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9 Ways to Sneak in Veggies

What mom wouldn’t like her children to eat more of those healthy, vitamin-bearing vegetables? If only it was easy to get kids to like vegetables in the first place!

When our firstborn was a baby (13 years ago now), I thought I did everything I could to encourage veggie-loving in his diet.  When he started baby food, I fed him vegetables first, not fruit.  When he disliked a veggie, I would sneak it between bites of fruit or sometimes even mix the two.  He ate many vegetables in mushy baby food form, but when it was time for finger foods, he balked. Alas, veggie-loving just does not come naturally to him, nor does it for many children.

With the birth of our second child, I determined to work even harder to create a love (okay, at least a tolerance)  for veggies.  And then the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, decided to bless us with a strong-willed, picky eater. 🙂  However, I learned much from dealing with his picky eating phase, a phase that felt like an eternity!  By the time our twins came along, I had a much better idea of how to get those all-important vegetables in.

So, today on Mama Mondays, I offer you this list of 9 ways to sneak in those dreaded veggies!

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  1. Start from the very beginning.

    I’m talking from within the womb!  Researchers claim that babies begin to develop tastes for foods before they are even born.  Taste buds develop around 21 weeks, at which point baby receives a flavoring of what mama eats via the amniotic fluid. So, if you want your child to grow up loving vegetables, start eating more of them yourself. Not only will this make for a healthier pregnancy, but you’ll also be more likely to feed your children foods that you already frequently consume when they get to the finger food stage. Too late for this tip?  It’s never too late to start leading by example in the area of vegetable consumption!

  2. Offer veggies first!

    We’re all familiar with the fact that most children will eat the things they like most first and save the least favorite for last.  Even adults do it. 🙂 If your children fill up on foods they like, getting them to eat those remaining vegetables will be even more difficult.  On the other hand, if you offer the veggies first when they’re still hungry, they’ll be more likely to at least try a few bites.

  3. Slice, dice, or even puree!

    This might be obvious to some of you, but it wasn’t to me thirteen years ago.  The smaller the veggies are, the less offensive they are to sensitive palates.  My all-time favorite, couldn’t-live-without-it kitchen tool is my food chopper.  If I place a nice helping of normal sized broccoli in front of my youngest son, he’ll immediately turn up his nose.  However, if I chop that broccoli to bits, he’s more willing to eat it – especially if it is combined with another food or a sauce.  I know some moms who add pureed butternut squash and other veggies to the famous toddler favorite, Mac’n’cheese. The possibilities are endless when you dice and then ….disguise.

  4. Disguise those veggies.

    I looooove casseroles/slow-cooker meals for many reasons: only one dirty pan, time to do other chores while food is baking, etc.  But my biggest reason for serving up lots and lots of casseroles is because it allows me to sneak in a lot of vegetables that my children wouldn’t eat alone.  I add petite diced tomatoes, finely diced onions and mushrooms, and sometimes even bell peppers to spaghetti sauce and chili.  I add California blend (diced, of course) to our chicken divan.  If we have scalloped potatoes, you bet I’ll be hiding some veggies in there. Shepherd’s pie, homemade potpie, even fried rice – all of these dishes are veggie-friendly!  You can even hide veggies within other veggies.  How, you ask? If I gave my 7-year-old purple cabbage to eat, I’m sure he would run the other way.  But he eats it in a salad, along with pieces of fresh radish and spinach.  Twice baked potatoes, anyone?  Stuffed bell peppers?

  5. Substitute veggies for other starches.

    In addition to hiding veggies, I’ve recently learned how to substitute vegetables for pasta and potatoes.  The spaghetti I mentioned above?  Instead of pasta, use strings of baked spaghetti squash.  The shepherd’s pie?  Instead of potatoes, used mashed cauliflower.  For chili broth, I use low-sodium V8 juice (and then I add even more veggies).

