How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies

If you're tired of stressing over the amount of vegetables that your kiddo is not consuming on a daily basis, well then, today is your lucky day!

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies | {Five Heart Home}It wasn't too far into this motherhood gig that I realized that Pat Benetar had it wrong. Love isn't a problem. The dinner table is a battlefield. Furthermore, there are two toddler truths when it comes to eating that, if left to fester, can spill into the preschool and early childhood (and teenage?) years:

1.  Toddlers are innately wired to want control over any aspect of their own little lives possible, and what they willingly put in their mouths is something that they do, indeed, have final say over; and

2.  If toddlers can sense that something is really important to you, they will generally aim for the opposite.

In other words, if you let on to little Johnny that you really want him to eat his broccoli, little Johnny is about 99% likely to pitch a Category 5 tantrum before conceding to allow the tiniest sprig of broccoli to pass his lips.

Let me say up front that I think it's very important for children to learn how to try, eat, and hopefully like a wide variety of foods, including vegetables. But almost all kids are going to go through phases where they want nothing to do with anything green gracing their plates (unless we're talking about lime jello here). So how does a well-meaning parent keep from totally stressing out at the thought of all of those missed vitamins over cumulative childhood years of picky eating?

Enter parental trickery.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies | {Five Heart Home}Now I'm not saying that you give little Johnny a free pass when it comes to eating salads or vegetable side dishes. Strive to serve a few blatant veggies in all of their vegetable glory every day. In our house, we have a rule that even if you don't like something, you have to try the number of bites that matches your age. So even though my three-year-old doesn't like green beans, if they're on the dinner menu, he has to take at least three bites of them (which usually amounts to three tiny beans, but I've learned to pick my battles). This is non-negotiable and the kids know it, so they don't usually argue with it.

But we all know that Popeye didn't grow muscles on three leaves of spinach, so I had to figure out another way to get veggies into my persnickety tot. That's why, in addition to serving vegetables and modeling how to eat them, I also regularly hide them in the meals I prepare. And no, I don't feel bad about this small act of deception because it's for their own good. Of course, there are lots of ways to sneak in veggies unbeknownst to your offspring, but here's my favorite method.

In the summertime, my in-laws bestow upon us lots of beautiful produce from their garden, including exorbitant amounts of zucchini and squash. Along the same lines, if the grocery store is having a great sale, I stock up even more then. Zucchini and squash work really well with the method I'm about to describe because they cook down quite a bit and are fairly inconspicuous once mixed in with other ingredients, but you could employ this method with a variety of other veggies as well.

First, I cut the larger squash into pieces and put the shredding disk in my food processor. Then I enlist my trusty assistant to press the ON button as I feed in the squash. Of course, you could also shred it by hand using a grater and, as a result, end up with much more impressive biceps than mine.

That's a boatload of shredded squash, people. About 12 cups to be exact. And incidentally, my food-processor-obsessed helper here has never once I asked what I do with the all of the shredded spoils of his efforts.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies | {Five Heart Home}Next I set up a little assembly line to divide my shredded veggies into baggies in two-cup portions. As you can see, I use a large cup (in this case, a big Mason jar mug) to hold open each baggie as I fill it.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies | {Five Heart Home}Once I have my small baggies filled, I stuff them into two layers of freezer-thickness gallon-sized zipper baggies and pop the whole thing in the freezer (when I'm ready to cook it, I thaw an individual baggie by putting it in some warm water for a few minutes). This one big bag holds the hidden veggies for five future meals.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies | {Five Heart Home}The last two-cup portion I held out for concealing in tonight's Sloppy Joe supper. As you can see below, I cooked my shredded squash (along with some minced garlic) in a little olive oil until it was nice and soft and cooked down. Next I removed it to a plate while I browned and drained my beef, then stirred it back in. Finally I added the rest of my Sloppy Joe ingredients. With all of that dark tomato-y sauce, my kids were none the wiser that they were eating squash inside their hamburger buns that night.How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies | {Five Heart Home}On another night, I started with a combo of squash and zucchini with the ultimate goal of chicken spaghetti. You can see that what was initially a whole potful of shredded vegetables eventually cooked down to a much smaller amount. The veggies do start to brown and stick to the pot a bit towards the end, but later stirring in the spaghetti sauce ended up deglazing the pan and everything turned out just fine. In addition to adding leftover chopped up chicken to this sauce, I also threw in lots of fresh herbs. I've learned to always toss in some herbs when I'm using this method to hide zucchini, even if that just means a bit of dried parsley. That way, if my three-year-old starts inspecting his bite of dinner, notices a tiny speck of green, and inquires as to what it is, I can honestly answer, "Oh, it's probably just a little piece of parsley!" Maybe it's because he helped plant our herb garden, but he has no problem with herbs in his food.

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies | {Five Heart Home}Obviously, this method works best when you're cooking up a meal that includes a dark colored sauce or gravy. And as I mentioned before, even when I'm hiding veggies in our main course, I still serve additional vegetables on the side so that the message that a balanced dinner includes vegetables remains loud and clear.

