Family Eating: Getting Kids to Eat Their Veggies


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

This is the second in a series about eating healthy as a family and the challenges that can come along with it. Click here to read the first blog entry in this series.

Getting kids to eat vegetables can be tricky, especially if it's not always been part of the mealtime routine. My 2-year old has always been served with veggies at lunch and dinner, and usually eats at least some, even if she doesn't finish them. Lucky for me she has yet to realize that everyone's grilled cheese doesn't always come with broccoli on the side. My mom raises her eyebrows at some of the veggies my daughter eats that she never served when I was growing up- like butternut squash and edamame, for example. But it's great that even at this young age, my daughter is learning about a wide variety of foods that can be tasty and healthy at the same time.

Having trouble getting your kids to eat their veggies? One strategy might be to give them cool names. In a new study, 4-year olds were given regular carrots for lunch. Then on other days they were given the same carrots, but they were called "X-Ray Vision Carrots". They ate twice as many carrots on the days when the food had a cool name. Researchers say it makes food more fun for kids and then they continue eating more, even after parents stop using the names.

I know some parents who "sneak" veggies into their children's food by adding purees to spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, or other main dishes where they might not be expected. I have Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook "Deceptively Delicious" and have made a number of good recipes from it. I don't necessarily use it to sneak veggies into my family's meals, but rather just to cook things that are a little healthier.

How do you feel about sneaking veggies into your kids' diet? Do you think it's better to be upfront with what they are eating in the hopes they will learn to enjoy it? Or is that sometimes the only way you can get them to eat vegetables, so it's better than nothing?

Do you have any good strategies for getting your kids to eat vegetables? Any good recipes you'd like to share?

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    I think it is strange that there is controversy about "sneaking" veggies in kids food. Wouldn't we all be better off if we just normally cook with more veggies in our food? I like to puree winter squash and use it in place of 1/2 the oil in most of my baked goods, I think it's just good practice. That said, I also serve veggies as main or side dishes as well, the more it is served the more it will become part of your (and your children's) regular diet. - 12/7/2010   1:50:34 AM
    I think sneaking vegetables into food is okay, but is ideally not a stand-alone strategy. Keeping junk food out of the house helps because it all the available choices are healthy choices, then kids (and grown ups, too) will get more nutrients and form healthy habits. - 3/2/2010   2:17:02 PM
    Spagehtti is a great way to add veggies...just puree those mushrooms, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, or other left overs and add to the sauce...pureed kidney beans for added protein and fiber too. Kids will never know and enjoy the delicious sauce...just remember the garlic and oregano or basil! - 1/27/2010   10:04:22 PM
  • 82
    We grow a lot of our own veggies and the kids help so once they put all the hard work into growing them they LOVE to eat the finished product! - 11/12/2009   10:41:20 AM
    I'm single... no kids but read the article because I'm challenged in eating vegetables. Not because I dislike them but just don't make the effort to fit them in. My fav vegetables are Brussel sprouts and asparagus. I sneak veggies in by choosing items such as spinich, artichoke lean pocket sandwiches. - 10/2/2009   9:24:48 AM
  • 80
    I'm the one who didn't take veggies and only started taking certain kind of veggies only in the past 2 or 3 years...! Now, since being on SP, I have been 'forcing' myself to take more veggies and fruits, so have been cooking veggies which I like, so its easier down the throat! Haha...

