It’s no secret that vegetables offer plenty of nutrition and are important foods in our children’s diets. However, they can be a little trickier for kids to reliably eat, and many parents therefore wonder whether they should “hide” vegetables in kids food.
This isn’t a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer (as with most things related to feeding kids)! In this blog, I want to cover a few reasons why I DON’T recommend hiding vegetables in kids’ foods.
How to hide veggies in food for picky eaters
One of the main concerns parents of picky eaters have is whether they’re getting enough nutrients if they’re not eating many vegetables. This can be why parents choose to “hide” vegetables in foods – to try to ensure they’re meeting their nutritional requirements. It’s important to remember that plenty of other foods that aren’t vegetables offer the nutrition that kids need to grow and develop. It’s good to keep exposing kids to a variety of foods, including vegetables, to help them become more familiar with them, and over time they may be more likely to try them.
Some of the ways that parents may hide vegetables in their kids meals may be:
- Blending extra veg into pasta sauces
- Adding them to muffins, pancakes, or fritters
- Making them into a soup or smoothie
- Mixing with sweet foods to disguise the taste
None of these methods are “bad” or “wrong” – they can be an ideal way to easily add flavour and nutrition to your kid’s meals.
HOWEVER, there is a bit of an issue with “hiding” veg, and this is that we know from research that familiarity with foods is what leads children to eventually accept (and even enjoy) them over time. Hiding veggies means your little one isn’t ever exposed to them directly and in their full form. So they aren’t able to learn to accept the colours, textures and flavours of these foods for what they are.
Whilst blending vegetables into a pasta sauce, soup or smoothie may mean those vegetables get eaten, it doesn’t mean your child is going to accept them in the long-run.
However, there is a way around this. I like the idea of adding “extras” to meals and talk about it a lot – if that means adding things in and blending them into pasta sauces, that’s fine, but it’s a good idea to also help them be exposed to the veggies in their natural form too. For example, if you’re offering a muffin with some veggies in, offer a few veggie sticks on the side too. If you’ve got a pasta sauce which is completely blended, try to offer a side of some the veggies alongside dinner as well.
Additionally, it’s also important to try to be transparent with them about what’s in their food. If you’re tricking them by hiding foods in their meals that they clearly don’t like, it can make them less trusting and more anxious around foods and mealtimes.
If you do “hide” vegetables to your child’s meal, it’s a good idea to still involve them in the prep of the meal in some way. This could be looking at recipes together, talking about the foods on the plate, ask them to choose sides and cook together too. This all helps them to understand more about food, cooking and what’s on their plate! This can also be a way of gently exposing them to different foods and allowing them the opportunity to see, smell and feel foods that they may otherwise not!
If you’re mixing veggies into muffins or pancakes, try serving some of the veg included in them alongside as well. It may well be ignored, but the goal is simply to expose them to it.
If you’re concerned about your little one’s diet and worried they’re really not getting the variety they need, you may want to consider a multivitamin. For more on a balanced diet for toddlers, check out my blog.
Ways to include vegetables in meals for picky eaters
There are plenty of ways to include veggies in meals for picky eaters – even if they get fished out or spat out at times. Below are some of my simple recipes that include veggies:
- Quick Spinach Pesto and Green Avocado Pesto – pesto is such a fab way to expose kids to veggies in a really delicious way – you can serve it with pasta, rice, cous-cous or spread it on toast or even use it as a dip for veggies
- Carrot and sweetcorn fritters – fritters are another great way to include veggies in a delicious way for kids. Try these courgette fritters and serve with a stick of courgette alongside for the exposure to courgette as a whole!
- Veggie breakfast muffins – serve these with some veg sticks alongside as well!
- Carrot cake flapjacks – both me and my kids absolutely LOVE anything carrot cake flavoured, so these are usually a big hit, as is my carrot cake porridge
- Easy avocado pasta topping
- Cauliflower macaroni cheese bites
- Monster pancakes – these are from my new book, and they’ve been a big hit with my kids – they’re super easy to make and the green colour can help engage kids in talking about what’s in them, whilst still being really delicious
For plenty more tips and advice on navigating the tricky toddler years, as well of nutritious, delicious recipes for the whole family, my book – How To Feed Your Toddler is available now. My factsheet on How to Cope with Fussy Eating is also available to download for free.