Feel like you’ve tried just about everything with your vegie-dodger? Time for a little health by stealth! Dietitian Brooke Longfield shares 10 tips to sneak vegies into every meal.
Feeding fussy eaters (big or small) can be frustrating, especially when we all know how full of goodness vegetables are. Studies show it can take up to 15—20 tastes for your child to appreciate a new flavour — so as challenging as it is, the key is persistence. And with these crafty creations, your kids might learn to love vegies, without even realising they’re eating them. Now that’s a feat mums and dads would be happy to embrace.
1. Drink your greens
Kids love smoothies, especially as a snack between meals. Start with two or three fruits (such as pear, banana or pineapple) and add a handful of spinach or half an avocado, then blend with water and ice. The result is a vibrant green drink with a sweet, fruity flavour and only the merest hint of the veg. Plus, because it’s not juicing, you retain that all-important fibre.
2. Purée power
This is such a clever trick that even adults couldn’t tell that puréed vegies were added to their meals in a 2012 US study. Tomato pasta sauce is a great vehicle for extra puréed vegies, such as carrots, zucchini or capsicum – and you don’t lose any fibre.
3. Dip and dunk
Little hands love little food, and vegies come in a range of small shapes and sizes. Snow peas, cherry tomatoes and baby carrots are bite-sized and perfect for dunking into dips like hoummos, yoghurt or salsa. Even if kids favour crackers for dunking, you can offer vegie-based dips like colourful guacamole or beetroot dips. Kids can enjoy this snack on the go — maybe on a car journey or as a surprise in their school lunch box.
4. Reinvent the wheel
We all have family favourites, whether it’s mac ‘n’ cheese, spag bol or meatloaf. Try gradually increasing the vegie content of tried and loved recipes, and see whether anyone notices the difference. Add canned lentils or finely chopped mushrooms to a bolognaise sauce, or mix grated carrot into your meatloaf. Hide cauliflower florets in mac ‘n’ cheese or make the creamy sauce with a little puréed pumpkin. You might even find that these improvised meals become your kids’ firm favourites.
5. Skewer it
Kids love things on sticks (skewers) so experiment with different meat, cheese and vegie combinations. Try grilled chicken kebabs with zucchini and capsicum, or raw vegie sticks with baby bocconcini, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. These are perfect for lunch boxes and after-school snacks, just be sure to use thicker, plastic skewers that aren’t as sharp as wooden ones.
6. Sweet bites
Don’t stop at savoury meals, why not sneak some extra veg into your baked goods, too? Puréed sweet potato and pumpkin are the perfect additions to cakes or brownies, as they increase fibre, while keeping them moist and fudgy. Find delicious recipes like Sweet potato brownies and Beetroot blitz chocolate cake.
7. Oodles of noodles
It’s surprising how something as simple as ribbons or twirls of vegie noodles can make an ordinary vegetable seem so much more interesting. Spiralizers are inexpensive kitchen appliances that create noodle-like strands of zucchini, carrot or pumpkin to toss through pasta and sauce. And the best part? Everyone from toddlers to teens will love them!
8. Break the fast
Why not get some veg into the first meal of the day? Try adding finely grated broccoli or cauliflower to scrambled eggs. It won’t change the texture of the eggs and if you don’t overcook the vegies, the taste will be minimal. For another tasty and nutritious breakfast idea, use up leftover roast potato and pumpkin in an omelette or frittata.
9. Little helpers
Create enjoyable food experiences by taking kids to the supermarket and letting them pick some vegies they like the look of. Then get them involved in the kitchen, too, from rinsing vegies to peeling or grating them. Even consider planting a vegetable garden together — studies show that kids who grow vegies are four times more likely to put salad on their plates.
10. Fun and names
Even something as simple as calling vegetables funny names like Baby Trees or X-ray Vision Carrots can convince kids to eat them, according to a study run by leading food psychology professor Brian Wansink. It’s important to talk to kids about why they need to eat vegetables. Simply saying ‘they’re good for you’ isn’t enough. Give them specific examples, such as ‘spinach gives you lots of energy to play’ and ‘sweet potato helps you fight colds’.