For several years, our family [well, the kids and I] suffered from dinnertime trauma. Yes… I said trauma. Well, that’s a strong word, so let’s just say tears, tantrums, and meltdowns. It ALL revolved around vegetables!
But there IS an answer — a good one — so stick around, and I’ll even throw in some amazing recipes your kids will love!!
How to get kids to eat vegetables is an age-old dilemma.
I had THREE kids who wouldn’t touch vegetables, and one kid who would eat vegetables of almost any kind — she’d at least TRY everything. Combine that with me, the cook, who grew up eating every veggie from A-Z [artichokes to zucchini].
That’s a conflict for sure! I LOVE vegetables, and was terribly deprived in the early years of raising my four kids. I didn’t know there was an alternative to this daily battle.
There was even one kid who would sit at the dinner counter for two hours after everyone was done eating just to avoid eating the two green beans I’d asked her to eat. How’s that for stubborn? That experience created green bean trauma into adulthood, so I don’t recommend it. 😉
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Getting kids to eat vegetables [the sneaky way]
One day I saw a morning TV program (one of those Good Morning America types) … can’t remember which one. They were talking about how to get kids to eat vegetables, and one mom had a genius idea. I had never thought of doing this.
Like so many of us, this mom was sick of the mealtime drama. Armed with a good-quality food processor and a produce drawer full of veggies, she began experimenting. First, she’d steam the veggies to get them cooked through and soft.
**This step is super important!! To transform your kids into veggie eaters using this method, they must be thoroughly cooked and soft. [Not the kids… the veggies.]
Then, she’d puree the hell out of them in her handy dandy food processor and add them to EVERYTHING! The woman was a regular kitchen Einstein.
So, I sped to my nearest Target and grabbed a sturdy food processor and our dinnertime drama hour began to dissolve that very night! At first, I timidly added only pureed zucchini to the spaghetti sauce. I held my breath as the picky ones took their first bites.
Whew! All clear… NO ONE could tell there was something green in their spaghetti. SCORE!
Over time, I became a puree ninja. My kids were eating vegetables without fussing OR sitting long hours after dinner staring at two green beans.
How do you get kids to eat veggies? [Ninja tips you must know]
Here are the hard and fast rules of the kid-vegetable truce:
- NEVER tell them that you’ve added vegetables. As soon as you do, they will spot every infinitesimal speck of suspicion in every food they eat. Even if it’s imagined. You’ll be right back at square one!
- Trust me on that above tip. Just the words, “See? You can’t even taste it”, will end the victory of getting your kids to eat vegetables in any form.
- Start out slowly. Add mild-tasting veggies like zucchini or cauliflower to sauces and chili etc. in small portions.
- The veggies must be steamed soft and processed to baby food proportions if you want this to work.
- A blender won’t do… unless it’s a Vitamix or something. This food processor has been my hero for several years!
- Did I mention — DON’T tell your kids [or husband, if he’s the picky one!]. They will stop eating your food even if they’ve happily eaten everything you’ve made for weeks. Imagination is pretty powerful. And all of them will suddenly “taste everything”.
Vegetables for picky eaters and adults
Here are my top suggestions for mild and sneaky vegetables that can be added to many foods [even brownies!] undetected.
- Zucchini and yellow squash
- Butternut squash
- Radishes [did you know that if you thoroughly boil/roast radishes, they have an extremely neutral flavor?!]
- Beats [to avoid the tell-tale pink/red color, buy the yellow beats, peel, boil until soft… tastes like amazing carrots!]
Did I mention brownies earlier?? Why yes, I did. Steamed pureed spinach can be added to a brownie mix and consumed undetected.
For an added health bonus, make your brownie batter with egg whites and mostly apple sauce (with maybe a quarter of the oil that’s called for) along with the spinach puree, and you’ll eat them guilt-free!
If you need more.. ahem… regularity, add a couple jars of prune baby food for good measure. No one will ever know!
Consequences of not eating vegetables
And if that’s true… how do you think our kids are faring? Well, it’s exactly the same, just put into a different number formula. Nine out of every ten children isn’t getting enough vegetables. And by “enough”, that sometimes means zero!
The risks of not eating enough vegetables [and fruits]
- Increased obesity because primary foods that ARE eaten are full of calories and lacking in nutrition.
- Increased diabetes due to unregulated blood sugar and overeating foods that are high on the glycemic scale.
- Gastrointestinal issues can arise… such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and more.
- We miss out on heart-healthy benefits of vegetables such as better blood pressure, lower heart disease, and healthy cholesterol levels.
- We especially miss out on the cancer-fighting benefits of vegetables (and fruits if they’re also lacking).
Ways to encourage healthy eating for our kids
Besides sneaking in much-needed vegetables [and fruits, if needed] by adding them as puree into meals, there are ways to make vegetables more appealing overall
Ongoing studies are being done in schools and early education settings to see if the types of entrees served with vegetables at lunchtime makes any difference. The answer is a resounding “YES!”.
Researchers at Texas A&M University have been hard at work observing children’s eating patterns in schools. They’ve found that if burgers and tater tots [substitute any kid-typical food here] are served with veggies, they go completely untouched.
