As parents we want our kids to eat healthy – and that means eating veggies, right?
But what if your kid refuses to touch vegetables? Should you sneak veggies into your kids’ food?
Have you ever talked to a parent who said, “my goodness, my child just LOVES her vegetables! Beets, collards, turnips, anything green- you name it and she just licks up every last bite. Asks for seconds, thirds even. If only I could get her to try a cupcake!”
Maybe they’re out there…but I haven’t met one yet. (Or maybe they’re not telling the *whole* truth.)
The most common response I get when talking to other parents about their kids eating veggies? It’s an eye roll, hands up in the air, a shrug, and possibly a snort.
So what do we do?
Vegetables for picky eaters
Vegetables for kids can be notoriously tricky. And vegetables for picky eaters can be even tougher.
I can tell my son, “eat your green beans, please,” until I’m blue in the face. But that just doesn’t work. Asking politely, bribing, or forcing them to take bites usually doesn’t work. And we probably all know that from experience by now!
Do we hide veggies in our kids’ food?
A lot of us resort to sneaking veggies in wherever we can- and this is totally understandable. Spinach in smoothies, butternut squash in mac and cheese, zucchini grated into homemade muffins.
But is sneaking veggies into our kids’ food the right thing to do?
I’ve heard moms say that they feel deceptive, or like they’re “tricking” their kids. Others feel like there’s nothing wrong with wanting their kids to be healthy, and they’ll do whatever necessary to get there.
I want to invite you to view it from a different angle.
And I also want to give you some creative ideas for ways that you can weave veggies in! Not in a way that is deceitful, of course. What do you say?
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Vegetables are just ingredients
We would do better by our kids if we stop looking at veggies as things that needs to be hidden.
Vegetables are foods, just like fruit, pasta, and chicken nuggets. They have unique flavors and textures.
We can add them to our recipes and our meals not only because they are healthy, but because they are ingredients that contribute to the dish.
I love to add avocado and a spoon of frozen riced cauliflower to smoothies because they add creaminess. Do they add nutrients, too? Of course!
But we don’t have to feel like we’re sneaking those foods in. They’re just part of the smoothie recipe. It’s the same way that the milk and the berries are just other ingredients in the recipe.
I know it’s not quite as simple as I’ve made it sound so far.
Vegetables have different flavors and textures that aren’t always as easy to like as, say, fruit. But with time and exposure, kids can and do learn to like them!
I do recommend starting young with vegetables. Babies’ curiosity makes them more adventurous, and they will be more willing to try a vegetable than your older kid.
There are safe ways to offer vegetables from a baby-led weaning approach, but you can totally also use purees too. I love this immersion blender for pureeing steamed veggies for babies. I personally think it works better than a baby food maker, and you can use it for many things beyond babyhood too!
A combined approach to vegetables for kids
It doesn’t have to be black and white.
You don’t have to choose between sneaking veggies or plating your kid a full side salad every day. It can be more of a both/and approach.
It is important to present veggies on their own to allow your kids to become more comfortable with them over time.
If they only experience veggies hidden in other dishes, they miss the opportunity to learn what that individual vegetable tastes, feels, and smells like.
You want them to learn the crunch of a snap pea, and discover that there are tiny peas hidden inside.
We don’t want our kids to be worried that we’re being sneaky with their food. Some picky eaters are especially sensitive to this and it can be more off-putting to them. If you have a kid who has more emotional reactions to new or unliked foods, you understand.
We’re trying to take steps forward here, not backward! So we don’t want to lose their trust with too much sneakiness that puts them on edge.
But it’s also important to show our kids all of the ways we incorporate vegetables into our diet, just like we do with other types of foods.
What to say when you talk about veggies to kids
I don’t recommend lying to your kids about what is in their food.
They may decide they don’t want to eat that meatloaf because “ewww there’s celery in there!” That’s okay. They can decide they don’t want to eat it.
(Even after you spent an hour on Pinterest looking for the perfect recipe, another hour at the grocery store over the weekend, and another hour cooking the dang meal!)
We’re not forcing them to try anything. And we’re also not making comments like, “ugh Brussels sprouts are disgusting, I don’t know how your dad eats them!”
Sometimes we add veggies to our dishes, like diced onion and mushrooms in our ground beef, and sometimes we eat them on their own, simply steamed or prepared as a salad. When we “hide” them in a dish, it’s not sneaky, it’s just part of the recipe!
Best vegetable recipes for picky eaters
I want to expand on some easy ideas for recipes for toddlers and kids who hate vegetables. The goal is never to trick them or force them into eating something they hate. There are ways to add vegetables to foods that are less noticeable, and maybe even add to the enjoyment of dishes!
Often the best veggies for kids are the ones that don’t have super potent flavor profiles. It’s often the bitter flavor of vegetables that kids don’t like.
Crunchy and sweet vegetables
You know how some veggies have a natural sweetness and less strong of a flavor? Those are the ones we want to focus on.
Try raw carrots (sliced thinly for young kids), red bell pepper slices, snap peas, and jicama.
I offer these veggies on a snack tray with a dip like hummus or ranch dressing. If the vegetables start as a vehicle to get the dip to their mouth- that’s okay! That’s positive exposure.
You can also offer them alongside well-liked foods like crackers or bread so that they can be seen as just another dipping option!
If fresh, raw veggies on a tray are not in the cards for your kids yet, that’s okay! You can still pop certain fresh veggies into smoothies like I mentioned above.
Veggies in smoothies
Spinach has a super mild flavor when blended up in a berry smoothie, avocado plays well with chocolate, and zucchini actually works really well, too! Try this chocolate smoothie with zucchini recipe. And here is my post with 6 smoothie ideas that incorporate healthy ingredients- you’ll even find one with kale it in! I promise it’s delicious!!
Mixing veggies into other foods
Here are some of my favorite ways to incorporate veggies into sweeter tasting foods!
You can also add veggies into pasta several different ways!
Are they just TOO picky?
If you’re constantly battling one picky eating tendency after the next, check out my free picky eater starter guide here.
I also have a more in-depth course called Simple Steps to Picky Wins that I created to reverse picky eating! If you’re feeling stuck with your picky eater, I feel really passionate about the help you’ll get in this course. I merged my education and expertise on nutrition with my first-hand experience of extreme picky eating with my own kids. Every week I hear wins from parents who are taking the course — it really does make a difference!
You can also see my recommendations for picky eater meal and snack gear here! It includes tools that can get picky eaters more interested in trying the foods on their plates!
Supplements for picky eaters who won’t eat vegetables
If your kid doesn’t eat veggies, do they need a multivitamin?
They might! It depends. If they eat multiple fruit servings a day, they are likely meeting their needs for the vitamins and minerals that they’d also get from vegetables. So if that sounds like your kid, they wouldn’t necessarily need a multivitamin.
I did a deep dive into multivitamins here. Check it out if you’re curious if a vitamin/supplement is right for your child. And if you land on wanting to try one, here’s a collection of some of my favorite vitamins and supplements.
Bottom Line on Vegetables
Yes, they’re important. Yes, they’re nutritious. And yes, in a perfect world, we want our kids eating veggies regularly!
BUT, it’s not something I want you to lose sleep over. It’s exceedingly common for nearly all kids to go through stages where they won’t even touch something green.
Fruit truly has the same vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that veggies do. So while you shouldn’t completely give up on veggies, they won’t necessarily have deficiencies by skipping out on veggies.
Do you find that you’re constantly scratching your head for ways you can put healthy, easy, kid-friendly meals on the table? Check out my Meal and Snack Survival Guide. It simplifies the huge job of feeding kids!