  6. Add cheese, sauce, or dip.

    Although this method can easily turn healthy veggies into big calorie veggies, when used in moderation, it’s an effective technique.  We have a son who loooves condiments of all kinds, so I’ve learned to offer a small amount with his fresh vegetables. Low-fat cheese works well with cooked vegetables.

  7. Offer a variety.

    As I mentioned in How to Make Food Fun, research supports that offering a variety can lead children to eat more of a single food group than they realize, especially if the variety is colorful.  For example, if you offer bell peppers, offer multiple colors of bell peppers.  If you’re offering broccoli, why not offer California blend instead. A variety of vegetables gives children choices, as well, and we all know they love the power of choice! 🙂9 Ways to Sneak in Veggies, how to get kids to eat their vegetables, want my child to eat veggies, sneaking vegetables into kids' food, my picky eater won't eat vegetables

  8. Try, try, and try again…and then some more.

    As a rookie mom, I had no idea how many times young children need to try a food before deciding whether they like it or not.  But when our picky eater came along, I learned that children may need to try a food 10-15 times before making up their minds about it.  It makes sense really! One day Johnny loves peas, and the next day he’ll have nothing to do with them.  Often, we give up too soon on new foods and assume that they just don’t like them.  Even if your child has repeatedly demonstrated dislike for a particular vegetable, tastes can change over time.  It never hurts to pull a rejected veggie out after a few months and try it again!

  9. Find the Why behind the “No.”

    Sometimes there is a reason behind a child’s refusal of a food other than a dislike for the taste.  I saw this clearly when our twins began to eat finger foods.  Our daughter began to refuse banana, a fruit she previously loved mashed up.  At first, I was baffled. One day I saw her try to pick up a piece of banana and she made the most disgusted face ever.  It wasn’t the taste of the banana, but the sticky texture she was objecting to. I happily fed them to her from a spoon until she learned to use a spoon herself.  Consider physical reasons for refusal as well, whether it be a texture issue (I still cannot eat beans unless they are pureed) or a possible food allergy.

There you have it: Nine ways to sneak in more veggies.  One last helpful hint – you can even use these tips on husbands – true story! 🙂

If you have a clever way to sneak in veggies, pretty please share with us in the comments!

Jen 🙂

If you found this article helpful, you might also enjoy:

6 Principles for Picky Eaters

How to Make Food Fun

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How to Make Food Fun!

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Yesterday I shared with you 6 Principles for Picky Eaters, including our pediatrician approved Toddler Technique for mealtime.  Learning how to deal with toddler stubbornness over food relieved a lot of stress for us!   So today, I want to add some detail to one of those principles: Make food fun.

Let the kids help!

If having children underfoot in the kitchen absolutely drives you batty (and honestly, some days this is me), then let them set the table if they are old enough, or let them help plan the menu for the week.  Research shows that the more involved children are in any process, the more likely they are to take ownership of it.  The more ownership they take, the more cooperative they become.  Even if all your children can do is bring you a spoon to stir with or put out napkins, etc., encourage them to get involved in the process.

  • As a mama who easily falls into “maintain control” mode, I can see how kids in the kitchen might seem like a recipe for stress.  However, if I prepare myself mentally ahead of time for the extra mess and potential disasters, I’m much more likely to enjoy the time spent cooking with my children.  That said, some days I just prefer to cook alone. 🙂

Be an artist!

This is an area that I’m still growing in, but we all know that even adults enjoy food that is more visually appealing (it’s all about the presentation).  If you want more ideas on how to get creative with food, check out my parenting board on pinterest.  While I’m not confident in my abilities to reproduce the more intricate results, the more simple pins are probably doable. They are at least inspiring me to get a little more creative.

