If you haven't heard about it, Jimmy Kimmel asked parents to tell their kids that they ate all their Halloween candy, film their reactions and upload the videos to him. I cringed at the resultant compilation. In my mind, it sadly typifies the shift in our society towards mean-spirited humor or humor at someone else's expense. Some of the kids were downright devastated - sobbing even. Now why would anyone want to do that? In the midst of watching all this pain, though, two brothers happened to be over the top adorable in their reaction - the youngest ending with, "You sneaky mom!" It was so unbelievably cute it almost made the rest of the video acceptable - almost. If you haven't seen it, click here.
The thing that struck a chord was the word ‘sneaky’ and the realization that as parents, we sometimes have to be sneaky to get our bloomers to do things. And if it’s good for them, it’s generally okay. Because Bloomers! is the hands-on gardening and healthy-eating program, I wanted to do a blog on getting kids to eat healthier. I thought back about my kids and how I tried to push vegetables on them, which was always somewhat of a battle – usually a losing one. But gradually I was able to get them to start eating some vegetables and I also watched how my friends succeeded with their kids, and frankly a lot of our methods were pretty sneaky.
I’ll list some of them here in the hopes that they help you or even inspire you to come up with your own sneaky ideas.
1. Deep fry vegetables. Works well with zucchini, squash, eggplant, carrots, beans, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, onions or just about anything. When my kids were growing up, the deep fryer was my favorite appliance. Sounds unhealthy – but if you use a healthy oil like coconut oil which does not break down at high temperatures – it’s not so bad. Start with breading (or batter), move on to deep-frying with no batter, then finally a healthier stir-frying with a little bit of soy sauce. In my opinion, if deep-frying gets kids to eat vegetables, it’s worth the extra fat in the beginning.
2. Puree vegetables. Texture is important for kids. My second favorite appliance: the blender. I went through a blender every couple years. I would never use chunky tomatoes for spaghetti sauce. I pureed sweet potatoes and made a casserole with them. I even put salsa in a blender and pureed it.
3. Put vegetables in spaghetti sauce: my friend taught me this one. Peas and/or carrots work well. I now use eggplant, zucchini and squash, which is like a variation of ratatouille. After cooking all day in a pot of tomato sauce, you can’t even taste the vegetables. You can always puree afterwards (see #2).
4. Use liberal amounts of sauces and condiments. The old standbys are ketchup, ranch dressing, honey mustard, barbecue sauce – basically all the stuff you can get at McDonald’s. But soy sauce is also good and a little healthier and you can get low-sodium soy sauce. Sour cream is also great. You can mix in some dry bouillon. These are great on salads, raw vegetables and also great for breaded, deep-fried veggies, stir-fried veggies and grilled veggies.
5. Cheese! Of course, you can’t go wrong with any kind of cheese, which is my favorite all-time food. Soft cheeses (soft mozzarella, goats cheese, cream cheese) have less calories than hard cheeses (cheddar, swiss, parmesan), but there’s nothing like steaming hot veggies drowned in sharp cheddar cheese. Works well with broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, red beets (roasted for an hour in wine vinegar with goat cheese). For Bloomers! first harvest, we put parmesan cheese on the snow peas and the kids scarfed them down like potato chips.
6. Make Cream of Vegetable Soups. For many years, my Thanksgiving ‘vegetable’ was butternut squash soup or carrot soup. Cook veggies with a big white onion and salt and pepper in stock (I use vegetable stock that you can buy in the grocery store but chicken stock works great too), add some spices, puree in the blender when the vegetables are soft (cool soup first so you don’t splash hot liquid on yourself), then put back into the pan and add some cream (I use 2% milk). Here are the soups I make: butternut squash with a little curry, potatoes and leeks with lots of black pepper, broccoli with cheddar cheese, carrots with ginger root, cauliflower with cheddar cheese, and asparagus with heavy whipped cream.
7. Roast them to death. Boil first for a half hour, drain and put in an oblong pan with liberal amounts of coconut oil, salt (or salt substitute), throw in some rosemary, put in a 425 degree oven and cook for 45 minutes until brown and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. My kids LOVE this dish. Works well with potatoes and carrots.
8. Make vegetables fun! Make eating the vegetable itself fun for kids. Artichokes are perfect for this. The kids get to pull off the leaves, dip them in butter and lemon, or a mayonnaise dressing and pull the leaves through their teeth. Take them to Benihana’s if you have one near you. That’s how my son learned to eat stir-fried mushrooms, onions and zucchini. At this Japanese restaurant, cooks fry vegetables right in front of you while throwing around food and knives. If that’s not a great incentive for a kid to try something, I don’t know what is. They also have great sauces too (See #4).
9. Put marshmallows on top. My pureed sweet potato casserole I mentioned in #2? I made it better yet by putting marshmallows on top. When you bake it, they turn golden brown and gooey, and the kids don’t even notice the sweet potatoes. Again, like #1, if it gets them eating the vegetable, it’s worth the marshmallow. My kids all eat sweet potatoes now - even without the marshmallow.
10. Grow vegetables with your kids. They will be so excited about the fact that they grew something they can actually eat, that they will not even think about the fact that they are eating vegetables!!
In our curriculum, we have the kids grow snow peas in their Bloomers! know + grow Garden (virtually fail safe so the kids will have a vitally important, successful growing experience) and then serve them three ways: raw, blanched with salt, and blanched with parmesan cheese. That way the kids learn that if they don’t like them one way, they may like them another. It teaches them to at least try foods.
Some of our teachers even did a poster with smiley faces, to chart, which way kids liked the snow peas served (parmesan cheese was the winner, which proves my point in #5 that pretty much everything tastes better with cheese). But every single kid in every single class at least tried a snow pea. You can do a smiley face chart at home when you are trying vegetables, or any kind of healthy food with kids. See the video here.
Finally - I just read a study that says if you sit down and eat dinner with your kids –they will be much more likely to eat vegetables.
Above is a photo of me at the table with the kids when they were young, and with our friends, Marianne and Danny - bless them for tolerating us! I am on the far right in black looking at something on the floor. Probably food. I pretty much ate with the kids every night. Bobby – not so much. He said it gave him chest pains. We always made fun of him for that one. We were pretty rambunctious I suppose.
What sneaky methods or recipes have you used to get your kids to eat vegetables?
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