How to Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables
Some parents are blessed with children who eat anything that is put in front of them. The rest of us have picky eaters whose preferences seem to change on a daily basis. So, what can you do to make sure their nutritional needs are still being met?
Everything is a "Fry"
My toddler has an unhealthy obsession with anything "fry-shaped."
It started with french fries, then became a full-blown fixation on chicken fries. Honestly, chicken fries are amazing, easy for her to hold, and in general, are just a favorite way to get some protein down her since she's weird about shapes and textures.
However, the best thing I've come across so far is veggie fries. Green Giant came out with these bad boys not long after I had my youngest, and they appear to be continuing to expand the product line. The parmesan and zucchini "fries" are delicious, and the cauliflower ranch with bacon ones are by far our household favorite. They taste far too good to be relatively healthy veggie fries, but alas, here we are—and they are amazing.
For those with children who prefer tots instead of fries, they also have quite a good assortment of veggie tots as well. The broccoli and cheese ones are just great (but clearly not very sneaky if your kid is adamant about not eating anything green), and the cauliflower/cheese/bacon ones are fantastic either solo or paired with some chili, sour cream, and shredded cheese. Loaded chili cheese tots, anyone?
Meatless Food Options—They Really Can't Tell
I'll preface this by ensuring you that I, as well as my entire household, are hardcore carnivores and nearly all of our grocery expenses are due to meat. However, for the sake of health, variety, and also trying to experiment with our budget, I got sneaky and started trying some meatless options for our meals without telling them. (They're very adamant that they would NEVER eat such, but the praise for meatless chicken sliders has confirmed otherwise.)
I'm not an expert on meatless food options, but I like trying new things and I really like catching good deals, so we've had a number of different meals that had far more veggies than my family members were aware of.
If you have a nugget-obsessed kid, you've got a pretty good range of options for what to choose and what all veggies your potential meatless "chicken" nuggets will contain. As mentioned above, meatless chicken sliders are a fantastic way to give your child a "miniature chicken sandwich" but sneak in some of the veggies they may be missing.
If you have an older kid (such as my preteen) who prefers fancier meals like Chinese dishes and such, there are also quite a few options by Gardein (such as their "Mandarin Orange Crispy Chik'n") that are totally passable. Blame the slight difference in taste on it simply being a frozen meal instead of takeout, and you should be good.
As a fan of Gardein, they also have a good variety of meat-free chicken strips, meatballs, and other good bases to incorporate into meals and other dishes, so these products are a pretty good way to get some extra grains and veggies into your kids' diet. Also, be aware that these are marketed primarily as plant-based sources of protein, so don't expect to find a whole garden inside of them. However, if you want to cut down on hormones, fats, etc. in your kids' diets for any reason, this is a great way to go.
Stews and Roasts
My kids are cool with stews and roasts, but I'm a bit of a fangirl since homemade pot roast is by far my most favorite meal in the entire world. I have a specific recipe I prefer that my mom always used to make, but the versatility of such dishes is just absurd and absolutely wonderful.
If your kids don't mind a mystery meal, making a pot roast or stew of some sort is a great way to sneak in nearly anything you could imagine—and also use up any leftover meats or veggies still lingering in the fridge!
Honestly, the possibilities are endless. Swamp stew has every meat known to man, plus the addition of whatever vegetables you prefer to add. Pot roast can have potatoes, onions, carrots, green beans, corn, and even salsa added into the mix. If I'm in a rush, throwing in a few cups of frozen veggies easily adds the extra health benefits to any type of dish that falls into this category. If I have multiple containers of "just a few potatoes" or "just a few more bites of corn or green beans," throw those babies into the pot! Easy, reduces waste, and tastes amazing.
My oldest has an aversion to eating anything cute, but my toddler is all about some dinosaurs. Thankfully, Perdue has come out with a line of products called "Chicken Plus" that has some awesome dino-shaped nuggets THAT ALSO INCLUDE VEGGIES.
I thought it had to be scammy or disgusting, but the 1/4 cup of additional vegetables per serving actually kicks the flavor up a ton, and these taste great. There's no way anyone would eat these and assume the improved flavor was due to chickpeas and cauliflower, but surprisingly, that's the case with these. I can't recommend them enough.
On a less sneaky note, if your child doesn't actually mind vegetables but seems to have beef with the shapes (since this is a thing for children in the fry or tot cults), there are a ton of cute vegetable cutters available that allow you to punch out any fruits or veggies in star or heart shapes (among other options) to make them both adorable and an ideal size for little ones. These are typically the shape cutters you see for making decorative bento boxes. My kids are a mess and didn't fall for the cute-shaped veggies when I did this, but they went wild when I cut them tons of stars and flowers out of cheese.
Make Veggie-Based Snacks and Desserts
Everyone likes a good snack, no matter what age you are. If you've got some skills in the kitchen and don't mind tackling a bit of baking, you officially have to power to incorporate all things healthy into treats that are so delicious that no one will ever suspect what you've done.
I'd like to prove my point by bringing up the biggest culprit of healthy lies: zucchini bread. It sounds disgusting. Seriously. I swore for years it would not be happening, it would not be going in my mouth, none of that foolishness. "Don't be putting vegetables in bread," I once claimed. And then I tried some... where was the zucchini? How did it just taste like a cinnamon/nutmeg oat bran muffin?! WHAT WAS HAPPENING?!!
Well, much to my surprise, zucchini bread defies all laws of flavor and functions amazingly in muffin or loaf form. I couldn't believe it and I still can't explain it, but I'm here to offer it as a great way to get more veggies down your kiddos. Although less effective, IMO, you can also make similar recipes with vegetables like sweet potatoes (my arch nemesis) or even numerous variations on sweet cornbread (including whole corn and mixes of peppers and onions).
Baking is a lawless land at times (aside from following the instructions—don't be playing games in that department), and you can come up with quite an assortment of odd ways to use up any lingering veggies in the home or intentionally incorporate ones into planned dishes.
*As this blog progresses, I'll be adding some recipe posts as well, and those will be linked in this article throughout the content and at the bottom for reference. Check back for updates and recipes very soon! :)