  • A good place to start is to arrange food into different shapes (make a smiley face) or to make sure the plate contains what nutritionists refer to as “a rainbow of color” with various shades of fruits and veggies.  Additionally, you could add food coloring to bread dough, mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, or soup for fun.
  • Take advantage of holidays and create holiday-inspired plates of food.  I even have a really creative friend who, once a month or so, creates a themed meal complete with décor!
  • Research validates that the more colorful the plate is, the more interested children will be in eating  and even in trying new foods.  Did you know that people presented with a bowl of multi-colored m&ms will eat more in one sitting than those who are presented with bowl of m&ms that are all the same color?
  • We can use this mind trick to our advantage with fruits and veggies! 🙂 If you offer multiple colors, you’re likely to see the kids eating more in one sitting.  Think about it: would you rather eat a cup of raw carrots only, or a cup of mixed raw veggies such as carrots, cucumbers, celery, broccoli, bell peppers, and so on?  I would definitely eat more if more than one veggie was available at a time.

 

how to make food fun pinterest

Tell a story about the food or play “let’s pretend” with it.

We once told our twins that raw broccoli trees were really dinosaur food, and it worked – for a few meals at least.  (Be sure to be honest about made-up stories, though, or you’ll be busted for lying when your children get older and wiser). We also tell all of our children how important healthy food is for their bodies – vitamin C helps keep you healthy, protein gives you energy, fiber helps you poop, and so forth.  I guarantee if you have young boys and you mention poop, they’ll eat that fiber in a heartbeat!! 😉

  • Once, our middle child practically inhaled a bag of carrots within the span of a few days because he wanted to improve his vision (I think he read about it at school).
  • When stories or facts don’t work, get silly.  For example, I encouraged a boy I was babysitting to eat a sandwich he didn’t really like by telling him to eat it like Cookie Monster would.  Maybe even tell your children to make noises while eating– it will make them laugh! Remember Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story eating like a pig?? 🙂  I’m not sure I personally would go to that extreme, but it’s the right idea.

 

Make the table a fun, family-oriented place.

Our four kiddos love suppertime because we are all together at the table (most nights).  It’s a time when everyone gets to share a story or a joke and each child has his or her own moment in the spotlight.  We talk a lot. We laugh a lot.  And while they’re busy laughing, they’re eating!  Unless of course, things get a little too crazy.  But most of the time, having fun at the table keeps them interested in staying longer and at the same time, strengthens our family bond. Win, win!

Picky Eaters can easily drain the joy from mealtimes, if we allow them to.  My husband and I decided years ago that we wanted to be able to enjoy family mealtime with our children.  In order to accomplish that goal, we had to first do some training and disciplining in so we could  have peace at the table.

It took quite a bit of time and a lot of consistent effort, but I’m happy to report that mealtime battles are very rare in our house anymore, even with our preschoolers! 🙂  (I cannot however claim that they are non-existent.  Everyone has an off day now and then and children especially like to randomly challenge previously established boundaries.)  Now we look forward to those evening meals together and can focus more on that funny thing our middle child just said rather than on what is or isn’t being eaten.

children are a gift

I hope you are able to employ some of these tips in order to make mealtime less stressful at your house!  The older my children get, the more I realize that these early years pass all too quickly.  Thus, it’s important to do the necessary training in order to be able to enjoy these years to the fullest (although, I realize there are some moments that are just NOT enjoyable whatsoever). 🙂

While I still have your attention, let me also humbly admit that I am not a perfect mom.  I’m not even perfect in the parenting boundaries that I myself have agreed to, along with my husband.  Sometimes I break the “rules.”  Sometimes I’m so weary of battling that I choose to surrender for the night. We can always try again tomorrow, right? 🙂

If you struggle with feeling like you just aren’t doing things right, please take some time to read The Superwoman Myth or Peaceful Parenting, No Thanks to Pinterest.  Moms are so hard on themselves, and I definitely don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on a mama who is already at her limit!

