We all have grand visions of what our kids will be like before they are born. For me, I saw myself introducing my infant to a variety of vegetables early, cementing a life-long love of broccoli and kale. I did introduce vegetables early and thought we were set. My 6-month-old was reaching right for the greens and even seemed to enjoy them. Success!
Then, my daughter starting forming opinions. I don’t know how or why it happened, but here we are a year past introducing solids and I can’t quite remember the last time she ate broccoli. Do I offer it to her? Yes, several times a week. But that doesn’t mean she’ll touch it (sometimes she’ll touch it, but just enough to throw it to the dog).
I haven’t totally given up on her loving veggies, but right now I’m just content when she consumes enough calories each day. She’s a carb-lover and happily chows down on waffles and pizza. But how do I get her to eat her vegetables?
Initially, I was against “hiding” vegetables because I’d rather her acknowledge and choose to eat the vegetables. But after a while, I really just wanted to ensure she was getting the nutrients but wondered about the right approach. Would hiding vegetables early set my child up for a lifetime of hating vegetables?
I spoke to Rachael Janas, a Registered Dietitian as well as the Nutrition & Regulatory Affairs Manager at Nurture Life, a service that delivers ready-to-eat, dietician designed meals. Janas filled me in on what we should know about hiding vegetables in our kids’ food: is this the magic answer to healthy kids, or are we setting ourselves up for a struggle in the future?
If I have a picky eater, should I hide vegetables in their food or offer them in the original state?
The answer is both! It’s important for children to know their vegetables in an “unhiding” state, but there is a time and place for hidden veggies, Janas explained. Vegetable intake for children is important, and it’s key to prioritize when and how we encourage kids to eat their vegetables.
Provide meals where vegetables are out in the open so children can get used to seeing them. If those veggies are ignored, also consider hiding veggies for extra nutrient intake, for example by blending them into sauces or incorporating them into meatballs. You can make these meals yourself or buy from a service that incorporates vegetables both in their original form and mixed into sauces and meats.
“Overall, we always advocate that veggies are seen, known, and tasted for what they are. Ultimately if a child won’t eat a veggies that are seen but will eat a veggie that is hidden, it is still a net positive nutritionally for your child,” Janas said.
What are some tactics to encourage picky eaters to try vegetables?
It’s all about continuing to try with little eaters. According to research, we like to eat what is familiar to us, so the first time a new food is introduced, it’s common for kids to reject it. Stick with it, though. Studies have shown that it can take between 7-14 tries before a kid grows to enjoy a newly introduced food. Consider presenting the same food in different ways (roasted, steamed, sautéed, in sauce, etc.).
Another important tactic is to lead by example. Fill your plate with the same foods you’re offering up to your little one, don’t pressure them to eat it, but show that you’re enjoying your food and hopefully they will be intrigued to try it as well.
And lastly, Janas recommends talking about the vegetables. Maybe your child won’t eat them, but you can ask about the color, smell, touch, and eventually taste. Again, don’t pressure them to eat it, but have a discussion to get them interested.
For veggie-hating kids, what vegetables should parents start with?
Not shockingly, Janas recommends starting with starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash (I can’t argue, who doesn’t love a potato?). Start there and continue to rotate in new vegetables, working your way up to greens, which tend to be more bitter.
Watching your children reject all their vegetables can be frustrating, but remember to stick with it, offer vegetables in various forms, and don’t make it isn’t a pressure-filled situation. Eventually, your picky eater will come around and give those greens a try.