There’s nothing wrong with bumping up recipes with hidden veggies, as long as you offer these same veggies to your child in their raw, whole state too.
The bottom line is that you can never have too many vegetables in a child’s diet and going over the recommended five veggie servings a day is nothing but beneficial. Disguising vegetables becomes appropriate if a child is going through a fussy eating stage that’s making it impossible to reach even half of their recommended daily intake.
Little ones generally don’t know the ingredients of their food. They don’t know that an egg or almond meal goes into cupcakes, or that vanilla adds a specific taste. Sometimes too much pressure and fuss about adding veggies to children’s meals can lead to parent guilt and confusion, adding to the meal-time stress – which our children can pick up on.
It’s always best to involve your child in the process of adding veggies to their food. Prepare a chocolate muffin with added zucchini together, and see the surprise on their little face when they realise that it tastes delicious!
It’s a good idea to work within the framework of your child’s favourite foods. If they love pancakes or pikelets, make them with pumpkin and sweet potato puree, if they love pasta, make your own pasta sauce and puree peas, onions, garlic and zucchini into it. Veggies can also be added to muffins and biscuits too.
I always encourage getting little ones actively involved in the kitchen as soon as possible. Talking through which ingredients and vegetables are used and why, asking for their help in mashing, blending or laying sliced vegetables out on a baking tray will offer them valuable and incidental insight into how veggies can change form and shape. Allowing them to see how they can doctor their own food to make it healthy also helps to set them up with a powerful sense of control, knowledge and awareness.
If your child only likes one vegetable such as carrots or potatoes, you can try pureeing similar coloured veggies and add them in small quantities- for example, sweet potato and carrot, cauliflower and potato, broccoli and zucchini, mashed potato and parsnip, or parsnip chips added to potato chips.
If your child will only eat sweet foods, bake vegetables in a honey sauce. Sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, parsnip or zucchini drizzled with raw honey and extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of cinnamon may be more palatable. You could even add a drizzle of maple syrup into the water if you’re boiling veggies.
Another idea is to use nutrient-packed water from steamed or boiled vegetables to water down fruit juice or add to other dishes.
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If your little one loves burgers, it’s easy to add vegetables to beef or chicken patties- the same goes for bolognese sauce, pasta sauce or meatballs.
Veggie stocks are an absolute powerhouse of nutrients. Cook up an assortment of veggies, including leek, carrots, onion, parsley and bay leaves and add to any food you’re cooking. You could even boil pasta or rice in veggie stock. Avoid stock cubes as much as possible as they contain preservatives, sugar and excess salt. Instead, freeze homemade vegetable stock into cubes and use at a later date.
Homemade sauces like hummus, tzatziki, babaganoush, sweet potato relish, tomato sauce and pesto are all a great way to boost your child’s veggie intake… accompanied with some veggie dipping sticks to make it more fun and engaging.
Experiment with thinly slices sweet potato, parsnip, beetroot and butternut tossed in extra virgin olive oil and roasted to make homemade oven chips.
You could also add vegetables to smoothies too. Our family loves making smoothies together and my children enjoy being able to watch the various ingredients go into the blender and get whizzed together. Using yoghurt as a base, you can add banana, juice of half an orange, blueberries, raw spinach, kale, carrot - and some cooked and cooled pumpkin, zucchini or beetroot.
I’m a big believer in repeated and consistent exposure to vegetables - in all their forms. When a child sees vegetables and salads offered up on a daily basis, they’ll learn to expect to see these foods on the table. This desensitisation, repetition and persistence is a powerful tool - alongside them seeing other family members eating the vegetables and salads on offer. Positive role modelling and eating as a family as much as possible are both great ways to encourage veggie intake, eventually removing any need to disguise.
As with everything with little ones and nutrition – persistence and repeated offering is key. Along with a healthy dose of patience and sense of humour!
* Children with an underlying physiological or sensory sensitivity to textures are more influenced and deterred by textures and can indeed benefit from the inclusion of purees and smoother consistencies used in their meals (alongside intervention from a paediatrician, nutritionist, dietician, occupational therapist or speech therapist).
Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes here. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.
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