Our household aims to eat healthy. Occasionally we have some French fries or sugary treats, but my husband and I think one of the most important things we can teach our children is healthy eating habits from the start. We talk to our children about nutrition and which foods are healthier and why. We try new things and sometimes get frustrated when they don’t want to eat them, but we keep trying.
In the past few years there has been a debate about how to get more nutrition in our picky eaters’ bodies, especially considering the obesity problem in America. Some people have proposed pureeing vegetables and hiding them in foods such as bread, cake, pasta sauces, even meatballs. Parents who say their child will not go near a vegetable say that this is their only choice to make sure their child is getting proper nutrition. It’s hard for me to imagine a child who will not touch any vegetable, ever, but I’m sure they exist. For those children, maybe that’s their only choice. But for the rest of us, who have kids who will eat some vegetables, but don’t really like some others, I don’t think the hiding is necessary, and I don’t think it sends the right message about vegetables or healthy eating.
I think it’s a great idea to chop up extra veggies to add to spaghetti sauce: mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots, whatever. Also, my kids like zucchini bread as much as I do. But the thing is I don’t feel like I need to hide it from kids who don’t have an unreasonable issue with vegetables. They eat baby carrots, sugar snap peas, and broccoli. They eat tons of fruit.
When your child finds out that you have been sneaking vegetables into her food, what will she think? Vegetables are so disgusting they have to be hidden? Vegetables are only good if they are in liquid form and baked in something?
If your child has a difficult time with some vegetables, it may be because they taste more bitter to children than they do to adults, but if the bitter taste of vegetables is countered with something sweet (like tossing vegetables with fruit juice), kids might like it more. My oldest daughter will eat just about anything if she can dip it in some teriyaki sauce. The younger one is a fan of ketchup. Ranch dressing tends to do the trick as well. Some of those vegetables they started out coating in sauce, they gradually realized they liked all by themselves, and the sauce was left behind.
My kids make their own plates for meals, deciding on their own helpings of food. They always have fruits and vegetables on their plates, usually a whole grain item and sometimes meat. They have recently begun making happy face plates or other designs. It takes a lot of baby carrots to make the outline of a face, so it works out well. Kids love novelty, so cutting vegetables in different shapes (like cucumber fries), or putting them in unexpected dishes (like sundae glasses) might intrigue them. An enthusiastic presentation never hurts, either.
The other important thing about vegetables is remembering that watching what their parents do is a major influence on kids. If you are eating vegetables and trying new things, talk about it! Share what you think about new dishes you are trying, at home and in restaurants. Talk about what is in the dish and what you like about it, and what you would do differently next time.
It seems to me that being honest with your kids about food is the best way to teach them to be healthy, conscientious eaters.