    My daughter used to take when she was younger... but as she started going into childcare, many kids didn't like veggies, and somehow, she learnt to follow suit. She is now 7 years old, and still 'hates' veggies... but I tell her it's good for her complexion, no pimples, etc... and she may eat a little bit... but if she is in a good mood, she will just gobble up her meal! - 5/17/2009   10:45:57 PM
  • BONDGIRL2010
    I am all for sneaking in food if you need to. My brother was very picky as a kid so my mom used to mix in jarred baby food veggies & he never knew would probably be better/cheaper just to puree some veggies yourself & mix them in but it was the 70's so I guess she was ahead of herself.
    Luckily my kids love love love veggies. Probably becuase I have fed them to them from the start & I never acted like I wasn't sure they would like them--I always acted like they were going to love them & they did (do). My 2yr olds favorite veggies are "pickles" which are plain old cucumber slices & "moons" which are celery slices. And any kind of berry...they are all booberries to him he doesn't care what they are called he just wants to eat them! - 4/30/2009   12:28:13 PM
    It's about teaching kids to EAT vegetables, not neccessarily to LIKE vegetables. If hiding them in something teaches them to eat something they otherwise wouldn't- that's fine with me. Yes, I would prefer they like it, but we don't all like everything but we can learn to eat it. - 4/6/2009   1:04:32 PM
    My daughter is 7 and is very picky when it comes to veggies. She will eat Green Beans from a can but not fresh. She will eat corn on the cob but not from a can. I have found that I have to get better at finding a way to serve them by sneaking. Jessica Seinfeld's cookbook "Deceptively Delicious" is great! I have pureed a lot of things and served them in brownies, smoothies, speghetti sauce, etc. She doesn't even know! I need to get better at this of course but we are getting on the right track. - 3/26/2009   2:21:24 PM
  • 76
    No problem wiht veggies and my kids. They love them, cukes, carrots, celery, green peppers. This summer while in the garden, I couldn't see my daughter, 4. When we called to her and asked where she was she was sitting in the garden eating green beans fresh off the plant. I couldn't see her because she was on the other side of the corn. They are the same with fruit also. - 3/24/2009   2:18:11 AM
  • 75
    My kids willingly eat vegetables. My husband doesn't. In the very beginning though I made the twins' babyfood at home so they had a wide variety of veggies and I always slipped veggies in to other foods (chopped spinach in scrambled eggs or spaghetti sauce and chopped broccoli in grilled cheese sandwiches). They're 4 now and still love veggies even though my husband refuses to even give them to the kids. Sometimes I just wish I could finish a salad without sharing but I guess I should be proud of them (and myself. I was never offered salad as a child!) - 3/23/2009   9:31:01 PM
  • 74
    I have three kids. One is a bit picky, one is not and the other is too young to tell. Since the kids see me eating more fruits and veggies they eat more of them. My middle child is the one who is picky and I think for her it is visual more than taste. One time she will eat cooked tomatoes and the next time she says she doesn't like them. I have hidden veggies on her. Our favorite is brownies with carrot and spinach puree. They love them. I think she is slowly coming around, though. I will keep being creative. Anything to get another serving or two of veggies. - 3/23/2009   4:00:13 PM
    We typically have a "one bite" rule with my son. I do not make him try all vegetables, but, the ones that are most commonly around. Broccoli, califlower, green beans, spinach, lettuce, corn. This approach, has been really to introduce him to different textures of food and flavors. I figure, if I at least make him sample the vegetables, then eventually, he may develop an appreciation for vegetables. We do have nicknames for some vegetables, like broccoli is called "trees". He has gotten better are trying the vegetables and does not complain near as much as in the beginning! - 3/23/2009   3:16:01 PM
  • 72
    I have never forced my kids to eat something that they didn't want to. Even if it was just one bite. My mother never made us eat something that we didn't want to either. Just the way I was raised. But I love fruits and veggies of all kinds. And even eat some of the ones that my parents never really cared for. I noticed as I got older that my tastes have changed and I like things now that I couldn't stand as a child.

    However, I have two teens that love fruits and veggies. My daughter is 15 and comes home from school wanting a snack and will open up a can of asparagus, green beans or kidney beans and eat that instead of chips and cookies. She loves all fruits and veggies. My son is a lot pickier at the age of 19 but still loves broccoli, brussel sprouts, and corn for his favorites. But told me the recently that he is ready to start trying new foods. Neither of my kids are big junk food eaters.