These are simply techniques that I found helpful for our family, but each family is different and each child is different.  What works for us may or may not work for you!  If mealtime is still a battle at your house, don’t give up;  find a solution that works for you. 🙂

Do you have a great tip for how to make food fun?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Happy Eating,

Jen 🙂

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6 Principles for Picky Eaters

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We’ve all experienced it: the transformation of that babbling baby who happily ate ALL of the baby food groups into the terrible toddler who only wants to eat crackers.  Every child goes through a picky eater phase.  Of course, some children take picky eating to more of an extreme level than others! Our firstborn was easy, our second was challenging, and our third and fourth (twins) offered another perspective altogether.

Nevertheless, how we react to this picky-eater phase (much like any other phase) helps determine whether our children remain stuck in that phase or whether they grow through it. Thus, I offer you these 6 Principles for Picky Eaters based on my thirteen-plus years of parenting so far:

1. Decide ahead of time where you’ll draw the line and stick to it!  If you first set out with the goal of having your child clean his or her plate and later decided that’s too difficult, your child may see this as a sign of weakness.  Any sign of weakness can lead to a doubled effort on the child’s part to break you – seriously.  Trust me: at the first glimpse of weakness, your tiny tyrant will “seize the day” and your job will suddenly become that much more difficult.

2. Use the “Try at least one bite” rule.  This rule came directly from my mother, and I find it very suitable still.  At our house, the kids are not allowed to turn down an entire plate of food, especially something new, without even tasting it.  Even now that they are older, every food group must be at least tasted before they are allowed to reject it.

When he was a toddler, our middle child became so adept at turning down food, that I feared he would be adversely affected.  However, when I mentioned my mommy fears to our seasoned pediatrician, he just smiled knowingly and kindly pointed out that my toddler was perfectly chubby and wasn’t going to “starve” any time soon. It was our doctor’s obvious revelation that gave me permission to wait our strong-willed toddler out.  Here’s the technique we used:

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  • Offer the plate several times, giving the child a few minutes to try in between. Be on your toes during this phase. If it lasts too long, you’re likely to experience the ceremonial dumping of the plate. 😉
  • If the food is repeatedly refused, take it away and end mealtime altogether. (This step will prevent much frustration for everyone – including older children – and can even prevent irritations such as plate dumping, fit throwing, cup tossing, etc.)
  • Remove child from highchair or table with the reminder that the food will be waiting when he or she is hungry.
  • Cover the plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate if necessary.
  • Re-heat whenever the child asks for food and offer plate again. If your child is very strong-willed and you don’t want to reheat the food often, show the child the plate.  Tell the child if he or she is hungry, this is what he or she can have.  If  he or she immediately refuses, don’t even bother re-heating.
  • If the food  is again refused, put it back in the fridge.
  • Repeat cycle until the child eats (how much is up to you) or until bedtime.  Most children will break down and eat it when they get hungry enough.  However, I once re-heated a plate FIVE times within the space of two hours for our middle child.  So, don’t be surprised if your child continues to test until the process is well-established!
  • Important Note: absolutely NO snacks or milk should be given in the meantime (only water). This was per our pediatrician’s advice, and it makes sense.  A glass of milk is more than enough to satisfy hunger pains for an hour or two, especially for small children.  By caving in with a little bit of milk or even a single cracker, you will undo all of your hard work thus far. (Obviously if your child has a medical condition that does not allow for depriving them, follow your own doctor’s advice.)
  • Above all, be consistent!  I cannot emphasize that enough.  Once we started using this technique, we rarely had to employ it after the first few victories.  Toddlers and Preschoolers alike are quick to learn when we are consistent in our parenting.

*Disclaimer: this technique doesn’t work as well when that stubborn toddler becomes a sly four-year-old.  One day, we set out the plate at lunch time and had to put it back in the fridge.  We got it out at snack time and put it back. We got it back out at supper time and put it back.  We got it out once more at bedtime, at which point my son grinned wickedly and said, “But I won’t have to eat it for breakfast.”  Well-played, son, well-played. I decided to let him have his small victory, but he still went to bed hungry. It hasn’t happened since then. 🙂

*Disclaimer #2: This technique should only be used for healthy children!  Please see the note of caution at the end of the article.

