Have you ever played hide and seek...with vegetables?
If you’re a parent, perhaps you’ve played without even realizing it. Your fearless kid, who barrels down the tall slide head first at the playground, hides under the table the second a single green bean hits her plate. You’ve been patient. You’ve tried other vegetables. You’ve begged. Maybe you’ve even bribed (I don’t recommend that, but I certainly get it).
Out of pure love for your little booger, you resort to hide and seek. You sneak a little pureed zucchini into her favorite soup. You hide shredded carrots in her hash browns.
Believe me, I understand. Because I’m an RD mom, people often assume that my kids nibble away at kale and salmon three times per day. This could not be further from the truth. I work very hard to promote healthy eating in my home. Do I struggle at times? Heck yes. Have I ever broken child feeding “rules” out of desperation? You know it.
Friends, please heed my advice. You may not see the harm in sneaking some veggies into a sauce. But don’t make that your only strategy for getting your kids to eat veggies. Because let me warn you: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In this post, I’m going to share why your strategy of hiding vegetables in “safer” foods may backfire. I’ll also share some tips for promoting veggie intake in picky kiddos.
WHY WON’T YOUR KID EAT HER FRICKIN’ VEGGIES?!?!?
Do you want your kid to eat the rainbow every single day? Don’t we all?! The first step is understanding why she is being so darn picky.
It’s possible that your little peanut doesn’t like the flavor or the texture of the vegetable you’re offering. But often, it has nothing to do with the vegetable in question.
Pickiness is often one of a child’s first acts of autonomy. Don’t take it personally—it’s not you, and it’s not your cooking. Your little rebel is showing her first signs of independence (I’ll pause so you can wipe those tears)!
So what does this mean? For one, little bits is growing up!
And second, your kid is pretty darn smart. So smart, in fact, that she may discover that you’re hiding her veggies. She may begin to wonder why you’re hiding veggies. Is there something wrong with them?
Friend, you've just created a negative association with veggies, which may make her less inclined to accept them down the road. It may also make her reject the foods that you use as vehicles for veggie smuggling—ones that used to be her favorites. Finally, the strategy of hiding all the veggies doesn’t give her the full opportunity to experience new flavors and textures—which is key to becoming an adventurous eater.
Now, you may be asking yourself if it’s ever okay to add veggies to sauces, soups, and smoothies. The answer is yes, sort of. But there is a difference between adding vegetables to boost a dish’s nutritional profile and hiding vegetables to avoid drama at the table. If you add veggies to boost nutrition, make sure to frequently offer veggies in plain view as well. And don’t lie about it! If your kid asks why her smoothie is green, tell her it’s the super spinach!
But let’s say you’ve been playing hide the veggie a little too often. There are a few tried and true strategies to help your little muffin eat her greens. No trickery required.
Five Strategies to Turnip the Beet
1. Let Her be the Boss (Within Reason)
You can throw your hands up in frustration when little bits is being picky. Or you can appeal to her growing sense of autonomy.
Seek her input as you’re planning meals. Let her know that you expect her to eat her veggies, but let her decide which ones. You might say: “Lucy, we are having chicken tonight. Would you like broccoli or cauliflower for our vegetable?”
This one little trick has significantly cut down on food-related tantrums in my home.
Be sure to switch up the veggies you offer, as opposed to offering the same two every night. This will ensure that your family is eating a variety of nutrients. It also helps develop your family's palate for veggies.
2. You know what they say about assuming…
Have you ever said, “There’s no way my kid will eat that”…about a food she’s never tried?
I hear this quite often when working with families. Of course, no one knows your kid better than you do. But how many times per day does your little one surprise you?!? Food is an adventure! You’d be AMAZED at some of the things kids love, if you give them the chance.
Serve a small portion, and see what happens.
3. You will eat it, and you will like it.
Parents, I’m referring to YOU. You can’t expect kids to accept foods that you shun. Set a good example. Sit at the table with your kids. Eat your frickin’ veggies. Rave about how delicious they are.
Little eyes are watching.
4. Variety is the spice of life.
For years, I thought I hated Brussels sprouts. I’d only tried boiled Brussels sprouts, which smell like butt and taste even worse (I'd imagine).
I was shocked when I fell in love with Brussels after eating them charred at a restaurant. I’ve since learned that I also enjoy them crunchy in slaws and oven roasted. I didn’t hate Brussels—I hated boiled Brussels.
Say your kiddo detests cooked carrots. Try serving them crunchy next time. Make a salad out of shredded carrots and raisins. If you want to get wild, serve a duo of carrots—two different preparations of carrot on the same plate! Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavor and texture.
5. Let Them Get Their Hands Dirty
Children who garden and cook are more likely to accept a variety of vegetables into the diet. If you have the space, help your little one plant a small veggie garden and let them dig away. My kids like decorate our veggie garden with little toy trucks, dinosaurs, and fairies. But even more than that, they are so proud to harvest our veggies and sample the crops!
No green thumbs in your household? That’s okay! You can also encourage veggie intake by giving kids age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen. Even little ones can pluck stems off of cherry tomatoes or wash cucumbers. It all makes a difference!
6. Patience is a Virtue
Above all, don’t give up. Studies have shown that children may need up to 20 exposures to a food before accepting it into the diet.
Don’t stress out if your little one rejects her peas at dinner. Wait a few days, then offer peas again, right alongside foods that she likes. Over time, she may grow to love them.
Parents, have you ever dealt with veggie hate in your home? What struggles have you had, and how have you handled them? I’d love to know your thoughts!