    And to the poster who said McDonald's idea of a veggie is a peice of lettuce on a Quarter Pounder. The last time I went there I noticed all sorts of salads including a fruit and walnut salad. And even the happy meals for the kids offer fruits instead of just fries now. So you can eat out and still eat healthy. - 3/23/2009   11:25:13 AM
    My 12 year old son would rather eat vegetables than meat. His favorite pizza is spinach alfredo. He never drank soda of any kind until about two years ago and even so, would rather have lemonade now.
    The only trouble he gives me about vegetables is that he only will eat potatoes the unhealthy way (french fries, tater tots, etc.). So instead, I usually serve baked squash or sweet potato (no sugar/marshmallows). I can live with that!
    - 3/22/2009   10:17:28 PM
  • 70
    My oldest, now 13.5yrs still struggles with veges. Well, actually, it's her parents who struggle to get her to eat them. She is happy to NOT eat them!
    So, I make lasanga with pureed veg with the mince & she dosn't know any the wiser..he he!! - 3/22/2009   8:01:48 PM
  • 69
    I have a toddler who will eat vegetables and fruits without having them disguised, but I still try to make them even more fun for him by cutting them into cool shapes when possible (pear triangles, cucumber half-moons, carrot rods, etc.) Also, since he loves animals, we talk about what animals would eat the food that he is eating (we do this with all of his food, though). That way we're reinforcing his interests as well as reinforcing good eating habits. Silly, I know, but it works for us! - 3/22/2009   8:00:58 PM
  • 68
    My mom made us an apple pie once that used Zucchini instead of apples. Everyone loved it and only I found out her secret! What a great memory that is and we laugh about it all the time! I am all for hiding the good stuff in recipes. I think there should be a little bit of both visible & Hidden nutrients so that our kids know what Veggies are! We sometime make silly sandwiches... food should be fun. As an adult I enjoy when food looks beautiful on my plate! Why shouldn't it look fun on a kids plate? As long as most of it ends up in the tummy! - 3/22/2009   4:15:47 PM
  • 67
    i don't have kids. but my sister had her 7 and 2 year old eating all types of vegetables. i don't know how she did it but they eat it without being told to. - 3/22/2009   3:32:07 PM
    I always required my kids to eat two bites of whatever was put on their plates. If something truly grossed them out, I didn't make them eat it again but the word "yuck" was never allowed. Both of them have turned out far more adventurous about food than I am. My pediatrician wanted me to start them on veggies before fruit. He said that they needed to develop a taste for veggies and that sweet fruits would be natural. It must have worked.

    I still remember my first daughter helping me cook at only 18 months old. She would stand in a chair at the table and rip up lettuce and green onions into bowls to make salads. - 3/22/2009   3:24:08 PM
  • 65
    I had given up long before my son went into the military for training.........when he returned I was totally surprised that he ate and LIKED some veggies he would never try at home........go figure - 3/22/2009   2:23:54 PM
  • 64
    I've noticed that a lot of veggies that I used to have to dip in dressing or disguise in a sauce, I now like plain. A mixture of hidden veggies, being offered veggies, and trying new ways of eating veggies helped me! - 3/22/2009   12:20:41 PM
  • 63
    I think a large part of the problem is that parents introduce their youngsters to McDonalds when they should be introducing them to their kitchens. Sneaking in vegetables (or calling them something other than what they are) then becomes a remedial tactic necessary to compensate for bad habits that shouldn't have been introduced in the first place.