Micah

3. Create a test to see if your child is truly full, or if they just don’t want to eat what’s in front of them.  If our children are asking for more of something they liked (or for dessert), but they haven’t eaten the other items on their plates, I ask them to finish the majority of the other items first.

For example, our daughter loooooves bread.  When presented with a plate of half of a sandwich, fruit, and fresh veggies, she will often eat the bread and the fruit, leaving the meat and the veggies.  Then, she’s likely to ask for more bread or more fruit.  We make her eat the majority of what she left behind (the meat and veggies) before giving her more of what she desires.

Tip: I use a similar method when my children ask for seconds of an unhealthy treat or snack.  “If you’re really still hungry, have some carrots.”  If they eat the carrots, they were really hungry and they ate a healthy snack.  If not, then they weren’t hungry and just wanted more cake, cookies, etc. Children are often smarter and more devious than we realize!)

4. Use the “take ______more bites” rule.  If one of our children wants to be excused from the table, but I can see they haven’t eaten very much of their meal, or very much of their veggies, I usually insist on at least a few more bites.  I only do this if they’ve eaten less than half of the portion.  Most times, they are able to stomach at least a few bites of whatever food group they’ve chosen to reject.

Start with a lower number of bites and then increase the amount as they grow older.  For example, our preschoolers might be required to take only two or three more bites, but our older children might be asked to take closer to ten (especially the sly middle child who takes the tiniest bites ever known to mankind).  An alternate method would be to divide the portion in half and ask them to eat only one half.  This method works well with older children.

*Disclaimer: if your child is visibly gagging on the food, think long and hard about whether or not you want to clean up a pile of puke before you choose to enforce this rule.   I’ve learned through experience that sometimes, they just CAN’T eat the foods we’d like them to – it’s not a matter of disobedience or control, but rather an uncontrollable physical response to a particular taste or texture. Again, see the note of caution at the end of the article.

gracie plate

5.Make it fun!  Remember when your stubborn child was a smiling baby and you would makes spoonfuls of baby food into airplanes, or choo-choo trains, etc.?  Remember that baby smushing food on the high chair tray and running a finger through piles of goo?  But to the stubborn toddler we say, “quit playing with your food” or “sit still and take a bite.”

Now, I’m all for table manners, but somewhere along the line, we parents often quit making food fun!  If you make food fun, or even the eating experience itself fun, your child is likely to stay at the table longer and eat more of that healthy food you worked so hard to prepare (or at least arrange on a plate).  How do I make food fun, you ask?  Tune in tomorrow for a short post on Making Food Fun! 🙂

6. Be patient….. OR…. Win the war, not the battle. Naturally, patience is the last thing on your mind when your picky child dumps his or her plate for the second, third, fourth time of the day. Many of my most desperate prayers for patience were inspired by mealtime battles with our middle child. However, take a moment to remind yourself that this is only a phase.  You may lose battles here and there, but the goal is to win the war!

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In retrospect, I think the mantra for all mamas of small children should be, “This too shall pass” because it is true.  The parenting problems that so often seem unbearable today will be gone tomorrow, replaced by a new phase with its own set of problems.

If we can keep the years of picky eating in perspective, we realize that there is no need to stress about our children’s eating habits.  All we can do is our best to encourage them to make healthy eating choices, and then we have to trust God with the rest.

If you’re looking for tips specifically on how to include veggies in the diet without a fuss, click here!

I hope you find these picky-eater tips helpful.  If you have a tip to share with the rest of us, leave a comment!

Jen 🙂

*Reader Kimberly makes an excellent point – if your child is extremely picky, please consult your physician! There may be underlying physical issues, such as food allergies or intolerances, that are causing the trouble.  Thanks, Kimberly! 🙂

Enjoyed this article? Check out this post on how to keep those Eaters happy during meal-prep:

http://sarahjofairchild.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/top-5-toddler-approved-tips-for-preventing-pre-meal-meltdowns/

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