If your child would rather push his peas around his plate than eat them, you've probably considered sneaking a few veggies into his favorite foods. But should you?
While a little stealth nutrition can help your child eat more vegetables, it shouldn't be your only strategy. "If you're always hiding your children's vegetables, how will they get to know and accept them?" says Judy Caplan, MS, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. By offering your child a variety of options you'll be more likely grow a true vegetable lover. Here's how to get started.
Smuggle veggies in (sometimes). "Parents don't need to hide vegetables on a regular basis," says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Kristi King, MPH, RD. "However, if you have a picky eater who doesn't like vegetables, disguising them a little can be a helpful way to start introducing them." When it comes to getting your child to happily eat their veggies, the more alternatives the better. So go ahead and fold mushrooms into meatloaf and shred carrots into spaghetti sauce. Also serve vegetables in their undisguised state to give your child an opportunity to explore the tastes, textures and aromas.
Don't be afraid to ditch the disguise. Offering uncamouflaged vegetables helps children develop a taste for veggies that will last a lifetime. Plus, "when kids see vegetables served center stage they learn to internalize what a healthy plate looks like," says Caplan. Since most vegetables require lots of chewing, they also naturally slow children down, helping them eat more mindfully and encourage them to linger at the table rather than squirming in their seats.
Mix it up. Eating the same old boring plate of steamed vegetables would be a turnoff for anyone, so be sure to keep it interesting and varied. "Just because your child doesn't like roasted vegetables doesn't mean he won't love them sautéed with garlic," says King. "Get creative and try different kinds of cooking methods and herbs and spices." If your child still isn't a fan of cooked veggies, don't fret. Try offering veggies raw with dip or in a crunchy salad.
Hide vegetables in plain sight. Using vegetables as a condiment is an easy way to give veggies more face time without making it overwhelming. Top pizza with onions and peppers, sprinkle tomatoes and avocados on tacos, or fold butternut squash into mac and cheese.Serve, eat, repeat. If you've tried offering vegetables without success, be patient. "Learning to eat vegetables is like anything else, it takes lots of exposure and repetition," says Caplan. "But when vegetables are regularly available and deliciously prepared, kids will eventually eat them."