    All of my kids are now adults and they ate veggies as kids and they still do as adults. They are all very good cooks too. That's not to say that we don't all enjoy going out to eat once in a while, but when we do we sure aren't going to blow the opportunity by going to a fast food restaurant whose idea of veggies is a limp piece of lettuce atop a quarter pounder. - 3/22/2009   11:33:10 AM
  • 62
    We don't have children, but I have to sneak vegs into my husband's food, LOL! I'll add all kind of vegs to pasta sauces, stews, or just roast root vegs so he thinks they're all potatoes. He does like tomatoes, so I always make sure we have some in the house for his snacks and sandwiches. (And yeah, it's strange sneaking vegs into an adult!) - 3/22/2009   10:46:49 AM
  • 61
    Funny thing, but in our family it was my DAD who hated veggies. Mom used to sneak broc. and other things he abhorred into food long before there was a cookbook to suggest it because his md. wanted him to 'get more greens'. My bro. and I were veggie fiends, mostly because we grew up 'grazing' Grandad's garden. He said we were worse than rabbits, but it was a game, so we loved it. Looking back, I suspect our family loved it, too, because there were no fights at meal times about that issue, exc. when my other grandmother put okra into something--I'd never met it, and never want to again. - 3/22/2009   10:26:27 AM
    My two sons love to eat vegetables and I have no problem getting them to eat them. My daughter on the other hand hates them and just about everything else. I have a really hard time getting her to eat what everyone else does. If anyone has any ideas on how to get her to eat different things please let me know. - 3/22/2009   9:10:50 AM
  • 59
    I have Jessica Seinfeld's book and I love it! It's good for anyone - kids or no kids. - 3/22/2009   7:13:55 AM
  • 58
    We had a "no thank you potion" rule with what was served. EVERYONE (including picky mom) had to eat approx a tablespoon of whatever was served. After that, no pressure to eat more. My kids (now 17-27)eat just about everything, love salads and actually eat things I still don't like (raw onions come to mind..just can't abide the taste) Don't care for mushrooms much either (more of a texture thing than a taste thing there, though) - 3/22/2009   12:28:37 AM
  • 57
    My son says "Mom, the reason you hated sweet potatoes when you were a kid and NOW you can eat them, is because you don't have TASTE BUDS like you did when you were a child, as they have worn down over the years." I really do believe he is right, and we shouldn't make children eat something like tomatoes if they REALLY taste awful to the child. My 19 yos still doesn't want to eat tomatoes. He got an omelet at IHOP today with spinach in it instead of tomatoes.
    I still dislike raisins!! - 3/21/2009   10:56:30 PM
  • 56
    What's weird is I remember as a kid eating everything, and it didn't matter. Occasionally, my mom will tell us her "tricks," and we're kind of like, "Okay, whatever" about it. Like, my parents used to call broccoli and cauliflower "green trees" and "white trees," but if that's what was served, we ate them, and we knew it broccoli, and just thought are parents were either dorky or kind of dumb...I mean, they're grown-ups, and they still think this stuff is called green trees? My mom also thought she tricked us by putting spinach in our salad. We noticed the lettuce was funny, but would have eaten it anyway, and did, after we figured out it wasn't lettuce. She also thought she tricked us by giving us the heel of the bread, but inside the sandwich. Please. Kids are smarter than we think. - 3/21/2009   10:05:41 PM
  • 55
    My kids were always "good eaters" and so luckily I never had to struggle to get them to eat their veggies. But one thing that *really* got them to eat the veggies, I found, was to let them eat the vegetable while I was still finishing up cooking dinner - they were hungry and would gobble up almost anything.
    - 3/21/2009   9:57:07 PM
  • 54
    My kids were pretty good eaters, but I could always sneak things into meatloaf or spaghetti sauce by grating them first. The kids are in their forties now and never realized how many vegies they ate before they learned to like them as an adult. - 3/21/2009   9:13:09 PM
  • 53
    My kids would eat broccoli with cheese sauce. i also had a child I cared for that loved ketchup on his lettuce salads. I let him as it meant he was eating his salad. I also hoped that he would develop a fondness for salad with out the ketchup...I wonder... - 3/21/2009   8:43:23 PM
  • 52
    My kids do better if I put veggies in casseroles or other "mixed" dishes than to give it to them as a side. - 3/21/2009   8:30:13 PM
  • 51
    My oldest will not touch a veggie and was picky about them by 15 months or so. I figure it's genetics because my husband will not eat veggies either(I've tried). My youngest will eat anything put in front of him, but he only has 2 teeth - he's almost 16 months - so he gets mostly jarred food. One consolation for my oldest is that he eats more kinds of fruits than my husband does so we're not as limited there. - 3/21/2009   4:43:04 PM
  • E-MAMA
    I have a 2 year old daughter and we still serve her Earth's Best Organic baby food to make sure she gets her yellow and orange veggies. She loves peas, green beans and corn so she eats those fresh but not the yellow and orange ones. We get looks at times since we are giving her baby food but I would rather have her eat baby food and get veggies than not. In the last few months she has started eating carrots but sometimes she will ask for jar carrots and not crunch carrots. So I know she will transition!!! - 3/21/2009   3:56:53 PM
    My kids love veggies and salads and fruit. No hassles. They eat what we eat. Eating as a family helps. We aren't fussy so they aren't fussy. - 3/21/2009   3:48:19 PM
    My kids like most veggies: I don't hide them. But I do grate, mince, or chop veggies and add them into things just to make the meal healthier or yummier, like in turkey, bean, veggie meatloaf. - 3/21/2009   11:56:19 AM
  • 47
    I was an in-home day care provider for many years, and many of the families that I worked with could not believe what their kids would eat at my house but not at home. I think it was in large part due to the fact that no questions were asked--they received a small serving of each of three foods of the day every lunch, and could ask for as many second helpings as they desired--nobody was forced to eat anything, but it was just understood that you ate what was on your plate before you got seconds of ANYTHING. Of course, everybody has some food they can't abide. I had one boy who would literally get 3 peas on his plate--but he created his own method of blending them within the other food so he could have more strawberries (or whatever he desired on that particular day.) I was always up front with the kids though. They knew what they were eating. Not my husband so much....I still sneak healthy things into the things I prepare for him, or he'd never let a veggie pass his lips! - 3/21/2009   10:55:56 AM
  • 46
    My step kids love veggies. They eat cherry tomatoes like candy, they actually think it is candy and i'm not going to tell them differently, lol.

