Cooking for children can be a challenge. A plate of broccoli or asparagus may not get the same praise as chicken nuggets, mac ‘n cheese or ice cream, but it's totally possible to make veggies tolerable for little ones. With a little effort, it may even be possible to turn kids and grandkids into voluntary veggie eaters.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches don't have to be the nightly fare for kids who object to the main meal. It’s possible to make veggies a tolerable — and possibly even a welcome — addition to the daily menu. Help your favorite kiddos develop a fondness for veggies with these easy ideas.
Make Mealtime Fun
Transform healthy meals from a stressful experience to a fun-filled adventure by making vegetable consumption into a game. Track the veggies the kids or grandkids eat on a goal chart, then hand out prizes when it’s complete. Goal ideas include eating one vegetable from each letter of the alphabet, trying 10 new green veggies or sampling at least 5 different colors of veggies. Challenges may be more successful with the older set, and games with the younger.
For toddlers, try some praise — cheer them on each time they try a new vegetable. Don’t be afraid to get a bit silly, such as making up a song about cauliflower or a dance about carrots. Make mealtime fun so young kids don’t join the 27% of American toddlers who often go an entire day without eating a single vegetable.
Tweak Familiar Favorites
Kids are often resistant to change, so surprising them with a new recipe for veggie lasagna or vegan burgers may not be the right approach — especially if they can tell the difference. Rather than reinventing the wheel, try making subtle tweaks to familiar favorites. For example, you can stir finely diced onions or garlic into mashed potatoes, add broccoli or peas to mac and cheese, make cauliflower fried “rice”, top an omelet with fresh salsa or grate raw carrots into that meatloaf.
Hiding veggies in familiar foods can be a fun challenge for the cook, too. Be honest with your little ones, though, and let them know you’ve added some black beans to the brownie batter, mixed spinach into their burrito, or placed zucchini in the banana bread. Feeling tricked is a certain way to face resistance going forward. Make hem a part of the effort and see how creative they can get also.
Encourage Healthy Snacking
Encourage kiddos to fuel up with healthy snacks instead of cookies or gummies. Keep carrot sticks, sliced jicama and bell peppers in resealable containers or bags so kids can grab what they want when they want — being independent has a way of encouraging kids to want to make good choices. Offer flavorful dips, such as ranch dressing (which can be blended with zucchini for more healthy hidden veg) or hummus, for kids to be able to dip their veggies in. In addition to fresh or pureed veggies, kids may also benefit from having easy access to pre-cut fruit. Most of all the idea is to get kids on board with the strategy to make veggies a part of their diet so they don't feel tricked and instead feel challenged and a part of the effort. Gamifying things, adding in challenges, or working together to make things more palatable can make all the difference when you're all on the same side.