As a vegan mother of two, I often get asked by other mothers how I get my kids to eat so many veggies. Yes, my children, from infancy, have eaten vegetables and I’m sure that helps. However, of my two children, one will eat any vegetable I throw her way and the other is a “picky” eater. Perhaps for some, my 2-year-old wouldn’t qualify as picky, but as vegans when all his vegetables consist of broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, celery, carrots, peas, corn, and beans, I tend to worry that he might not be getting a sufficient supply of nutrients for his little body.
Here are a few of our family’s tricks to help get some of the less tasty veggies down.
Our first trick, which seems the most simple, is to change the way you cook your vegetables. For example, I used to buy fresh broccoli and cauliflower, sauteed and seasoned perfectly. Something about the way the veggies were cooked just didn’t work for my kids. Then, at my parents’ house a few years ago, they served a frozen bag of broccoli and cauliflower straight out of the microwave and my daughter devoured it! I can only attribute it to the change in texture, that the vegetables were softer and easier for her to chew. Another time heat and texture play a big difference is when you serve raw vegetables. Carrots, celery and bell peppers my children prefer raw and with hummus. I’m not sure if it’s the crisp snap they get when they crunch down on a carrot, but they will fight over the bag and clean out a tub of hummus!
Another trick we use is to hide the veggies my kids won’t eat plain into other foods. If your child is very picky, then this method might work well for you. Smoothies are a great food to hide spinach, collard greens, kale, other leafy greens, beets, and celery in. If you think it still tastes a little strong, try to change the proportions or add a little sweetener like dates or agave. I think most kids love pasta, so here you can also hide a lot of veg! Before you heat up your sauce, throw it in the blender with anything from carrots, peppers, beets, beans, mushrooms and zucchini. If you ever want to try out a little tofu, it blends perfectly into alfredo sauce. Sometimes the consistency of foods will deter a child, but who can resist fresh-baked brownies? Brownies are a perfect place to hide black beans, avocado and beets! Kids love to help bake, so after a few times they have sampled black bean brownies, let them help bake and add in the beans and tell them it’s the special ingredient in their brownies that make them so tasty. Next time they see black beans on their plate they will remember they help make brownies tasty and will hopefully give them a try!
One of our favorite recipes is chick’n nuggets. Obviously, we don’t eat chicken nuggets so we modify this classic with blended chickpeas, oats, salt, paprika and bake them in the oven. Do they taste like chicken? I honestly don’t remember, but they do taste delicious! When you’re at the grocery store, try to substitute your regular pasta noodles with some of the noodles made from vegetables! You’ll be surprised how great they taste and get a serving of veggies in as well. Some other kid-friendly recipes we use to sneak in vegetables are pancakes, mac and cheese, homemade ice cream and sorbet, muffins, pizza, juice and rice sprinkled with quinoa.
Gardening is another great method to help kids try new foods! Our children love the process of picking out their seeds, planting and caring for their sprouts. When the fruit begins to grow, they get a sense of pride knowing that they helped this little plant grow and may be more willing to try it. A few plants to try and garden would be tomatoes, strawberries, cucumbers, bell peppers, blueberries, squash, and lettuces. It takes lots of time and exposure to vegetables for many kids before they begin to want to eat them.
Good luck and go green!