Children and the Vegetable Challenge

There is no food group that is more likely to cause a child to push away his plate than vegetables. They are the food that parents most commonly struggle with getting their child to eat.

All babies are born with a sweet tooth; they prefer sweet foods because breast milk, the food they are naturally inclined to like, is sweet. Most vegetables are not known for being sweet, however most babies eat vegetables fairly easily when they start solid foods. Many parents find that the trouble with vegetables starts a little later in life, generally in the toddler years. Unfortunately, it can carry over well past toddlerhood and become a battleground for many years to come.

Serving Vegetables Kids Like

A big part of the reason kids won’t eat vegetables is that they either don’t look very appetizing or are cooked poorly, leaving them limp and flavorless. Many vegetables already tend towards a bitter taste, which doesn’t go over well with young kids, and overcooking them can make it worse. Vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and spinach are all likely to become bitter and unappetizing when overcooked, and they can be very hard to get kids to eat.

To avoid overcooking vegetables, try steaming them rather than boiling or microwaving. Not only will you preserve all the nutrients, but your vegetables will come out with beautiful color and a far less bitter taste. Even so, the right cooking method probably isn’t enough to get your kids to even try them to find out if they like them.

Add flavor to vegetables with sauces, dips and glazes for a taste your kids are much more likely to enjoy. Broccoli and cauliflower work beautifully with cheese sauces. Carrots can be easily glazed with a little honey. Creamy garlic sauce is a friend to green beans. Raw veggies served with a tasty dip are a great way to get older kids to dig in, and the cooking process hasn’t had a chance to affect the flavor or texture.

Hiding Vegetables

There are all kinds of recipes, even entire recipe books, out there aimed at teaching you how to hide vegetables. Some use a system of purees that you can hide in all kinds of foods.

Hiding vegetables isn’t the best way to teach your child healthy eating habits, but as long as you continue to offer the whole veggies, there is nothing wrong with a little creative cooking to ensure your child’s good nutrition isn’t being lost to picky eating.

Some vegetables are easy enough to hide in plain sight; you can mix mashed cauliflower in with mashed potatoes, for instance, and most kids will never know. The average kid won’t recognize the chunks in his pasta sauce as carrots, or the little green strips as spinach. But some are a little trickier. Finely diced vegetables can be easily added to meatballs, and your kids will never even see them.

Even if you choose to hide vegetables in your child’s food, remember to keep offering them; it’s important to their future healthy eating habits that they learn to give vegetables a try on their own. Hiding them while taking them off the menu in more obvious ways will make you child believe you no longer care if she eats them, which can lead her to believe it’s ok to skip them altogether. Hiding vegetables works for the short-term but doesn’t do much for long-term success.

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