How to Sneak More Vegetables into Your Meals

Getting children to eat their vegetables can be a frustrating task. One that can make us worry about the health and nutrition of our kids. We can, however, use a few simple tricks to try and sneak them into their diet.

The secret is to either make the vegetables tasty or go completely unnoticed.

Even I don’t particularly enjoy eating veggies on their own. Place a carrot beside a carrot cake and I will always choose the latter. But as soon as you throw a good dressing into the mix or pile them into a tasty casserole, I happily devour them. Children behave in much the same way (which I suppose isn’t saying much for me).

Below are eight ways to help sneak some veggies into your family’s diet, along with a recipe for a Layered Taco Bake that helps put some of these strategies to good use.

1. Put Like Textures Together

If your child has trouble with the taste of a certain food pair it with foods that have similar textures. The avocados in the recipe go virtually unnoticed because the rest of the ingredients are soft in texture. Throw them into a crunchy salad and they will stick out like a sore thumb.

2. Make them Invisible

Kids tend to have mindsets about certain foods which don’t necessarily hold true when put to the test. A child who detests carrots will likely put up a fuss as soon as they see one on their plate. Remember: “Out of sight – out of mind”, and chances are that if they don’t spot it in the dish, they will most likely eat it without complaint. This test will at least separate a true dislike from a mere aversion.

With the taco recipe, the black beans are incorporated with the meat so as to go unnoticed. Alternately, you could hide them by mashing. With other veggies you may consider grating them or chopping them very finely.

3. Pick an Unlikely Candidate

Kids know that things like salads will have lots of veggies. Putting them on pizza, or other favorite foods, will make for easier persuasion. If they find them and pick them out, at least you tried, and maybe a few will slip through.

4. Don’t Mention It

This one may seem a little obvious and tags along with the previous two points. If you don’t mention what’s in the food they are about to eat, and it’s not obvious, they probably won’t notice.

5. Keep it Simple

It’s not necessary to cram as many veggies into one meal as you possibly can. As long as they are getting a good variety at different meals they will be getting the nutrition they need. So many different varieties at once may be overwhelming.

6. Make them Fun

Chopping veggies into fun shapes ups their appeal. Also, getting your kids to help with the chopping makes it more likely they’ll give them a try.

7. Don’t Count Out the Good Guys

If there are only a couple of veggies that your kids love then don’t get discouraged. Feed them plenty of those they do like. Even eating a few is better than none at all, and most are packed with nutrition.

8. If All Else Fails Make Soup

You can hide a world of good in soup. Make some chicken soup and throw in some small diced veggies. Or make a broccoli soup and purée it. Either way there will be no obvious bad guys and one particular flavor will go unnoticed as all the flavors meld into one.

Layered Taco Bake

The veggies on top of this bake definitely stand out. If you think this will be a problem save some of their favorites for the top and sneak the forbidden ones into the bake itself.

One of these bakes (half the recipe) will feed a family of four (with two small children). For larger families or bigger appetites see the notes after the recipe.

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 cups salsa
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 6 medium sized flour tortillas
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 (4oz) can green chilies
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded cheese
  • fresh veggies to top: avocado, lettuce, tomatoes and green onions
  1. Brown beef and onions in a large frying pan set over medium heat, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Stir in salsa, beans and spices. Heat through.
  3. Mix together sour cream and green chilies.
  4. Coat 2- 8 inch cake pans with cooking spray. Place one tortilla in the bottom of each. Divide 1/3 of the beef mixture between the two pans and spread over tortilla. Top with 1/3 (divided) sour cream mixture and shredded cheese.
  5. Repeat layers two more times.
  6. Cover both with foil. Place one in the freezer and bake the other at 400ºF for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 10 min. Let cool 5 min. before serving.

* For a larger family you can prepare this in a 9×13 pan, making only 2 layers. 3 tortillas for each layer and the rest divided in half. Bake for the same amount of time.

* To bake from frozen: Preheat oven to 400ºF. Remove frozen Taco Bake from freezer and place straight into the oven. Bake covered for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake an additional 20-25 min. until heated through.
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What are some tricks that you use to get your kids to eat their veggies?

