Are you a veggie smuggler? Do you puree broccoli and hide it in your child’s favourite pasta sauce? Do you make spinach pass as parsley? Do you sneak grated zucchinis into your chocolate muffins?
Seeing our children eat healthy food is rewarding. If your child refuses to eat most vegetables, it’s tempting to hide them in foods they like. This way, no one gets hurt. They enjoy the food. You enjoy feeding them healthy food.
In Australia, less than 10 per cent of children aged four to eight-years old eat the recommended amount of vegetables (and even less when potato is excluded!).
The problem is that this strategy is flawed. While your kids may eat the hidden vegetables, they are not learning to like them. When we hide veggies, our children don’t experience the taste, the smell, or the texture. They aren’t getting the exposure necessary to develop a liking for those vegetables.
When kids find hidden veggies, they can also feel tricked. This will affect their trust in you and your food! They may start to inspect all dishes rigorously, possibly anxiously, or ask, “What’s in there, Mummy?” It can be hard to keep the secret going and it’s hardly worth it.
Don’t hide the veggies…
For kids to learn to love vegetables and enjoy them for life, they need to become familiar with them. They need to see them, taste them, eat them… every day! This is a gradual process, but every time you offer a vegetable and encourage your child to explore, they are slowly growing into little veggie-lovers.
Here are some tips to stop hiding veggies and get your child to eat them:
- Talk about all the ingredients in dishes as you eat them. If you’ve been hiding vegetables, it’s a great way to tell your child about the veggies they have been eating and enjoying all along.
- Offer vegetables in many different ways. Try them raw, steamed, stir-fried or baked, and try to add them to different recipes. It may be one recipe that helps your child like a new vegetables, for example carrots in muffins, mushrooms in your spaghetti bolognaise, or cauliflower in a cheesy bake. Once they know they like a vegetable one way, they will feel more confident about eating them in other dishes.
- Include your child’s favourite foods alongside the new veggies. Seeing their favourite food will reassure them, and pairing a new flavour with a liked flavour can increase liking for that new food. Try adding new veggies to your child’s favourite dishes, or offer sauces, condiments or dips that your child loves to accompany vegetables, or encourage them to combine foods on their plate.
- Always encourage tasting. If your child doesn’t want to eat more after tasting, it’s okay. Encourage your child to have a small taste every time, as this will help them develop their taste for the new vegetables.
- Get your child involved. Kids love to help. Ask your child to help with shopping, washing, preparing or cooking the veggies. This kind of exposure brings familiarity, so they’ll feel more interested and confident about tasting.
…Celebrate them instead!
Instead of hiding veggies, celebrate them. Talk enthusiastically with your child about everything that makes them interesting, delicious and nutritious.
Vegetables are AMAZING, and there is much we can get excited about – the colours, textures, smell, taste, and health benefits.
Here are some examples to start fun conversations about veggies:
- “The eggplant’s skin is soft, shiny and purple – no other vegetable has a skin like this one”
- “Wow, this pumpkin is gigantic!”
- “Did you see this beautiful bright red capsicum? Doesn’t it look delicious?”
- “Feel this mushroom, it’s all smushy, like a pillow!”
- “This carrot smells so sweet, like honey!”
- “This broccoli came all the way from Mexico”.
- “Isn’t this a funny parsnip – it looks like it has a nose!”