However, if less kid-crazed foods are served, such as baked potatoes or baked chicken etc., the vegetables became more appealing. Very interesting.
Leaving off the mac and cheese, hot dogs, burritos, and burgers made a huge impact on kids eating vegetables or not.
Guess what? We can try this at home also!
I don’t suggest making radical changes and never serving their favorite foods, but why not try an “appetizer” of celery sticks with peanut butter and a sprinkling of raisins, snap peas, raw carrots, and low-fat ranch dip when the kids are hungriest?
Throw in a little bowl of garlic hummus and see what happens? Carrots dipped in hummus is one of God’s gifts to the earth.
You can also try exactly what the researchers did. Serve less appealing [i.e. adult food rather than kid food] main dishes or entrees to entice more green stuff. Maybe start with a “salad bar” where everyone gets to sprinkle colorful things on their lettuce.
And now the part you’ve been waiting for…
Hidden vegetable recipes for picky eaters
Okay, let’s get down to business. Here are recipes that can be altered for easily adding vegetable purees virtually undetected. Feel free to modify your own favorite family recipes as you get the hang of things! Be creative.
These meal ideas won’t be written in typical recipe style, but I promise I’ll tell you exactly what I put in them so you can duplicate it at home.
Meatloaf with pureed zucchini
I use very basic ingredients for meatloaf. You can use your favorite family recipe, and add the zucchini puree to it as well. My meatloaf contains a large portion of ground beef (1.5-2lbs), garlic salt, pepper, and paprika.
I often add a dash of steak sauce for flavor. Sometimes I throw in 1/4 cup of grated or cubed cheddar, and I always include an egg for binding.
To this mixture, I add 1/2 cup of cooked and pureed zucchini and mix thoroughly. Cook at 375 for about 45 minutes ** making extra sure the internal temperature reads 160 degrees!
Macaroni and cheese with pureed butternut squash [or cauliflower]
Cook one box [or more for a big family] of your favorite pasta. I normally use elbow macaroni, but shells or bowties can be fun too.
While that’s cooking, mix up a white sauce on the stove. My typical white sauce is 2Tbs of butter (can use olive oil), 3 Tbs of flour, and 2 cups of milk (or a little more if sauce gets really thick).
Melt butter in the pan, mix in flour with a whisk keeping heat on medium-low and cook flour for a minute in the butter. Whisk in enough milk (keeping that whisk really moving!) to make a paste and then whisk in the rest of the milk.
Make sure to whisk continuously with this step so flour lumps won’t form. Whisk slowly every few minutes while cooking the mixture over medium heat until thick and bubbly.
Add 1.5 cups of low-fat shredded cheese of choice, 1/3 cup of low-fat cream cheese, and 1/2 cup vegetable puree to the sauce and stir until smooth. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, pour over pasta, and be amazed!
Transformed burgers and meatballs
Take your basic favorite ground meat mixture [I’d recommend 1-1.5 lbs to accommodate the veggie pure without being too moist] you’d normally use for burgers.
Add some salt and pepper, a dash of steak sauce, and 1/2 cup of zucchini or cauliflower puree [substitute carrot, yellow squash, spinach, or mushroom puree if you’d like] and mix well.
If you’d prefer less moisture, add 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. Make patties and cook as you normally would. Make sure the internal temp reaches 160 degrees.
Use this same method for your favorite meatball recipe. Just form your meat mixture into even-sized balls and bake in the oven or in a small amount of oil on the stove until brown and the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.
Simple noodles with butter and Parmesan
Cook one box of pasta of your choice. Penne, egg noodles, elbows… whatever your kids like most. Drain the pasta and add 1/4 cup of milk, salt and pepper, 2 Tbs of butter, 1/2 cup very creamy yellow squash puree, and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Mix well, and see what they think.
Adding spinach to brownies
If you have a favorite homemade brownie recipe, add 1/2 cup pureed spinach and bake as you normally would. If you’d like more chocolate flavor protection against any possible spinach detection, add an additional Tbs. of cocoa to your mixture. Cool completely, and the spinach taste disappears.
Otherwise, for quick brownies, use a box mix of choice and add in 1/2 cup of pureed spinach while decreasing the liquid just a little bit to allow for the extra puree moisture. Add in a Tbs or 2 more liquid if mixture seems too dry.
You can also substitute applesauce for part of the oil that’s called for… as well as egg whites instead of whole eggs. Don’t be afraid to experiment and come up with your very own healthy brownies that taste amazing!
For more excellent recipe ideas try:
Healthy Easy Breakfast Smoothies **Another great way to sneak in healthy fruits and veggies!!
How to get kids to eat vegetables…
I hope this has been an eye-opening and encouraging article for how to get your kids to eat more veggies. I know this puree trick was a life-saver when my kids were little and I couldn’t get them to eat anything healthy. It will work for you too!
Your mealtimes don’t have to be a battle anymore.
Now that you have some tricks up your sleeve … go forth and add veggies liberally to the foods you normally cook. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a veggie ninja cook too.
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