I often get many parents asking me about how to get kids to eat and enjoy their vegetables. First things first – it’s so important that we take the pressure off ourselves as parents. We’re not in charge of “getting” our kids to eat. We’re in charge of serving them healthy food, in a nice routine and being models to help them learn to accept and enjoy it. The actual eating process is all on them. For more on taking the pressure off at the table, see this blog on mealtime language to help fussy toddlers and my Fussy Eating Crash Course for much more advice and support.
Whilst there are things we can do to help encourage an interest in a variety of flavours from a young age, for example, veg-led weaning or offering plenty of variety early on –most children will go through multiple phases of fussiness, food refusal or varying appetites. This can make it even more challenging to help young children to enjoy certain foods, and VEG always takes the brunt of this, largely because veggies often come with more bitter or savoury tastes, which little ones are less ready to accept initially. Many parents ask about ‘disguising’ the taste of vegetables, but I recommend adding flavour to foods as a really simple way to encourage more interest in veggies.
In this blog I’m sharing some simple tips to help add some flavour to your veg. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to ONLY offer veggies with flavours, sometimes, for example, some plain broccoli, carrot sticks or peas just as they are, are more than enough for little ones, and it’s good to get them used to plain foods as well as adding in some varied flavours when cooking.
However, adding flavours to veggies can help make them more appealing sometimes to us as parents/carers and for babies and toddlers too…so here are some ideas for spicing up your veggies at home.
1. Roast or sauté, instead of steaming / boiling
Something many of us do, even when cooking veg for ourselves, is to boil or steam it, and then find it doesn’t have that extra flavour. A super simple way to add a little extra flavour is to either roast or fry/sauté it instead. Adding a little oil, unsalted butter or some herbs/spices can make the world of difference to how it tastes, and therefore how likely it is to get eaten!
This doesn’t mean you CAN’T or shouldn’t ever offer boiled/steamed veg. Steamed veg can be delicious and I often serve it this way at home for my family. But simply changing up the way you prepare veg can be something to consider if you are finding that veg is frequently being rejected.
2. Add to sauces
Serving vegetables as part of sauces is one of the best ways to make vegetables taste good. Whether it’s part of a spaghetti bolognese, curry, stew or stroganoff, vegetables as part of a sauce can be really delicious.
Soups are also perfect for serving veggies in a delicious way and an ideal way to use up leftovers or veggies that may be past their best! Check out my healthy soup recipes for the family or my roasted pumpkin and cannellini bean soup. Serving soup to babies and young children can be a little challenging but one way you can help them is to serve alongside some thick, bread and pre-dip it into the soup. This can help them to self-feed and get interested in the soup on offer! Do be prepared for a lot of mess, however!
Many parents often ask me about “hiding” veg in sauces – particularly for very fussy kids who won’t try any vegetables. This isn’t something I typically recommend, simply because it doesn’t actually help children to become familiar with those foods. I talk a lot about how important familiarity is when it comes to children accepting, and liking, new foods. When we “hide” vegetables in sauces, it doesn’t give little ones the chance to see and try those veggies in their full form. This can make it even less likely for them to try them when they are offered them in this way.
However, I know many parents worry about the nutrients that vegetables offer and are concerned if their children really won’t try any veg. There is absolutely nothing wrong with blending vegetables into sauces – e.g. adding cauliflower to cheese sauce, or carrots into tomato sauce, AS LONG as you’re offering up the veg in their full form too. It’s totally fine if it’s not eaten, but it’s so important to keep up that exposure and let them become familiar with it over time.
3. Add pesto
Pesto is one of my favourite quick and easy ways to add flavour to many dishes. It’s such an easy way to experiment with different flavours. It can also be a good way to keep up nut exposure it little one’s diets once you’ve introduced them!
Simply mixing in pesto to cooked veggies can add a lot of flavour to make them taste great – even for sceptical little ones!
Both of these recipes are delicious stirred into veg and also include the veg in the recipe themselves – so these can be ideal for parents who are concerned if their little one refuses all veg!
4. Add to muffins / pancakes
Savoury muffins, pancakes and fritters can be an ideal way to add a little extra veg into your little one’s meals. They’re often well accepted, even for the fussiest of eaters.
They’re also perfect for batch cooking, and for taking out and about – especially as they’re relatively clean snacks!
Similar to hiding veg in sauces, it’s worth noting that adding veg to muffins or pancakes is unlikely to lead to your child accepting that veg in its full form. It’s a great way to build in texture, flavour and colour as well as getting your child used to seeing foods such as pancakes/muffins in different forms, rather than plain.
Just keep offering whole veg alongside as well to help with exposure!
5. Add toppings
Something that can help kids – especially toddlers to enjoy vegetables is to make them a little more fun and interesting. Adding “toppings” can be a great way to do this. Some of my favourite toppings include:
- Nutritional yeast
- Ground nuts & seeds
- Lemon juice
- Fresh herbs and spices (more below)
For older kids, letting them pick their own toppings can also be a fun way to engage them with the meal and let them have a little autonomy. You could lay out a few different toppings on the table and let them choose, or ask them “would you like cheese or breadcrumbs with your veg tonight?”
6. Use herbs and spices
I’m a big fan of including herbs and spices when cooking for children, right from the beginning. It’s so important to get little ones used to a variety of flavours and also helping them to expect that the same foods can taste different. I’ve written a blog all about herbs and spices for babies which covers WHY it’s helpful to include flavour in your baby’s meals and also some of my favourite herbs and spices to use.
In terms of making veg taste good, adding herbs and spices is one of the easiest ways to do it. Whilst adding sugar and salt are not recommended for babies and young children, adding a variety of herbs and spices is a perfect way to add flavour, and make them much more appealing to little ones.
7. Serve alongside a dip
Serving veggies with a dip can often make them more appealing and help get little ones a little more interested in giving them a try. Dips are a great addition to meals for a number of reasons, including:
- Adding flavour
- Adding extra nutrition
- Adding a colour and texture
- Encouraging little ones to self-feed
- Building in variety
Some research also suggests that offering less familiar foods alongside a familiar dip may help to increase the likelihood that children try the less familiar food.
Check out my video on 10 dips to add nutrition to your baby or toddler’s meals. You can also try my butterbean hummus recipe.
For more family friendly recipes, as well as plenty of advice to help navigate your little one’s eating habits, my book How To Feed Your Toddler is out now and you can also access my Fussy Eating Crash Course!