Oh, the eternal dinnertime struggle of kids who don’t eat their vegetables. There are countless recipes that advertise sneaky ways to cook and bake with vegetables, leaving your kids none the wiser. But I caution against this tactic. Honesty is always the best policy, even when it comes to disguising vegetables. Though it may be tempting to try and trick your children into healthy eating, there are four major reasons why that is the opposite of what you should be doing.
1. It can be confusing
If children are taught the difference between a healthy snack and a sweet treat, they can begin to make decisions about how to eat. However, things can get confusing if healthy is disguised as dessert. Eating healthy is all about making choices. Children should be taught early on that it’s OK to have dessert every once in a while. Even when baking somewhat healthier desserts, children should still know that sweets should be an occasional treat, not a replacement for eating healthily.
2. “Healthy” treats could cause overeating
Just because brownies can be made with zucchini and natural sugars doesn’t mean you should eat the whole pan. While more health conscious desserts can taste just as yummy as their less-healthy counterparts, it could be tempting for kids (and adults) to have more than they should. Everything – not just sweets -- should be eaten in moderation, whether that’s potato chips or oven-baked veggie chips.
I learned this lesson the hard way. When I was younger, I got sick after eating about half a dozen apples in a row while we were sailing around Catalina Island. I knew that apples were a “healthy and good-for-you food,” but was very confused as to how I had gotten sick because of something healthy. I then had a discussion with my mother about how you can have too much of a good thing. Hiding vegetables in other items doesn’t reinforce this important lesson about balance and moderation.
3. Tricks won’t last their whole lives
As they grow up, restaurants won’t be disguising cauliflower as chicken nuggets, and your kids will be stuck in their old eating habits without the sneaky veggies. Being open about the ingredients in their favorite foods (vegetable-free or not) can actually guide healthy eating habits, instead of keeping kids ignorant. Although it’s completely appropriate for kids to dislike certain foods, tricking them into eating things they don’t like won’t last for long. When tricked into eating things they don’t like, children don’t learn to try new things.
4. Hidden vegetables encourage their dislike
I do not advocate forcefully pressuring your child into eating certain items, but hiding foods supports their dislike. Instead of accepting defeat and adopting sneaky ulterior motives, I suggest trying a different approach. There are several ways of preparing vegetables that your child may like better than how they were first presented. If your little darling isn’t a fan of carrots, try a different approach. Roasting gives carrots a crunchy caramelized flavor, and boiling gives them a softer texture. Shaved carrots as part of a slaw or salad has a different feel than eating them raw with hummus, for example. There are even multicolored carrots available, which come in vivid yellows and purples that may be more playful and attractive to a younger child. It may take a little more imagination, but keeping things open and honest may create less of a picky eater.
Remember, kids aren’t going to like everything. There may be times where you need to accept defeat, knowing that cauliflower (whether pureed, mashed, broiled or otherwise) is just not going to be a part of dinnertime -- and that is OK. But be persistent in finding other foods that are kid-approved for your family. If kids realize that they actually like broccoli, it may open doors (and taste buds) to other foods.