dinner to my kids; rather than plating all their food groups at once, I offer them their meat and vegetables first, and let them know that they can get their fruit and/or starch after they take said number of bites of the food already on their plate. With mac-n-cheese or strawberries tempting them on the table, they are motivated to eat their less desirable courses so they can get to the good stuff.

Taste buds change; think about what you wouldn't eat as a kid! If you keep offering vegetables on the dinner plate, eventually they will try them, and someday like them. In the meantime, try all of the veggie-hiding tricks, talk to other parents to share ideas, and maintain a dialogue with your child's pediatrician about his or her nutrition. If all else fails, curse them to have picky eaters of their own. Oh, karma!


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