    I also make a lot of casserole/skillet meals when they are here that have veggies in them. They gobble it up. Plus my step dauther says she wants to be like me so anything she see's me eating she wants to at least try and most of the time she says she likes it. She is only 6 but she has said on numerous occassions she wants to eat healthy like me. That makes me feel great that she see's what i'm doing and wants to follow in my footsteps. - 3/21/2009   10:54:12 AM
  • 45
    Some kids are just plain picky eaters. I was! I don't have to worry about my daughter though, she loves her veggies, especially carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Any time she says "I don't like that" I make her try it anyway, just 2 bites. Usually she ends up eating it again later and enjoying it. I know that when kids are picky eaters, "hiding" veggies can help them get more nutrients into their diet. (As long as you still make an effort on the side.) However, if your kids are more open to eating possibilities I think "hiding" the vegetables is not doing them any favors! They need to be taught the health benefits (and yes, my 5 year old does care about the health benefits) and develop the habit early on! - 3/21/2009   10:37:31 AM
    My son was a totally anti-fruits-and-veggies kid. Since he had food allergies, I didn't try to force him to eat anything that didn't appeal to him. Ironically enough, what started him trying veggies was an offhand remark I made that evidently tapped into his sibling rivalry and his desire to be a "big boy."

    One night when broccoli was our green veggie for dinner, he turned up his nose and I told him that he didn't have to eat it if he didn't want it. Then I said that some foods don't taste good to little kids because their "tasters" just weren't grown up enough. When his older sister helped herself to seconds on the broccoli, he decided he wanted some, too. I told him he couldn't have any until he was a little bit older and could appreciate the flavor. The next time I served broccoli, he begged for it - and couldn't get enough. - 3/21/2009   6:59:38 AM
  • 43
    i find the best way to get kids to eat anything is to let them help with the preparation and cooking of the food.i find it the case so often from my own kids and other friend use to go mad that her kids would never eat vegtable by her but when they went home from visiting me they would rave about how good the broccoli was by me.she used to ask the kids why they ate by me and not by her.the kids just said it taste better by me.she then wanted to know the secret.i said i have no secret it was a normal stirfry but the children cut the vegetables them self.the same when my sister in law came last week i was making falafel with the children my 3 year old was mixing the yogurt and quark together and then putting chopped mint etc. in. the old one was grinding the chick peas,garlic,parsley,mint and onions with the meat grinder i was supervising .when my nephew came he is also three,he helped the big one mix the spices,breadcrumbs etc in the sister in law just kept on about the mess over the tops and floor the kids were making .i said it didnīt matter.all the children then helped to form the falafel.when it came to time to eat i offered my nephew the food ,my sister in law said he wont eat them as he never eats anything like that.not only did he eat it he had sister in law was astonished and said she will try and let him help her.i doubt it though as she doesnīt even let her 16 yr old daughter three yr old can cook better than her. - 3/21/2009   3:18:12 AM
  • 42
    My son would eat anything and everything until he was 3 years old. At that time it seemed that his taste buds changed and all he wanted was relatively bland stuff. If I forced him to eat fruit or vegetables he would actually throw up from the taste. I give him a daily multi-vitamin and encourage him to try new things. He has always been much taller than his classmates and he has a ton of energy so I guess he is getting what he needs to thrive. As he gets older he seems to be liking more things. My hope is that when he becomes a teenager that he will eat me out of house and home :-) - 3/21/2009   1:28:20 AM
  • 41
    I was duly unimpressed with "Deceptively Delicious" because the ideas were, in general, lame. When I saw chick pea chocolate chip cookies as an option, I was excited until I saw that she was using chick peas in lieu of nuts. Seriously, lame. There was not a single recipe in the book that I wasn't completely unimpressed with. Apparently I need to write a cookbook. The Shrek cookbook was much better, it was healthy food with icky Shrek derived names, in the vein of the X-ray vision carrots. I think Swamp weed and fly larvae was guacamole and hummus and frogspawn jelly was gelatin with passion fruit (which looks pretty gnarly in the picture).