Photos by Cheri Neufeld

About Cheri

Cheri is a mother of two and a Canadian expat living in Norway. With a passion for quick and simple food, Cheri shares recipes, tips and tricks on her food blog, KitchenSimplicity.com.

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Comments

  1. Great topic! My kiddies love their meat and protein so I add a lot of veggies to those dishes – grated carrot and shredded zucchini into meatloaf, red pepper and baby spinach chopped up and added to turkey burgers. I also make a lot of stuffed chicken breasts and make fillings with mushrooms, onions etc . As long as I cut everything small enough it essentially goes unnoticed.
    .-= Jan (Family Bites)’s last blog: Homemade Marshmallows =-.

    • I love these ideas Jan! I definitely think that it’s important to teach kids to try things they don’t like but I don’t think it’s necessary to do it at every meal. Way to be a super sneaky mom! :)
      .-= Cheri’s last blog: Pale Pink Monday =-.

  2. karoline says:

    let them help pick it out at the store, they may surprise you and pick something new.
    let them help prepare it, wash, peel, or slice
    a choice, would you like ___ or ____
    library books. we just read a story called Carrot Soup and there was a recipe for the soup in the back, so she wanted to try it (we did and it was yummy, she thought so too!) and we read one about a sushi maker, too, and now she is very excited to try sushi

    • Getting kids involved in the decision making process is an excellent idea. Kids are always more willing to try things when they have a say in what’s going on.

      Someone should write a children’s book about each vegetable and include a recipe at the end. Then maybe there would be no more picky eaters out there! :)
      .-= Cheri’s last blog: Pale Pink Monday =-.

      • I second this idea. I think literature is an excellent way to introduce new food to the diet.
        We’ve been reading the Little House books with Noah. Usually he’s not a big red meat eater, but since we occasional call it ‘bear’, which is Laura’s favorite meat, he now tucks right in.

  3. I’ll second the sushi idea! Never before have I seen my family (parents and younger siblings) eaten so much healthy food with so much enthusiasm. I don’t have kids yet, but I can certainly vouch for its effectiveness! No need to use raw fish, either. Just load up on bright, colorful veggies.
    .-= Nikki Moore’s last blog: Why I Stopped Using Shampoo, Why I Started Again, and What I’ve Learned Along The Way =-.

  4. MLindley says:

    Meat is the issue in our house. My son loves dairy, raw fruit and veggies but will have nothing to do with meat or cooked vegetables. Any thoughts?

    • First, I wouldn’t worry about the cooked veggies. When you cook veggies they lose many of their nutrients anyway. You can sneak in a few different ones (since each veggie has different nutrients) like Cheri said, into many dishes. As far as meat…my kids often like their meat mixed with some of their food (in mashed potatoes) so it’s not by itself…or have a dip. Kids love dip…cranberry sauce, a little ranch dressing, plum sauce, or pretty much anything else depending on the meal. Even if you don’t think it sounds appetizing, kids will often think it’s the best!

      • I agree that dips work wonders. Just yesterday we were having chicken fingers and my son was getting tired of chewing on the chicken so I let him dip it into sweet and sour sauce. He loved it and and ate it much better after that. He is 20 months old and loves doing anything that makes him feel like a big boy.
        .-= Cheri’s last blog: Pale Pink Monday =-.

        • Michelle, I have BEEN there with the meat. Thankfully it’s getting better. Ketchup helped, as embarrassed as I am to say that!! At least I have a nice organic ketchup–perhaps the summer I’ll make my own.

          Honestly, I think a lot of it is that it is hard to chew. My first ‘breakthrough’ was with sausages (no nitrates, of course), perhaps b/c they are softer? Who knows.

  5. Anything with the word “taco” is always a favorite around here! Looks delicious – and beautiful photos, too, Cheri!

    Thanks for the tips!
    .-= Katie ~ Simple Organic’s last blog: Good Bacteria, Bad Bacteria: How to Wash Your Hands and Be Gentle on the Earth =-.

  6. Funny, my kid wouldn’t eat the spring rolls from our neighbourhood Vietnamese the other day, until she noticed the shredded carrots in the filling. Then all was good to her.