If you are in the throes of life with a toddler who balks at eating anything whose name doesn't start with "macaroni" and end with "cheese," there is hope. Both of my boys have gotten better about happily eating vegetables the older they get. My five-year-old eats a decent variety these days, and my three-year-old has gone from eating approximately zero types of vegetables to a half dozen or so. But even on the days when they want to make their Mama crazy by refusing to ingest any of the healthy options set before them, it's nice to know that I have a little trick in my back pocket that gets them the nutrients they need without waging an all-out battle at dinner time.

And P.S. It works on husbands, too.  😉

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  1. Just FYI...I add veggies to all of my ground meat dishes....I used to hand chop everything...but now I just buy riced cauliflower, riced broccoli, and I buy shredded carrots and chop those up....
    I do use zucchini and mushrooms as picky tot won't eat anything with green I haven't been able to hide the spinach or kale unless I blend it up...
    Trying your sloppy joes tonight!!!

  2. I'm sure it will work on wives as well! I am chief cook and bottle washer in our home and, among other things, my wife will not eat vegetables. For that reason I thank you and will be making your sloppy joes sometime this week.

    I've already used this trick with meatloaf and my wife ate it up with nary a clue. I did go the extra step of peeling the squash to hide the telltale green that might pop up.

    I don't have it in front of me, but I also found a vegetable powder that I used a binding agent in the meatloaf that added even more vegetables to her diet.

    Thanks for this advise as well.

    1. What a fantastic husband you are to take such good care of your wife, Ed! I hope that this hidden veggie trick helps with your efforts as well. 🙂 Enjoy the Sloppy Joes and have a wonderful rest of the week! Thanks for taking the time to comment... 🙂

      1. IT WORKED! I made the Sloppy Joes tonight, used ground turkey (I'm pretty careful about what I eat which is why I've been given the wooden spoon and apron in our house), peeled a zucchini and grated it with a box grater, sautéed it with a half an onion (a little addition to your recipe), and we both thought it was yummy. The wife had no idea I snuck vegetables into her food. Thanks for a new recipe!

  3. Try putting 4or 5 small zucchini in food processor with just enough canned crushed tomatoes to make a puree along with salsa seasoning packet. Then brown 2lbs sausage and mix in puree when done and heat. Absolutely delicious and can't tell at all that zucchini in it. Can use in spaghetti, tacos, lasagna,etc.

    1. That sounds wonderful, Christi...I'll definitely have to try it sometime. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

      1. For years I 've put shredded carrots in anything with tomato sauce, cauliflower or turnips in mashed potatoes, turnips are also great in beef stew or soups, as are sweet potatoes. I'm still doing it for my finicky husband, although he claims to always know they are there.

  4. Realizing this post has been up for a while, you must excuse my tardiness -- as I just found you today. But I had to add a comment. I'm in the late 30s neighborhood and still struggle with eating my vegetables. Try as I might, I just don't like the vast majority of them. But this method, this method, my dear, I can do. 🙂 Thank you so very much for posting it. 🙂

    1. I hear ya, Jennifer. I'm in the same age "neighborhood" and vegetables have never been my favorite food group either. I've grown to enjoy them a bit more over the years, but I still have to remind myself to eat enough of them. So sneaking extra veggies into main dishes is as good for me as it is the kids! 😉 Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope this idea ends up being helpful to you!

  5. You are my hero, am I too late to sign up for How to Get Your Toddler Toilet Trained?!! Seriously, I have I one that just turned three and the only veggie he will eat is raw carrots! I am trying this for sure! XO

    1. I totally empathize with you, Christy, on the difficult potty training, veggie-hating toddler. My second son was exactly the same way! Strangely enough, one of the only veggies I could get him to eat for a long time was also raw carrots! But I am happy to report that over the past year, his vegetable repertoire has expanded considerably (he's a couple months shy of turning 4). He still won't eat many vegetables, but I'm just happy he's willingly eating more than carrots! He actually loves the spinach strawberry salad I posted on this site...I just tear the spinach (or I use lettuce) really small and he focuses on the strawberries and nuts. Anyway, the hidden veggie trick is what has kept me sane knowing he's getting some of those vitamins despite his picky eating habits. Yours will get there, too...good luck and thanks for the comment! 🙂

  6. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing! I've been lucky in that my kiddos love vegetables. (knock on wood) I hope it stays that way. If not...I'm sure I'll be coming back to this for help. 🙂

    1. You are so lucky! I have one who eats just about anything and one who is super picky, and the difference it makes at mealtime is like night and day. So far baby #3 eats everything we put in front of her, so hopefully she'll take after her non-picky big brother! 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. I'm glad you mentioned it works on husbands, too. My 20 something son lives with us, and he gets the hidden veggie treatment as well. 🙂

  8. I wish the "number of bites for your age" worked on husbands as well! 28 bites is probably a whole plate of veggies! I'd like to start incorporating more veggies into our diets, so I'm going to give this a try.

    1. Ha! I think you're right! But that's why, in addition to working with kids, this trick is also helpful when it comes to hubbies who are less than enthusiastic about eating their vegetables... 😉