    My kids are pretty good at eating vegetables. My eldest goes through jags of eating lots of carrots directly from the fridge, then other times it is all about bugs on a log. None of my kids can get enough fruit, if I want the twins to eat something other than fruit at a meal I better serve it first because once fruit hits the table that is all they are eating. I mix diced carrots and peas in the mac & cheese, the baby girl picks out the individual noodles leaving the veggies and the baby boy, who shovels in food by the handful, eats it all (well what actually ends up in his mouth and not on the flour)

    I sneak legumes and vegetables into baked goods in my house, because if they are going to have treats, they may as well not be empty calories. There are black beans and sauerkraut in the chocolate cake, there is pumpkin in the brownies, there are chick peas (flour) and oatmeal in the cookies, etc. I am not tricking them into eating vegetables in general, but I am passing off healthy foods in place of empty calorie laden junk foods and no one is the wiser. - 3/21/2009   1:14:04 AM
  • 40
    What ever happened to the House Rule: You eat something of everything that is served before you get seconds of what you particularly like. And no dessert for anyone who doesn't finish what they put on their plate. My children (and now my grandchildren) are great at eating vegetables, lobsters, snails, anything that is served and have a real interest in all foods without being overweight.
    Why insult your child's intelligence with hiding veggies in their food and all the other deceptions? - 3/20/2009   11:53:56 PM
  • 39
    I don't have any good solutions. My daughter, currently 14, has always enjoyed a variety of different foods, including fruits and vegetables. My son, on the other hand (currently 12), has always insisted on a very limited range of foods. We used to refer to it as "the white food group," because almost everything that he accepted was pale in color: white bread, eggs, pasta, ice cream, cheese, milk, and so on. Fortunately, he also accepted a variety of fruits, and over the years, he has expanded his repertoire to include hot dogs, hamburgers and a few other high protein foods. As to vegetables, he has been absolutely consistent in his refusal of them ever since he was old enough for solids. It didn't matter what color they were, or how much baby cereal and milk they were mixed with. His lips formed an impenetrable seal. If you did occasionally manage to get something past his lips, he would promptly spit it out. My husband and I love fruits and vegetables and eat them daily, so we provide a good model for him, but he has been impervious. We always put a little bit of everything we're eating on his plate to encourage him to try it, but he won't. We've also tried incentives and rewards, but those don't work with him either. At the moment, we hope that his taste buds will change as he grows up, and that he will absorb some of the things we are trying to teach him. Thank God for fruit. At least he'll get some nutrients there. - 3/20/2009   10:02:19 PM
    I think what's cool about being a little bit sneaky is that you can cook something and sneak some veggies or fruit into it and when your kids tell you how delicious it is, you show them the good stuff that you added to it. Who knows, maybe they'll start to feel differently about some of the good stuff they loved to hate. - 3/20/2009   5:35:06 PM
  • 37
    My daughter brought dessert one night. Pretty good but different (texture) Chocolate Chip cookies...she had used chickpeas to make them and used the recipe from "Deceptively Delicious". - 3/20/2009   5:02:17 PM
  • 36
    I don't agree with sneaking because the point is to form a healthy habit in their life. If they don't know they are eating veggies then they have zero chance of learning to incorporate veggies into their diet. Finding creative ways to get them to eat vegetables is definitely more appealing to me. This way the kids can have fun and form the right habits and hopefully they will carry them into their adult lives. - 3/20/2009   4:29:40 PM

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