    We don’t have veggie eating problems in our house, most of the time. But generally I’m not a fan of sneaking for the sake of sneaking it in. Shredded carrots in filling? pureed mushrooms, carrots, and peppers in tomatoe sauce? well, those just taste good.
    .-= Cheryl Arkison’s last blog: Atrophy =-.

  7. I second a number of things already mentioned here:
    1-Let kids pick out a new fruit or veggie in the store…it’s a lot more exciting to them when they picked it.

    2-Get kids involved in the kitchen…when they help prepare the food (especially a new recipe…maybe from a different country they’re learning about) they have pride in it & they want to see you have to try something too. When my son’s class studied Peru they had to make a dish for a potluck. We went online together & picked a recipe & he helped make it. I am quite positive that if I had made it out of the blue he would have hated it…it had a texture he does not go for…but because he picked it & made it, he loved it!

    3-Reading is a GREAT way to introduce foods. We’ve read a number of books that mention a certain recipe or even just a country. When they’ve enjoyed the book they’re going to be very excited about trying the recipe!

    One more to add to the mix…
    4-START EARLY!! We received the advice when our first was a baby to feed him veggies first before introducing fruits. Once babies taste fruit it can be a lot harder to get them onto veggies because they’re not sweet like the fruit. If they can develop a taste for the veggies before tasting the sweetness of fruit it will make your job a lot easier! One of the very first foods all our kids ate was mashed avocado…followed by carrots, peas, etc. To this day all our kids (5, 6, & 8) will eat veggies no problem. They have their favorites & ones they don’t like as much, but I have no concerns about them getting enough!

    • I love the idea of learning about a different Country and then cooking meals from that Country. It makes kids so much more culturally aware and willing to try different foods. Great tips Heidi! :)
      .-= Cheri’s last blog: Pale Pink Monday =-.

      • Awesome input Heidi! Love number 3.
        Why are there not more food-themed books for kids? Hmm, I see an opportunity here.

        • Thanks Aimee! It’s amazing how many books you can use that way. I didn’t realize it either until I used the Five in a Row homeschool curriculum with my kids & that’s one of the things they do with each book. For example “Make Way for Ducklings” takes place in Boston…so you look up dishes that are special to that area. “Cranberry Thanksgiving” has a recipe in the back of the book. “The Story About Ping” takes place in China so you make some homemade Chinese food. Once I got used to looking for it, I realized how many opportunities are there!:)

    • When my pickier eater boy helped me get the stuff from the Farmers Market and then helped me make the salad and dressing- he finally liked salad and been doing much better since!

  8. I wonder if these strategies will work on picky boyfriends as well.. I must try! Thanks :-)

    • My husband is very picky (pickier then my son) and I have tried some of these with success (especially #1). Of course, his palate is more developed so it’s harder to hide things from him. :)
      .-= Cheri’s last blog: Pale Pink Monday =-.

  9. Great tips! I’d add, keep offering. My son decided he hated tomatoes and would pick them out of any salad. My daughter told him he had to try one bite. He puckered up his face, prepared to spit it out, chewed, and with face still puckered said, “I like it.”

  10. Jackie@Lilolu says:

    This looks AWESOME. I think my kids will love it.

  11. I made this tonight for supper and it was a hit. My three year old didn’t eat it, but my 8 year old, who doesn’t like 3/4 of what’s in this recipe ate two helpings, so I’m calling it a hit.

    I made mine with ground chicken instead of beef.

    Thanks for the recipe. It’s going into my ‘everyone will eat it’ file and I’ll be making it again. PLUS … I have one in the freezer for next week!! How great is that????

  12. this looks entirely too easy to look so good. Now why didn’t I think of this. This is going into my list of gotta make soons.
    Margaret’s last post: ad hocMeatballs with Pappardelle

  13. skysMom says:

    My 2 year old loved dip! Hummus, guacamole, yogurt… Now he’s almost three and he wants to helpin the kitchen so smoothis are something he can help me make. Blend Kale spinach banana pineapple mangos, it taste great and he loves it.

    Don’t let them snack a lot and have them help at the grocery :)

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